Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez ‘not best friends’ but ‘not at war with each other’

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Max Verstappen looking glum in the post-race press conference with Sergio Perez. Saudi Arabia March 2023 Credit: Alamy
Max Verstappen looking glum in the post-race press conference with Sergio Perez. Saudi Arabia March 2023 Credit: Alamy

Sky Sports commentator David Croft has said Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez are “not at war with each other”, but equally that they are not the “best of friends” at the moment either.

There was a moment of tension between the two in Saudi Arabia last time out, when Perez called for clarity within the team after Verstappen set the fastest lap of the race on the final tour of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, taking the bonus point that would keep him top of the Drivers’ Championship.

Perez was also questioning why Verstappen was setting lap times which were quicker than the agreed delta set by the engineers on the pit wall in the closing stages, with Perez eventually able to hold onto a five-second lead over his Red Bull colleague heading towards the chequered flag.

Verstappen was disappointed not to win the race in Jeddah, despite his lowly starting slot of 15th, while Perez called for an internal review at Red Bull after feeling like he had received “different information” compared to his team-mate in the race.

Given the moments of heightened tension between the two of them last season, in Brazil and Monaco specifically, Croft believes thing are not quite pally in the Red Bull garage at the moment, though it is “only natural” for this to happen when both drivers feel like they can challenge for top honours come season’s end.

“I don’t think it’s a driver dispute necessarily, but clearly Sergio was feeling a bit vulnerable whilst out in the lead in Jeddah on Sunday night and he kind of felt that his teammate was allowed to do lap times that were faster than him,” Croft explained on SEN Sportsday in Australia.

“Luckily for Sergio, he had built up quite a big gap by that stage and it didn’t affect the result. He was probably a little bit miffed that Max Verstappen took the fastest lap as well because that fastest lap point kept Max Verstappen in the lead of the championship, Sergio would have led the championship for the first time in his career had he got that fastest lap. So there’s seeds of suspicion.

“I don’t think that they’re best of friends. Certainly things have happened in the past, Brazil last year when Max didn’t move over to let Sergio past to help Sergio’s chance to finish second in the championship, Monaco last year where Sergio crashed in qualifying denied Max Verstappen the chance to go and get pole. recommends

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“Things have happened that have caused a bit of friction between the two teammates, I don’t think all is smooth but they’re certainly not at war with each other.

“There’s certainly no massive arguments, but if Red Bull are the team that are going to win the championship this year, and we have to say we’ve got another 21 races to go yet so the championship is far from being over.

“But if they’re the dominant team, if they’re the team that expects to win the championship, I think it’s only natural that we see that the two drivers having a bit of friction, because both know this is a great opportunity for one or other of them to be World Champion at the end of the season.

“And whilst Max does have a couple of World Championships, Sergio, of course hasn’t been in that position to win a championship in the past.”

Croft’s Sky Sports colleague, Martin Brundle believes Verstappen’s support team may have felt an element of “surprise” that Perez was able to keep the Dutchman at arm’s length in the closing stages, though the two-time World Champion expressed worries that the driveshaft issue which curtailed his qualifying session threatened to return in the race.

While Perez has largely played a supporting role to Verstappen’s title success at Red Bull so far, it was a sign that he was able to take victory in his own right – with the reigning champion breathing down his neck.

Red Bull did not intervene with team orders either, something which Croft hopes remains the case throughout the season.

“I don’t know what’s in Sergio Perez’s contract, I don’t know what’s in Max Verstappen’s contract, but you would hope as a Formula 1 fan, that there’s nothing there to say ‘Sergio, you’re going to drive for your team-mate. Your team-mate is going to be World Champion’,” he said.

“Looking at their records together at Red Bull, Max Verstappen has won more races, been on more poles, has got more podiums, has got more points.

“You can argue the case I think very convincingly, Max Verstappen is a better driver. And that’s no disrespect to Sergio Perez, he’s a fine driver, but I think Max is on the way to becoming one of the all time greats in Formula 1, given the start he’s made to his F1 career and the fact that he’s still young enough to get many more championships in by the time he retires.”

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