With it reportedly just a matter of time before Red Bull confirm Daniel Ricciardo as their reserve driver, Damon Hill wouldn’t be surprised if the Aussie replaces Sergio Perez at some point next season.
Although Red Bull were all smiles at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the team went into the race under a blanket of tension following their Sao Paulo Grand Prix drama.
At that race Max Verstappen refused to move over for Perez, saying at the time that “yes” it was because of something that happened in the past.
Team boss Christian Horner effectively side-stepped all questions about that, the Briton adamant his drivers had talked through everything and would play the team game.
But with Ricciardo expected to return to Red Bull next season, only the signatures are missing from the contract, Hill wonders long how it will be before the Honey Badger is called up to replace Perez.
“It could be quite an interesting one if you think about the problems they have apparently had between Max and Sergio,” the 1996 World Champion told Sky Sports F1.
“Let’s say the toys go out of the pram and there is some sort of fall out there, Daniel Ricciardo could be in prime position.
“It is his home, and he does owe a lot to Red Bull so he will be very keen to be back in that fold.
“What is it about the prodigal son who returns?
“He could be in a good position coming back and having learned a lot in other places.
“It can be that you can improve having been somewhere else then returning to the place you started.”
That, of course, depends on Perez and Verstappen falling out.
“I am sure that Sergio’s contract is watertight,” Hill continued, “and he will be there for a long time but if relationships deteriorate, sometimes it becomes unworkable, and the suspicion is Max has quite a lot of power in that team.”
Hill isn’t the first to suggest Ricciardo could soon be sitting in Perez’s seat, Ralf Schumacher saying: “Not 100 per cent sure that Perez will still be the team-mate next year.
“I think Ricciardo has a good chance. Behind the scenes it must be very, very aggressive and I think Max wants a new combination.”
However, Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko quickly quashed that suggestion.
“This is news that has not come from us,” he told Sky Deutschland.
Has Verstappen already hinted he won’t play the team game with Perez?
Although Verstappen said in the build-up to Abu Dhabi that he would assist Perez if need be, it didn’t come to that with the Mexican driver running behind Charles Leclerc after a two-stop strategy dropped him behind his P2 rival.
It has been suggested that Verstappen, already the World Champion and with nothing to lose, could have helped his team-mate by slowing to force Leclerc into Perez’s clutches – a tactic Lewis Hamilton tried in 2016 against Nico Rosberg in the fight for the World title.
But he didn’t, even saying he feels that would not have been right: “You can possibly block but I mean, is that fair racing?
“I think [that is] not the nicest way going out of the championship, out of the season you know?”
And yet that is exactly what Perez did for Verstappen at last year’s Abu Dhabi finale, holding up Lewis Hamilton to allow Verstappen to close a seven-second gap.
Perez wasn’t happy about such negative tactics, saying that’s “not a place I wanted to be in”, but he did it anyway to help his team-mate.
With Verstappen having already made it clear he won’t do the same, perhaps Perez should take that comment as a warning for the future.
Read more: Max Verstappen: Letting Sergio Perez through wouldn’t have been ‘nicest way’ to finish
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