Red Bull confirm Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez are free to race… ‘at the moment’
Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, has insisted Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez are “free to race at the moment” after their F1 2023 battle intensified at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Red Bull continued their 100 per cent start to the new season by claiming their fourth consecutive win in Baku, with Perez leading a one-two finish for the reigning Constructors’ Champions after triumphing in Saturday’s sprint race.
With Perez also victorious in Saudi Arabia, the Mexican currently sits just six points behind team-mate Verstappen – the winner from pole position in Bahrain and Australia – in the Drivers’ standings.
With Red Bull’s capacity to develop the RB19 car restricted by their punishment for breaching F1’s 2021 budget cap, Horner says the team’s current priority is to pull both drivers clear of the chasing pack in the points standings.
Evaluating the current state of play between his drivers after four races, Horner is insistent that Verstappen and Perez will remain free to race for at least the foreseeable future.
According to Motorsport.com, he said: “Well, at moment it’s the two of them.
“There’s a slight gap between the rest of the field, but there’s 19 more races to go, and five sprint races.
“So there’s a huge amount of racing and a whole variance of different circuits to go through, so it could ebb and flow between the two of them.
“Reliability will be a key factor.
“And what we’re more focused on as well at the moment is building a buffer with both of the drivers.
“Because when we get back to Europe, I’m sure there’s going to be sizeable upgrades.
“And, of course, we have a reduced capacity to develop this year, so that’s where our focus is – trying to build a gap.
“Well there’s six points between them after four races so they’re both competitive drivers.
“They both want to win, which is why they’re employed by the team. And I think that it’s down to what they do on the track.
“They were free to race today and, all year so far, they’ve been free.
“Yes, until the team’s interests, if you’re competing against a competitor, becomes bigger than the drivers’ interests.
“But, as it is at the moment, they’re free to race.”
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Perez inherited the lead after Verstappen pitted just before the yellow flag for Nyck de Vries’ stranded AlphaTauri was upgraded to a Safety Car, with the Mexican going on to take arguably his finest F1 win to date by containing the threat of his team-mate across the remainder of the race.
With Perez – winner in Baku plus Monaco, Jeddah and Singapore in Red Bull colours – living up to his reputation as a street circuit specialist, Horner was impressed by his composure under pressure from Verstappen and the intensity of the fight.
“Checo is definitely living up to his nickname of king of the streets or whatever his latest docuseries is going to be called,” he added.
“Obviously, he got a little bit lucky with the timing of the Safety Car.
“But, having got the lead, he built close to a four-second lead at one point and controlled the race, so he used his opportunity, and converted it into a great win.
“You’ve got Max Verstappen behind you. He’s not taking it easy.
“And [Perez] was able to build up I think a 3.7-second lead at one point. And all credit to Checo, he drove a great race.
“They were pushing each other hard.
“I think they were comparing times that they touched the wall under the podium there.
“But we let them push all the way through, that was always the plan going into the race.”
Red Bull have been scarred by their willingness to let their drivers race in Baku in the past, with Verstappen and former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo retiring after contact during the 2018 race.
Horner revealed that incident was mentioned in Red Bull’s pre-race meeting in Baku, with the team wary of the competitive tension between Verstappen and Perez spilling over.
“I think 2018 is fairly etched on everybody’s memory in this team.
“And it’s something we discussed [on race] morning in the briefing, that they’re free to race, but we don’t want a 2018 replay.
“And they pushed each other as hard as they could, and it was a fine margin today that split the two of them.”
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