The last of the fireworks was gone, the Arabian crickets were already chirping when behind the white tent with the number 1 a group of people disappeared through the back door into the shadows. It was the fastest drivers of the day with their respective supervisors; One little thing stood out: teammates Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez had somehow managed to put a great deal of distance between them in the brief moment since their departure from the public stage in Jeddah.
They walked out of the tent where they had jointly given a press conference, side by side. Now George Russell, the Mercedes driver, ran between them as a physical barrier, and they were easily separated by a distance of ten meters. That might be coincidence. Perhaps Verstappen, who was now strolling behind, had to quickly tie his shoes, wrote a Whatsapp, shot a selfie or looked for the Southern Cross in the stars. Also possible: Perez just wanted to get away.
You will have to pay more attention to such small things in the behavior of the two Red Bull drivers. Because Perez is most likely Verstappen’s biggest competitor in the fight for the world title this season. If not the only one. The superiority of their cars is so overwhelming that the second double victory in the second race of the season on two fundamentally different tracks is no coincidence, but the result of a clear advantage thanks to technology.
“Even when we were fast, we weren’t that fast,” marveled Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton
Of course, Perez and Verstappen are still a long way from the level of harmony that prevailed at Williams in the 1980s, when Nelson Piquet was playing games with the sensitive Nigel Mansell, whose wife was mocked as “ugly”, and once when Mansell was plagued by diarrhea, everything Cleared away toilet paper from the toilet. But great operas sometimes have quiet overtures.
As race winner Perez and second-placed Verstappen waited in the bug-infested room to prepare for the awards ceremony on Sunday, the microphones caught a pointed question from the Mexican that should still reverberate: “Didn’t they tell you to keep up the speed? ” This instruction was given to both drivers in the final phase of the race in order to conserve the technology. However, Verstappen turned up the heat on the last lap and set the fastest lap of the race when Perez had already crossed the finish line in front of him. That earned an extra point, which in turn gives the World Champion a championship lead – which Perez would otherwise have held for the first time in his career.
Why so dogged? Why wasn’t Verstappen satisfied with the reassuring realization that he drove around Perez’s ears every halfway normal day?
Before the team-mates left the tent in Jeddah, they were asked one question as bouncers: were they afraid their respective team-mates might be the one to beat en route to the title?
Oh, said Verstappen. If that’s the case, then it’s easy: “We’re allowed to race against each other. So the faster one of us will finish first!” And Perez said if that’s the case, it would be “fantastic news” for the team. “Because that would mean that we are very far ahead.”
It sounded a bit as if Perez hadn’t noticed that his team was way up front, although that’s of course impossible. Some fear it is ahead of even the most avant-garde teams in history. “Even when we were fast, we weren’t that fast,” marveled Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton. “I really think this is the fastest car I’ve ever seen compared to everyone else.” And his teammate Russell said: “The Red Bull RB19 is superior to any Mercedes in the golden era of this team.”
Red Bull’s ingenious car designer Adrian Newey had already presented a superior shot in the first year after the major aerodynamic reform of Formula 1, with which Verstappen raced to 15 race victories. In its second year, the car has been perfected in a way that has its competitors brooding over how they managed to make the spray racers fly so low over the tarmac like no other – while sticking to the road even more smoothly.
When Verstappen and Perez get serious, and that has never been necessary for a long time, they take one second per lap from their fastest competitors. No upgrade in the world is able to close this gap in time.
Out of sheer anger, Verstappen skipped the team meeting on Saturday
For years, Max Verstappen could only dream of sitting in such a superior car. When he became world champion for the first time in 2021, the Mercedes was basically better than the Red Bull, Verstappen was only able to grab the title because the then race director Michael Masi presented it to him as a gift with a bow around it at the controversial season finale in Abu Dhabi. In this respect, Verstappen’s listeners in Jeddah initially thought they were in a film with the wrong soundtrack when they heard him parrot about his life as a racing driver after his brilliant ride from 15th to second place; Basically, the world at Red Bull shines like in a Rosamunde Pilcher film, but Verstappen comments on it like Colonel Kurtz (“The horror, the horror …”) from “Apocalypse Now”.
“Everyone is happy, but personally I’m not happy,” Verstappen said. “Because I’m not here to finish second.” Sure, there’s something to be said for a catch-up race like that, he continued to nag. “But when you’re fighting for the championship, and especially when it looks like it’s just between our two cars, we have to make sure that both cars are reliable too.”
When he spoke so somberly and thus spoiled a bit of Perez’s joy at only his fifth race win, his concern was clearly audible that his car might be lightning fast but at the same time fall apart on the way to the third title. There had already been problems with the gearshift in Bahrain, in Jeddah the drive shaft broke in qualifying. That’s why starting position 15. Out of sheer anger, Verstappen skipped the team meeting on Saturday. Parts of the gearbox were replaced on both Red Bulls on Friday, and the number of permitted interventions per season is actually capped: “And in the race I had bad vibrations. There’s no doubt for me – we have work to do.”
Former world champion Nico Rosberg thinks Verstappen should be happy that he can drive such a great car
The TV expert Nico Rosberg, world champion of 2016, rated the harsh criticism of colleagues from the technical department as “a bit ungrateful” after a perfect weekend in terms of points. He should “rather be happy that his team is giving him such a superior car”. Rosberg is the perfect key witness. After all, Mercedes provided him with a superior car over the years. He clinched the title in the one season in which his team-mate Hamilton’s car broke down a few crucial times more often than his. Since then it has been known: If the reliability is not given, the somewhat less talented driver of a dominant team can also snatch the title – and a so-called stable war can break out.
Senna against Prost, Hamilton against Rosberg, most recently Vettel against Leclerc at Ferrari – from the spectators’ point of view, all these duels brought a fine spice to the living room on Sundays. Because drivers dueled here who did not begrudge their own teammates the world championship title. And so to a possible scenario at Red Bull, which was already on the horizon in Jeddah: This Sergio Perez of the 2023 season, who was upset that Verstappen snatched the extra point from him in the last attempt, he will no longer subordinate himself want, but try to use a unique opportunity to win the world title. The case with the fastest race lap would have to be analyzed again internally, he boldly announced.
Verstappen, on the other hand, has a keen sense of when he has to give his Mexican water carrier one so that he doesn’t get too rebellious from his point of view. Last fall he ignored a team order to let Perez pass – even though he was already crowned world champion and Perez could have used the points. This time Verstappen didn’t even need a feel. Perez made his goal clear: “I’m on this team to fight for the title, that’s the only reason.”
Verstappen needs a working car – then the Rosberg scenario does not threaten him either.