Sergio Perez has welcomed the return of Red Bull as a fully-developed two car team again, after too many years of being effectively one in name only.
While most teams have a lead driver spurring on their efforts, it’s been even more pronounced at Red Bull that the team’s efforts have revolved around Max Verstappen, leaving him carrying the burden of their entire campaign.
That’s been the case ever since 2016 when Verstappen replaced Daniil Kvyat alongside Daniel Ricciardo in the driver line-up. Ricciardo subsequently felt increasingly sidelined and forced out, and ended up leaving the team.
In 2019 Verstappen was paired first with Pierre Gasly and then with Alex Albon prematurely promoted from the junior Toro Rosso squad, but neither met the exacting standards of Dr Helmut Marko.
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It was only in 2021 with the hiring of the experienced Perez that the team finally had a line-up strong enough to fight for world titles, a trend that Perez sees as having fully come to fruition in 2023.
“Certainly when I came to the team, things were very different,” he told the media in Melbourne on Thursday. “Basically they were just going racing with two cars because they had to.
“I can say now that I really feel part of the team,” he continued. “I really feel like I have my place, and I am well respected, and I think that’s something good to have as a driver.
“I really believe that I have full support of the team as much as Max does, and that I will have every single opportunity to win the championship as much as Max.”
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That belief has been bolstered by his victory in Saudi Arabia, where the team pointedly declined to intervene with team orders to Perez telling him to let Verstappen catch and pass him for victory in the closing laps.
As a result the two drivers now have one win apiece, and Verstappen leads the drivers championship by a single bonus point for setting the fastest lap of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the last moment.
But it’s not just the absence of team orders so far that is working to Perez’ advantage. In the past, development of the car has focussed on what works best for Verstappen above all; now that’s no longer automatically the case.
“Last year when we started developing the car – or basically when we put the car on a diet – basically that suited more Max, and the gap just widened up.
“[But] I think we also learned quite a bit on which direction we took last year,” he suggested. “Not just the car itself, but also with how we set it up.
“We tried to compensate for the weaknesses that it was giving me, we were just taking performance out of the car,” he noted. “[This year] I feel more comfortable in the car.
“I believe that at the moment, we are asking for the same things,” he insisted. “In these first races we’ve been very, very close together on balance and asking for a similar sort of balance, so in that regard it’s a good thing for now.
“We have got a very strong car, a very strong package, and a car that I feel comfortable with,” he said.
“It’s a car that I’m working well with, and a car that I also believe [that] with the direction we’re taking with the development, I can get the most out of.
“I think that’s important, to be able to stay in the fight throughout the season,” he summed up. “To have a car that you can be competitive, whatever condition you are in.”
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