If Red Bull Racing is going to dominate the season, then Formula 1 needs two drivers in the fight. Luckily for us, Sergio Perez says he’s ready for a title challenge with Max Verstappen.
His victory in Saudi Arabia has been the talk of the paddock in the weeks before Melbourne. He was sublime to keep teammate Verstappen at arm’s length, so much so that boss Christian Horner said it was his best-ever performance for the team.
But the post-race arguments over teams orders are what really kept people talking.
Perez suggested he hadn’t been told quickly enough that Verstappen was ignoring team orders to hold station in second and that he wasn’t given a chance to take the bonus point for fastest lap, which Max duly pinched on the final tour.
He demanded an internal inquiry before Australia. And the result?
“A bit of a miscommunication between my engineer and myself” he admitted. “I don't think there was anything more to it. I think the team did a good job of letting us race."
Perez explained that he was told he had the fastest lap — which he interpreted to mean that Verstappen wouldn’t try to take it from him. So he didn’t bother trying to set it.
And just for good measure, to ensure any embers of unhappiness were thoroughly hosed down, Perez emphasised that he has full confidence in the team to provide him with the tools to fight fairly for the title.
“I really believe that I have the 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 much as Max does,” he said.
“I can say now that I really feel part of the team, I really feel like I have my place, I’m well respected, and I think that's something good to have as a driver.”
It’s easy to say when we’re two races into the season. But if Perez were to win this weekend and continue to mount a serious challenge to Verstappen — well, F1 teammate title battles are rarely civil.
“To be honest, we’ve got a lot more respect for each other than people may think out there,” he said.
“I think we are both mature enough to know what is right and what is wrong. I think as long as that keeps being the case, I don't expect anything to change.”
Whether or not that theory is tested lies entirely in Perez’s hands and his team's ability to steer him to victory on Sunday.
How can you go past Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing? The Dutchman is in fine form and — he says — largely recovered from the lurgy that struck him down in Saudi Arabia. But I think (hope) it’ll be close between him and Sergio Perez.
Pole position: Max Verstappen
Podium: Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso
Winning margin: Five seconds
The views expressed in this article are those of the author. Quotes have been obtained from team press conferences and issued press releases.