Webber was forced into Red Bull submission, will Perez be as willing?

Red Bull will have to manage relations between their two drivers if they are to successfully defend both their F1 world championship crowns in 2023. 
Webber was forced into Red Bull submission, will Perez be as willing?

The Milton Keynes outfit head into the new campaign off the back of their most successful F1 season since 2013, having claimed both world titles in a dominant year that saw Max Verstappen win 15 out of the 22 races. 

It was not all smooth sailing, however, with a breach of the F1 cost cap and intra-team team orders bust-up somewhat overshadowing the end of Red Bull’s season. 

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In winning back-to-back world titles, Verstappen has already cemented himself as the ‘alpha driver’ at Red Bull, but the team will also need to keep Sergio Perez happy to ensure another successful season. 

The last thing Red Bull need is their drivers tripping over each other, and so avoiding a feud spilling over into 2023 will be one of their main priorities. 

Red Bull have been here before. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber endured an unpleasant relationship at times while Red Bull teammates, leading to on-track collisions and off-track squabbles. 

Vettel was regularly favoured over Webber during their title battles and the Australian was not afraid to make his feelings clear on the matter, underlined by his famous ‘not bad for a number two’ radio message after winning the 2010 British Grand Prix. 

Webber was forced into Red Bull submission, will Perez be as willing?

Relations between the pair continued to sour, leading to Red Bull’s most controversial race at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, when Vettel disobeyed team orders to hold station behind Webber - which became known as the ‘multi 21’ saga. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner later suggested Vettel wanted payback for Webber squeezing him towards the pitwall at the start of the title-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix at the end of 2012. 

Shades of that incident were repeated in Brazil last year, albeit on a lesser scale, with Verstappen refusing to hand a position back to Perez in what was reportedly retaliation to being left upset at his teammate’s crash in Monaco months earlier. 

Red Bull were quick to downplay the incident and insist both drivers had moved on following clear-the-air talks. Notably, in explaining the controversial ending, the team defended Verstappen’s actions. 

It is not the first time Red Bull have stood by their star driver.

Will history repeat itself? 

One of the biggest question marks going into 2023 is whether Brazil will be the end of the matter, or a sign of things to come?

Much will ultimately depend on Perez. 

Firstly, and arguably most crucially, is Perez able to mount a sustained challenge to Verstappen - something he has so far failed to do - and secondly, will he be as willing to help Verstappen again?

Perez felt let down by Verstappen’s refusal to let him back past in Brazil, responding after the race: “After all I’ve done for him it’s a bit disappointing to be honest”. 

Sergio Perez (MEX), Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull Racing Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21,
Sergio Perez (MEX), Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull…

After all, Perez has helped Verstappen out on many occasions, particularly in the Dutchman’s title battle against Lewis Hamilton in 2021. 

While some drivers have accepted a subordinate role against a superior teammate, Perez appears less willing to simply become known as a ‘wingman’. 

The Mexican remains adamant he can win a championship with Red Bull, but to do that, he knows he will have to first beat Verstappen. 

Perez’s father, Antonio, even warned Verstappen that his son will end his reign as F1 champion, adding the “best of Checo Perez, we have not seen yet”. 

And what about Ricciardo? 

There is another factor to consider in all of this - Daniel Ricciardo

Ricciardo has returned to Red Bull as the team’s third driver for 2023 after McLaren terminated his contract a year early following two underwhelming campaigns. 

The Australian is determined to secure a competitive full-time seat on the F1 grid for 2024, though Red Bull do not indent to give him that. Verstappen is tied down to a long-term contract, while Perez is on a deal until the end of 2024. 

However, if tensions do erupt and Perez refuses to play the team game, Ricciardo will be waiting in the wings to replace him. That will surely be on the back of Perez’s mind going into the new season. 

Webber was forced into Red Bull submission, will Perez be as willing?

But Ricciardo has been in Perez’s seat before. Although he delivered his best F1 performances for Red Bull, Verstappen’s emergence as a superstar led to elements of conflict between the pair.

While Verstappen and Ricciardo got on off the track, tensions on-track boiled over with a spectacular collision at the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix that evoked memories of Vettel and Webber’s wipe-out crash in Turkey in 2010. 

Ultimately Ricciardo left Red Bull at the end of that season, with Horner suggesting his switch to Renault was influenced by the fear he would have ended up in a “support role” to Verstappen.  

It remains to be seen whether Perez will accept playing second fiddle to Verstappen, or resist and risk being pushed out of Red Bull. 

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