Red Bull boss Christian Horner had to fight to save his team’s unity and reputation after a stormy end to the Brazilian Grand Prix saw their drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in conflict.
It’s the scenario Red Bull faced some nine years ago when Sebastian Vettel made a move on Australian Mark Webber at the Malaysian Grand Prix – but this is arguably far worse and will only ensure Verstappen’s negative reputation doesn’t improve.
An exasperated Verstappen, who has already secured his second consecutive world title, refused to reveal his reasons for disobeying team orders, while Perez, who was stunned by his team-mate’s grumpy behaviour, said he (Verstappen) had “shown who he really is”.
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Perez, whose exceptional defensive drive in the final laps of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix helped Verstappen beat seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes to win his first drivers’ title, said he was baffled by the controversy.
“I don’t understand what his reaction was. If he has two championships, it’s because of me,” he said.
Horner called the pair into a meeting to patch up their relationship after Verstappen refused to obey a team order to allow him to overtake Perez for sixth in the closing laps.
Red Bull wanted to back the Mexican’s bid to finish ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in the race for the drivers’ title – but they are now on 290 points with one race to go and Monaco have the lead in the races.
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Verstappen’s blunt rejection, broadcast on team radio, shocked Red Bull as the team struggled to their worst result since the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix.
“I told you last time,” he replied to his race engineer. “Don’t ask me that again, okay? Are we clear on that? I’ve given my reasons and I stand by them.”
The row between the championship team’s drivers left many observers in the paddock intrigued as Horner and Red Bull refused to explain Verstappen’s complaint.
“As a team, we discuss these things internally,” Horner said. “The drivers discussed it, they were clear.
“We will go to Abu Dhabi to get ‘Checo’ second place and Max will support that. We won’t talk about what’s going on inside, but the drivers shook hands over it.
“We work as a team. We race as a team and our priority is to help Checo get second place in the championship. We will do everything we can to make it happen and if Max can help in any way he will.”
The moment had echoes of the infamous “Multi 21” dispute between then three-time champion Vettel and Webber.
In that race in Malaysia, the Australian led the German with the pair comfortably ahead of the two Mercedes drivers behind them, and late in the race they received the “Multi 21” message – that the number 2 car (Webber) had to stay in front. from car no. 1 (Vettel).
Nevertheless, Vettel refused this order and overtook his team-mate with 13 laps remaining.
“It wasn’t always beneficial for us to race hard against each other because it was too hard on the tires and we discussed that beforehand in Malaysia,” Webber wrote in his autobiography.
“Within two laps to go, I knew Seb was going to take matters into his own hands, despite assurances over the radio that the race was mine. I started to defend but as a result of our qualifying runs he had new tires and I didn’t.
“My attempt in Q2 was too conservative, so I did an extra lap: that meant I ran three laps of the old kit, while Sebo’s were brand new. Maybe he felt he should be able to use those tires to best effect rather than being told to back off?
“Whatever he was thinking when he passed me, I wasn’t so much angry as I was sad that the team had reached such a sorry state.
Horner later said the incident was Vettel’s revenge for the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, when Webber pinned Vettel against the pit wall and upset the German early on during the title-deciding race.
This is another echo in the Verstappen-Perez incident. On Sunday night, a journalist from Amsterdam’s respected De Telegraaf, the Netherlands’ best-selling daily, said Verstappen’s refusal was payback to Perez for denying him the chance to win the Monaco Grand Prix earlier this year.
The Mexican driver reportedly crashed deliberately in qualifying to cause a red-light stop, which ended practice when he was third ahead of the Dutchman.
Perez then won the race on Sunday and later confirmed to team officials that he crashed on purpose, according to the report.
Reporter Erik van Haren also tweeted in support of comments made by pundit Tom Coronel on ViaPlay, which broadcasts F1 in the Netherlands, claiming that Perez had admitted to crashing on purpose in Monaco to Horner and team consultant Helmut Mark. “Max Verstappen hasn’t forgotten that,” he said.
However, as The Race’s Scott Mitchell-Malm explained, Webber and Vettel’s situation was at the very least to win the race. Verstappen had nothing to gain, given that he had already won the world title.
“According to what Verstappen said after the race, he considers him and Perez even. Verstappen says if Perez needs his help in Abu Dhabi this coming weekend, Verstappen will oblige. Red Bull has also made it clear that it expects this,” Mitchell-Malm wrote.
“Case closed? First let’s see if Verstappen actually helps when needed.
“But beyond that, there is an unnecessary threat to Red Bull’s otherwise very effective dynamics.”
“It was a short-sighted move from Verstappen because it’s clear that Perez has shaken faith in the team and his team-mate.
He added: “(Verstappen) will get out of it in the sense that he is the center of the Red Bull world and generally what’s good for him is good for the team.”
F1 commentator Will Buxton condemned Verstappen for his actions.
“Red Bull has never had a 1-2 in the drivers’ championship. That is now their stated goal.” Buxton tweeted.
“His refusal to assist them in this desire yesterday showed callousness and a sad and selfish short-sighted mischief.” It’s not a complete racer yet. Not even the talisman they need. A lot to learn.”
Still, not everyone was against Verstappen, as (perhaps unsurprisingly) the Dutch broadcasters backed their man.
“He clearly said: you don’t have to ask me that, in the conversation they had then. It’s just in the nature of the beast. Then you can say that Perez helped him in Abu Dhabi, the Minister of Defense. He’s the other driver doing his job and this is just the team leader,” said former F1 driver Robert Doornbos on Ziggo Sport.
Veteran motorsport commentator Olav Mol responded: “They were asking him something they already knew the answer to.” Then you go and ask it again and publicly say: I’m not doing that.”
TV presenter Jack Plooij went so far as to say: “If it’s true, it’s also very mean of the team. They know he doesn’t and then they go and ask anyway.’
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