Verstappen emphatically beat his latest team mate in title-winning year

2021 F1 team mate battles: Verstappen vs Perez

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In order to mount a realistic challenge for either of the two world championship against the might of Mercedes, Red Bull knew they needed a two-pronged attack in 2021.

After unceremoniously discarding both Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon over previous seasons, Red Bull looked outside their own ecosystem and brought in the newly-available veteran Sergio Perez to their team for this season.

But much like his predecessors before him, Perez struggled to emulate the phenomenal pace of Max Verstappen – with the eventual world champion classified ahead in every single round, bar Azerbaijan following his late race misfortune.

It proved an especially difficult start to the year for Perez. Despite out-qualifying his team mate in the second round in Imola, Verstappen scored 105 points to just 44 for Perez over the opening five races of the season as Perez, by his own admission, struggled to adapt to his new car.

“Basically I had to start from zero,” he said. “Learn new techniques of setting up the car, of driving the car. It’s been a great challenge.”

Perez seldom led his team mate
Perez gained a victory in Baku after Verstappen was hit by a puncture that took him out of an almost guaranteed win and followed it up with third in France. But he failed to reach the podium again until the Turkish Grand Prix months later.

Eventually Perez got more familiar with the quirks of the RB16B and became more of a factor at the front around the crucial end of the season, chasing down Lewis Hamilton in the later stages of his home grand prix in Mexico to earn a memorable podium.

Verstappen was firmly locked in a titanic battle with Hamilton for the championship and continued to trade poles and wins with the Mercedes as Perez began to produce more consistent results – albeit not in the same league as Verstappen.

But Perez’s most important contribution to the team came in the season finale in Abu Dhabi, when the produced a masterclass of defensive driving to deliberately slow down Hamilton for the benefit of his team mate. After Verstappen took the title following a late safety car, the new world champion credited his team mate’s actions as being critical to allowing him to stay close enough to Hamilton to make Mercedes second-guess pitting for new tyres.

Having been retained by Red Bull for 2022, Perez says he will be looking to “take another gear” next season and is confident he will be more of a match with his team mate. He will have to find more performance if he is to avoid being on the receiving end of one of the more lopsided intra-team drubbings for a second season in a row.

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Max Verstappen vs Sergio Perez: Key stats

Max Verstappen vs Sergio Perez: Who finished ahead at each round


Max Verstappen vs Sergio Perez: Qualifying gap

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Times based on the last qualifying round at each race weekend in which both drivers set a time. Negative indicates Max Verstappen was faster, positive means Sergio Perez was faster

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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61 comments on “Verstappen emphatically beat his latest team mate in title-winning year”

  1. Looking at the constructors Max beat Ferrari on his own.

  2. Yeah, this was clearly one sided – Perez never showed much signs of being able to beat Max, but then, that was not what he set out to do.

    And I do think that he has proven his worth to Red Bull, looking forward to see how well he can do next year now.

  3. “Basically I had to start from zero,” he said. “Learn new techniques of setting up the car, of driving the car. It’s been a great challenge.”

    Losers have excuses.
    Max jumped into a redbull at midseason in 2016 and won. That weekend in Spain he was also quicker in all sessions bar q3 where Ric pipped him.

    Look also at Sainz this year: moving to a new team where Leclerc settled in as a teamleader.

    Truth is: either Perez is a bad driver or Max truly is a different benchmark. Seeing how Max trashed Gasly (who is so solid in AT) it’s fair to say you can’t blame Perez.

    1. @trib4udi

      I don’t think that Perez is bad (and neither are Gasly and Albon), but that the Red Bull requires top tier car handling skills to put it in the sweet spot, in particular for qualifying.

      A trait of F1 cars is that they need to be driven hard to make the brakes, tires and downforce work, so a driver can get into a downward spiral where they are a bit off the pace, which makes the car harder to handle, which forces them to back off, so they are way slower than their team mate, much more than the actual difference in skill.

    2. Driving a season and a half the Toro Rosso can’t be called start from zero to redbull but yeah He is definitely in a league at his own.

  4. Like Alonso said.. “I would hate to be Verstappen teammate.”

    This guy has dropped teammates left and right.

    Ricciardo, Gasly, Perez, arguably Albon aswell are all. Decent drivers, at various times. They were considered to be the future greats.

    But then they all fall pray to young Max.

    Perez is quite emotionally strong, a very solid #2, kinda like Bottas was for Mercedes.

    Maybe Gasly is faster now and worth considering for next year?

    Who knows what Perez brings to the table off track. I hazard to bet with his experience, much more than other guys on the list.

    One should note that often Perez was sacrificed for Maximizing results.

    1. “I would hate to be Verstappen teammate.”

      Genuinely surprised at that, when did Fred say it? Got a reference?

      1. Strange because especially a few years ago, when verstappen was still making some mistakes and alonso was at his peak, I’d have thought they’d be a combination of speed and experience, a crazy team pairing.

        1. I don’t think they would be a very good match. They’re both clear no. 1 drivers.

          Although Alonso did a great job as a teammate with Ocon’s win in Hungary this year.

  5. The main way Perez played a crucial role is that he never second finished behind Verstappen when they had a car fast enough to beat Hamilton / Mercedes. If he had been able to do that Verstappen would have won the title sooner and Red Bull could have challenged more strongly for the constructors title. Azerbaijan was probably the only race where he impressed and even then he messed up his second start (although Hamiltons clumsiness in the cockpit cancelled that out and more)

    1. Maybe the car never was fast enough to beat a Mercedes/Lewis. Maybe it was only fast enough in Max’s hands.

      1. Verstappen isn’t magic he is just a great racing driver. Other drivers would have performed better than Perez, got closer to Verstappen and beaten Hamilton / Mercedes more often. I would expect Leclerc, Sainz, Norris, Ricciardo, Alonso, Ocon, Vettel and Russell to have done better than Perez in terms of beating Hamilton / Mercedes more than once and matching / occasionally beating Verstappen. However I am sure Verstappen would beat them all over a season.

    2. Bottas never finished second behind Hamilton when Mercedes had the edge on Red Bull either. Funnily enough, the only team that has gotten a 1-2 this year was… McLaren.

      1. Well I didn’t even notice that fact!! That’s interesting!

  6. The job of a number two driver isn’t easy, and merely looking at the results can oscure races where their strategies were compromised to help the lead driver. That said, the best number two drivers are always there. Either to help, or to pick up the pieces. For all the criticism he got, Barrichello actually won quite a number of races where Schumacher faltered.

    In Perez’ case, there is room for improvement on both counts. Too often Verstappen was left fighting Hamilton, or even both Mercedes, on his own. His championship campaign was also burdened by having Hamilton finish 2nd way too often in races where Red Bull had the upper hand. When Hamilton crashed Verstappen out of the race in Silverstone, where was Perez? Way back after a spin in the sprint race, and then to much of a factor in the GP.

    Hopefully Perez can start his races closer to Verstappen next year, because in the races where he did, he played a solid team game.

    1. The job for a #2 is indeed not easy.

      I do feel for Perez, and I think the fact he is #2 and in a top team where everyone expects great things from you sort of diminishes his specialty.

      In my opinion, Peres is one of those drivers that is mediocre in many areas, but absolutely excels in others (the king of the 1 stop). From memory, this quality has given him many podiums in the past, pulling them out of nowhere basically. To me he is the kind of driver that really shines from the underdog position, outside of the spotlight. He was never a great qualifier nor particularly good at wheel to wheel action (although in that last race he might have proven me wrong there).

      I feel like this year, the few times he could have put in a mighty tire management performance in, the team needed him to play a role in the strategy against Mercedes to cover Max.

      1. Agree he is bad in Qualifying, but man He is one of the best sunday racers specially in wheel to wheel action. Since Sauber and his bad times at Mclaren, to brilliant races at force india. He hasn’t had the consistency this season but I believe he can be closer next one.

  7. Strange thing F1 – most will consider Perez’s first season at Red Bull a success, but if Valtteri Bottas had been so comprehensively thrashed by Hamilton people would have been calling for him to be sacked by mid-season. Perez could only wish to be as close to Verstappen as Bottas was to Hamilton over his 5 seasons as team mates.

    1. I would rate Perez as high as Bottas.
      This doesn’t imply btw that Lewis is much worse than Max.

      I think Lewis has been cruising before 2021. With only Bottas to beat he could choose to have some offweekends. You see in 2021 he stepped back up in his game due to Max and he trashed Bottas most weekends.

    2. @geemac

      Definitely strange. The only explanation I can think of is that Perez is an extremely popular driver, while Bottas has often been ridiculed in recent years and his strengths (Qualifying) are regularly underplayed.

      Mid-season, I would never have expected Red Bull to extend Perez’s contract, especially after they had shown little patience in recent years. I think the main reason for the extension was the tense world championship battle. It could have been a decisive moral support for Perez, as it was not foreseeable how much Red Bull would still need him in the title fight.

      I am curious to see what happens next season, but personally I think that Red Bull expects an improvement from Perez, otherwise a driver swap during the season is not out of the question.

    3. Mercedes and Red-Bulls are very different teams regarding how their drivers have fared. Bottas replaced someone who had just beaten Hamilton but has steadily regressed with respect to Hamilton, to the point where he seemed further away from him this year than at anytime in their time together. Perez however is in his first season with Red-Bull vs Verstappen and the previous incumbants have suffered far worse including Gasly who has proved he’s no slouch. He’s also the first non-Verstappen driver to win at Red-Bull for 3 years and Red-Bull were in the WCC fight until the last race.

      1. I’m not saying perez wasn’t an improvement over his predecessors, but not over ricciardo, he was a bit disappointing, especially earlier in the season.

        As far as I saw bottas was more consistently doing the mininum you’d expect for the car he had, while perez was harder to overtake and better at overtaking.

  8. This looks like Alonso vs Massa in 2012, total domination.

  9. I honestly thought checo would be much closer to max, especially in the race. In the end he was only on similar race pace à handful of times and apart from Baku where he was matching Max’s pace and was right behind on track, he was often battling traffic which cost him time and points.

    I would say though he had some bad luck, even when he had found some decent form later in the season. There was probably 5 podiums lost to bad fortune and I reckon over the year had things gone more in his favour he could have easily had another 100 points and would have been comfortably 3rd in the championship which would have given Red Bull the constructors as well. Losing points in Imola, Silverstone, Hungary and podiums in Sochi, Monza, Brazil, Qatar and Abu Dhabi. The more I think about it, there was other opportunities to have podiums and score big and the wrong decision or a bad pitstop happened… I think it’s safe to say that if Red Bull can produce another title winning car I would expect Checo to so a much better job the second time round.

  10. Perez drove a car made for Max all year. A difficult car no less. Max was brought up in the RB system before moving to the top team. Most would like to forget that little detail. Perez has gotten stronger on year 2 with the teams.

    Hopefully Perez becomes World Champion in 2022.

    1. If it were the detailslike ‘a car made for Max’, ‘difficult car’, and ‘brought up in the RB system’ wouldn’t one expect the gap to reduce over the year?
      Especially if you want to have a chance at WDC in 2022.

      My summary is a bit different: There is a significant quality difference between the two, and the bit in which Perez used to excel (gentle on the tyres) did manifest itself until the final race.

      1. He was not really ‘brought up in the RB system’, before going to Toro Rosso, he was one season in F3.
        So, he went from F3 straight to F1. Marko and Wolff/Lauda both saw his potential, but Mercedes could not give him a F1 seat.

  11. Putting aside Perez insufficient pace compared to Verstappen. Red Bull had realistic shot on WCC had Perez minimized his driving errors.

    In the end he just had too much of them to be a sufficient n.2 driver in Red Bull. His mistake that took him out in Imola, several major driving errors in Silverstone race, an unforced error on formation lap in Belgium, one could argue about his role in the restart crash in Saudi Arabia too. All in all, that costed RB loads of points.

    He had his ups, certainly when he was poised against Hamilton on track in Turkey, Brasil & Abu Dhabi. But these instances in my eyes, cannot blur the conclusion that another such season might be his last with Red Bull.

    1. Fully agree with you. I think SP’s exceptional defence in Abu Dhabi has saved his seat for some time but he needs to improve his performance if RBR wants to go for the WCC.

      1. Absolutely, I feel like if you swap him and bottas red bull wins the WCC.

  12. The strange thing for me is that it feels like Perez had a better season than Bottas in terms of backing up his team leader and influencing the strategy of his leading rival during the season (the final race in Abu Dhabi being a case in point, where Bottas was unable to overtake slower cars despite a DRS advantage, and so couldn’t close in on the top 3 in the race). However, Mercedes still clinched the constructors title and Bottas finished in front of Perez, and I can’t quite understand how that’s happened!

    1. This brings be to a point I made earlier.
      These analyses would be more insightful if comparing Max to Lewis and Checo to Valtteri. The difference in car potential seemed to be less than the differences between 1st and 2nd driver in both teams.

    2. @f1hornet That it feels like Perez was more helpful to Max than VB was to LH is something I agree with and to me is likely just down to timing and circumstances in certain races, but I don’t think it is too difficult to understand that SP was always going to be on his hind foot of the four drivers at RBR and Merc. SP was the newbie on his team. It only makes sense to me that averaged out SP should have ended up behind the other three I’ve cited. They’d all had 4+ years on their team compared to SP and should have hit the track running at the start of the season, with SP finding his way and the team learning about him.

    3. The strange thing for me is that it feels like Perez had a better season than Bottas in terms of backing up his team leader and influencing the strategy of his leading rival during the season […] However, Mercedes still clinched the constructors title and Bottas finished in front of Perez, and I can’t quite understand how that’s happened!

      I would look for answers in the directions of confirmarion bias and cognitive dissonance.

      Bottas is likely to be a better qualifier than Perez and this gives him an advantage during races. Perez is more likely to advance through the grid but being less hesitant to overtake also makes you more likely to collect damage or penalties.
      Combine these factors and you get that even if Perez has a better and error free race, he is still likely to end up behind Bottas.

      My guess is that Bottas would outscore Perez if they were team mates in a front running car. Bottas would be long gone before Perez has wrestled his way through the midfield.
      In a midfield car, Perez should outscore Bottas over a full season.

      1. I agree with your relative assessment. I suspect we will get a fairly anonymous season from Bottas at Alfa Romeo, whereas Perez would get the occasional notable performance in the same car.

        1. In general I agree, but maybe bottas could be like raikkonen, a driver who wakes up when the pressure is off and maybe he will perform relatively better, we’ll see.

  13. Perez was not taken to Red Bull to battle Max. He was taken to help Max and to disturb other drivers.

    1. @bulgarian I’m sure he was also hired to do his best and help them win the WCC and help Max strategy wise, and whether it was SP or someone else, they were always going to be starting off on their hind foot vs. Max as the newbie on the team, so they were always likely to end up in a supporting role given the inevitable points deficit that was most likely going to happen starting from race one. Similarly, they likely didn’t hire VB to battle LH, and given VB’s continued showing of his lack of race craft and challenge to LH, and their continued hiring of VB anyway, I think it safe to say he was repeatedly re-signed year on year to help LH and to disturb other drivers.

      It’s an interesting one. What do you do when you have a star driver on your team and it is unlikely that his teammate, whether new or continuous, is going to get near him and compete with him on a regular basis? It’s always going to be tough for the teammates of Max and LH. But if their teammates can muster a challenge ala Nico to LH, it is up to the star drivers to rise to the occasion and be pushed to themselves do better.

      1. I replied to the topic because Sergio is not allowed to compete with Max, similarly to Rubens and Michael situation in Ferrari.

        1. You probably meant Lewis Bottas situation.

          “This james”…

          1. You are typically wrong again, erikje.

  14. @bulgarian Reubens was actually under contract to not compete against MS. No such thing exists at RBR unless you have evidence otherwise. Of course SP is allowed to compete against Max, but that was never in the cards for this season as SP was always going to be starting off behind as the newbie. With Max and LH splitting the top points from race one they were never likely going to have SP rob points from Max just as VB was not going to rob points from LH.

    1. Do you have evidence that Sergio is not under contract to not compete against Max?

      1. That is something Checo himself stated multiple times..
        So you are the one to prove otherwise.

      2. @bulgarian No I don’t, but you are the one that put out the ‘not allowed’ comment, so on what are you basing that? I haven’t heard a peep of that from anywhere and by all accounts SP is free to do as well as he can on the team with equal opportunity to Max. On the other hand, as you may or may not know, Reubens admitted to his contract in the post-race interviews of Austria 02. What say you about SP again? Exactly why is he ‘not allowed?’

        1. Well, pit stop strategy is very weird for Sergio – it is always to disturb Hamilton and stay in his pit window. In other words Sergio is in Red Bull to help Max and not to have the best result for Sergio himself.

          1. its a bit like Botttas indeed.
            The difference Bottas has to yield to when a win is possible.

          2. Just a bit, because Sergio is doing it every race.

          3. because Sergio is doing it every race.

            that at least proves you missed a lot this year ;)

        2. It seems a widespread opinion that barrichello had a contract clause to not fight schumacher, which I don’t understand, cause it’s like if perez wasn’t allowed to fight verstappen or bottas hamilton, what’s the point? They wouldn’t beat them anyway unless they had to sit half the season out like 1999.

  15. In a rational/logical world, this season would have dispelled the “it’s only the car” theory long before it ended. The truth is that very few can hold their own against Max as a team mate and a solid midfield racer like Perez is not one of them. I expect him to be beaten the same way or worse next year even though they will both have to adapt to a completely different car.

    1. Absolutely don’t expect perez to do much better, maybe more like his better races this year, but not better than those.

  16. While this year was totally one-sided, I hope Perez can step up in 2022. Then again, with the new cars, he might have to start again from scratch…

  17. If Perez would be the same 21 year old Perez who joined Sauber in 2011 would he still be in Red Bull family. After we have witnessed what has happen to Albon, Gasly and all the other before that. I would say just and just. Because Max won but he cannot get too confortable just because he has more experience than the most RB juniors.

    1. Most doesn’t mean all.

  18. Not sure if he’s too old and set in his ways to learn how to be quick over one lap, but if he isn’t, that’s what he needs to work on. Leaves himself far too much to do on Sundays.

    But then, it could also be a car thing – he’s an afterthought in the team so it’s plausible the car just doesn’t suit his style. Only improved his average grid spot by 0.5 from 2020 to 2021 despite having a far, far better car…

    1. In a interview with David Coulthard Max said he has not a particular driving style. He just contantly adapts to the car.
      I think that is were Max differs from a lot of other drivers who need a car that suit their style.

      1. I saw that too and is probaly why Max did well when he drove in 2016 for RB and did very well. I think most top drivers have this ability which is handy because from his words the 2022 car is completly different.

    2. Wow, that is a really bad stat!

  19. How serious it is to include the Abu Dhabi GP race and qualifying comparison between Sergio Perez and Max? I find it to be cynical to Sergio.

    1. only if it was a compare between max and lewis ;)
      It was a fantastic race with a well deserved winner.
      Just look at youtube and see the international enthousiast reactions ov the win by max.. Great to see.
      So many fans all over the world.

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