Perez’s progress is reversed as team mate Verstappen obliterates all opposition

2023 F1 team mates head-to-head

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No driver measured up well against Max Verstappen in 2023, so it was hardly surprising that much attention was focused on how far away his team mate was.

Sergio Perez was Verstappen’s closest championship rival. But following the first four rounds of the year there was little rivalry to speak of. Over the rest of the season, Verstappen left his team mate far behind, and it took Perez until the penultimate round of the season to put a lock on the runner-up spot in the championship.

Perez ended the year with less than half of his team mate’s points tally – just 49.6%. The last team mate of a world champion to do so poorly by this measure was Perez himself, in 2021, though few took note as Verstappen was embroiled in a close title fight with Lewis Hamilton. This year was quite different. Prior to that, the last driver to score a lower percentage of his title-winning team mate’s score was Giancarlo Fisichella in 2005, when his team mate Fernando Alonso triumphed for Renault.

No driver has spent longer as Verstappen’s team mate than Perez, who now has three full years and 66 races on the books alongside the benchmark talent in F1 today. He famously arrived as Verstappen’s fourth different team mate in the space of little more than two years as Red Bull tried to find a suitable replacement for Daniel Ricciardo, who gave up the role at the end of 2018.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Hungaroring, 2023
Perez was clearly struggling at mid-season
The crushing nature of Perez’s defeat this year means the question must again be asked whether he has performed significantly better than those who were cast aside more quickly. Does his lap time deficit to Verstappen in qualifying really look that much better than, for example, Pierre Gasly’s over his 12 races at Red Bull before being demoted mid-season?

When Perez joined Red Bull in 2021, the team was using a mildly developed version of its previous car, and his unfamiliarity with it relative to Verstappen was understood to put him at a disadvantage. That appeared to change at the beginning of last season, when new technical regulations were introduced. Over the season Verstappen gained the upper hand, but Perez still scored more than two-thirds of his team mate’s points tally – a clear improvement.

But this year Perez regressed severely, at least after the first four races. While Verstappen said he made a breakthrough in understanding the RB19’s handling as he followed his victorious team mate home in Baku, Perez found the car more of a handful as the team refined it over the following races. It took him a long time to recover from the blow of Miami, where Perez started on pole position, eight places ahead of Verstappen, yet still lost to him.

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From then on the pair seldom encountered each other on-track. Perez gave Verstappen a hard time at the start in Austria but even in the first half of the season it felt like a parting shot. On the rare occasions Verstappen found himself behind his team mate he breezed past him with total ease, whether through the pits (Zandvoort) or on-track (Las Vegas).

At least by the final races Perez had begun to address the slip-ups in qualifying which led to an unacceptable succession of eliminations before Q3. But while Verstappen cruised to win after win in the dominant RB19, Perez regularly made hard work of escaping the clutches of the midfield. Small wonder Red Bull team principal Christian Horner faced question after question why Perez’s under-performance was being tolerated, and whether Ricciardo’s return at AlphaTauri was a dress rehearsal for a Red Bull return.

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Unrepresentative comparisons omitted. Negative value: Verstappen was faster; Positive value: Perez was faster

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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36 comments on “Perez’s progress is reversed as team mate Verstappen obliterates all opposition”

  1. The real problem with the statement in the headline is that the rest of the “opposition” has the excuse of not driving the same, already legendary, car as Verstappen did, making the destruction even that much harsher.

    Now as for the question posed in the article about the performance of Perez versus the likes of Gasly and Albon, it’s of course impossible to tell, but in the few years he’s been with Red Bull he’s certainly -overall- has been the more consistent of the set, I think we can all agree on that much. However, the others were (relative) rookies compared to Checo and the question then remains, was Perez performing significantly better than those two had they been given two more years at the team? It’s hard to say a definite “yes” on that, but I feel pretty confident to say if we flip the question to “Would Perez have performed worse than Albon or Gasly?” that the answer to that would be no, it would at worst be the same.

    So in that light, given that no top driver would want (or should want to) to take the second Red Bull seat, I think Perez is probably still the most logical person to fit that seat. At the very least until Ricciardo has another half season of experience at AT under his belt.

    1. Perez was basically shut out 20 races in a row after the first few GPs. There’s no way to twist that positively. Max is amazing, but he’s not that amazing as we’ve very well seen.

      1. I think it would be easier to argue the gap is because of Max’s talent if Perez was consistently finishing P2 to Max’s P1. But he wasn’t. At the end of the day even if Max is too good to beat the gap in points (290) would not be anywhere close to that if Perez was finishing P2 or P3 every race, which he should have been doing.

    2. Alonso would take that second seat in a heartbeat unless you somehow don’t consider him a top driver.

      1. Not sure he’d be all that willing to sign a contract requiring him to be No.2 in Verstappen’s team, given the consequences of such. Just look at what people are saying about Perez now, just like they were with Albon and Gasly – and some people still make silly comments about Ricciardo’s time there before.
        Hypothetically, if Alonso were capable of beating Verstappen consistently – how would the team feel about it? Do we really think they’d be happy?
        I certainly don’t.
        They’ve signed up their No.1 for the next several years – an no matter what, nobody else will be given preference there during that time. And yes – a driver does need that preference when it comes to race strategy and car development when in the fight for the championship. That’s how F1 works now.

        1. They’d be happier than every woman Jos has concussed.

      2. That was also my though.
        Apart from Alonos, Norris may also be willing to take the gauntlet if he loses faith in McLaren.
        I would guess that Leclerd, Sainz and Russell all bet that their best chance on victories and championships are within their current teams, in the hope that they pick up form.

        Until this year I would have guessed that Hamilton would not risk a direct confrontation with Verstappen. But if Mercedes keeps on struggling… Given that the general consensus seems to be that Verstappen is currently better than Hamilton, Hamilton might calculate that even a minor defeat against his much younger rival would reflect well on his own legacy.

        All of this is purely hypothetical of course. RB will not hire a real challenger in that second seat.

      3. A heartbeat is way too long LOL

  2. Segio had problems with the fronts during the most cooler grandprixs which were the ones he did very bad. But that was a Red Bull weakness which Max also complains over during that time which with his late breaking technic made heating up the fronts even more worse and he binned it several times during those times.
    As the temperatures and development made heating up the front better Sergio drove much better.
    Still he had problems to get his A-game on track as Max just dissapears in the distance. Only in the simulator he could understand what went wrong but i found it way too late for a F1 driver to adjust.

  3. Perez was never signed to compete against Verstappen. He was out of a drive before Redbull signed him, arguably harsh but he wasn’t brilliant enough to have a guaranteed seat to begin with. So the comparison to a 25 year old who is arguably the best driver on the grid at this point in time is a bit unfair. The real question should be how good a number two driver is he and is he doing enough.

    1. It’s an interesting case indeed and I agree he should be judged as a #2, not hired to challenge Max (unfortunately for us).

      He was still key in Max title in 21 thanks to his aggressive defending on Hamilton in the last round.
      RedBull still scored 1-2 in WDC and 1 in WCC this year.
      Easy for RedBull to give/justify preferential strategy.
      More points = more money to pay by RedBull.

      It’s no sparkle but Perez fits the bill for RedBull at the moment.

    2. True, but it wasn’t a good season for a number two either when he had the best car for 21 races, zero reliability problems and finished in the top two just six times. That is 16 races where he left points on the table through underperformance (including Singapore which was a bad race). Valtteri Bottas would have scored far more points in that car. Also, Bottas was able to occasionally beat Hamilton on a good day, which keeps the lead driver from getting complacent and, apart from Baku, there was never any remote challenge to Verstappen from Perez. Although Verstappen just doesn’t get complacent. It was a woeful season for Perez; I would argue the worst ever from a driver finishing second in the championship.

      1. Frentzen’s 1997 season springs immediately to mind as one that was potentially worse.

      2. That’s yet ANOTHER highly sobering stat about just how bad Perez was this season.

    3. I wouldn’t call it arguably harsh, the fact perez lost his seat in 2020, I’d call it definitely harsh, considering he was replaced by a driver who was worse at that point in time (vettel).

  4. I feel bad for Perez. For most of his career he’s been a well-regarded driver: not the best on the grid, but alongside great drivers like Sainz, and ahead of good drivers like Bottas.

    A simple look at the driver rankings on this site (and others) show he’s driven well for years. His results before Red Bull (starting with 2020 and going into the past) were 7th, 6th, 7th, 7th, 8th — that’s solid and fast.

    2021 was bad, but he built in 2022, and actually challenged Max in the first few races of 2023. The speed and talent are there… were there.

    For most of this year, things didn’t work. He didn’t drive as he can; he didn’t drive well. Why? We can’t know. Did he dare to dream of beating Max and then get his hopes crushed? Does he have personal issues going on outside F1? Did he struggle to fight of an illness?

    What we know is that performed poorly in qualifying, scored well under his potential in the car, and he’s had strips torn out of him. He must be aware of what people have said, and worse, he knows there’s a grain of truth behind even the unreasonable comments. He must be hurting like hell now the season’s over.

    For next year, there is literally no driver available that’s better than what Perez normally delivers. But most of the grid is better than what Perez produced last year. Red Bull will hope he can relight the spark, but fear they will need to bench him. Meanwhile someone who’s been a very good driver for most of his career looks back on a wasted season and a reputation in tatters.

    It’s fair to rank him near the bottom of the drivers this year, but I hope people remember the decent person and good driver that sits behind the poor performances.

    1. Bottas is absolutely horrible now, but before Sauber I doubt ANYONE ranked him ahead of or even alongside Valterri. lol, anytime I say his first name I hear “Valterri, this is Toto” in my head.

      I do agree that a once well regarded driver has had his stock and reputations absolutely dragged through the mud this season.

  5. Not the same car that’s why.

    1. Wow, you’ve got it bad, don’t you.

      1. Not as bad as deluded 33 fans

    2. Perez isn’t stupid, he wouldn’t accept that.

      1. Perez is a lap dog who has no choice.

        1. He’s a multi-millionaire who could quit any day and live a life of comfort most of us can not even dream of. Try again.

    3. “Not the same car….”

      And you know that how?

      1. The car is designed around 33 with all the top parts going to him to help him win his hollow titles.

        1. The car is designed around 33

          Well I’ not sure that is true, but even if it is, that doesn’t ean Perez is given a different car, as you claim.

          with all the top parts going to him

          What are these “top parts” you are talking about. Can you give any specific example of when MV received some top part and SP didn’t?

          1. Alan D, do you know that one about playing chess with a pigeon?

          2. Melanos, I’d never heard that phrase before, but I googled it, and it is very apt.

  6. I am always against conspiracy theories but there is something strange here that no one explains. In 2022, PER was, not on par with VER but competitive until Monaco. After that, PER went backwards quickly and unexpectedly. VER wasn’t happy (as later in the season transpired VER held a grudge against PER for the Monaco crash). Similar fact pattern in 2023. PER looked competitive until round 4. There, VER was openly unhappy (in part due to a strategy that did not go his way) and only a week later, in another street circuit, you saw a massive difference in Miami and that only increased over the following races. It was only a week, no changes to the car and from being very competitive in Baku to losing so badly in Miami.

    Another thing that makes me wonder is that PER was again a bit (not much) more competitive after HAM got closer in the standings. As if someone made something in the car or in PER’s brain/skills to switch on/off depending on the situation.

    Again, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories and won’t do it here. But PER’s change in performance and in 2022 and 2023 follow a pattern …

    1. I can explain that for you in a way that isn’t a conspiracy theory.

      When Verstappen is in a car that he can’t get the most out of, he relentlessly works until he’s able to get the most out of it.

      So instead of conspiracy theories, I suggest you look up the Baku race this year in F1TV Pro, load up the Verstappen on-board and listen to his on-board radio messages with GP for the latter half of that race. You will notice they’re consistently changing settings during the race, trying different things, to find something that works. That will show you what exactly changed between race 4 and 5 of this year that explains Verstappen’s shift in success.

      1. It’s not enough to explain the season: if what you said were true, we’d only see verstappen being faster than usual and perez same as usual, but no, perez fell into the midfield after that with a dominant car, it’s indeed suspicious.

        1. That can also be down to Pere though. What we have seen with Hamilton as well is that he needed to get started in a season. Bottas occasionally seemed like a reasonable challenger, AUS2019 comes to mind. However, the thing with drivers like Lewis and Verstappen is is that they move towards a level of understanding of a car that is near impossible for others to attain (they’re just very talented). What they are also doing very well is their own energy management. They do not expend more mental energy on the race and the event than necessary for the win and know very well how they should relax in between.

          Rosberg, not a poor driver, threw all he had one year at Hamilton and it turned out to be barely enough to beat him. Good on him. Bottas and Perez occasionally have started strong but just haven’t managed to maintain that level of functioning over a season which is required to beat Hamilton or Verstappen. Combine that drained mind a few races in, and then Hamilton or Verstappen continue in their way, put in a drive like Miami this year, and they are not really able to recover from the confidence hit.

          It’s in the mind in the end. How would a Perez beat Verstappen? Either he does the Rosberg, or he has to do the opposite of what he does now. That is, relax, trust himself, enjoy the driving and the process of setting up and refining the car, and not care about the rest. Maybe, and that is maybe, he will find a form in which he can put up a longer challenge.

      2. Thank you for your “illuminating” comment. As others have said, this, if anything, explains VER’s increase in form but not PER falling down into the midfield. In addition, remember that, in Miami, PER’s race wasn’t pleasant at all with ALO just over 2 seconds behind for most of the race, while VER’s race was majestic. It doesn’t add up. In a space of a week, VER, supposedly under your theory, radically increased his performance, while PER’s started his struggles. Do the “setting changes” in Baku you mention explain both phenomena?

        I agree with BanBoomBots that PER is not a real contender for VER. But who is ? RIC, GAS and ALB proved not be. RIC was the closest but he was driving that car way before VER was promoted and he himself eventually realized the team saw more future in VER. The question for me is not why PER did not challenge VER. In fact, I think it is somewhat misguided when the media and the blogs blast PER for not challenging VER. That has never been RBR’s plan. The questions is why PER was struggling in the midfield after high perfomances in the first four races. If it is all down to PER, I am sure RBR would not have kept him for 2024.

    2. I think it speaks to the mindset of Perez, not being able to motivate himself sufficiently at the top level, and not being able to adapt when conditions were not ideal. He was resigned to finishing second, and struggling with the pressure of people asking if he was keeping his seat. Maybe the combination of Horner reassuring him that he would be in the RB in 24 come what may and the realisation LH has closing in on him spurred him on at the end of the season.

      1. I think it speaks to the mindset of Perez

        That’s a really strange – even naive – thing to say.
        Perez isn’t new to being a racing driver, nor is he a mentally-weak child who needs constant coddling – he knows what he needs to perform at his best, and it’s down to the team to provide it for him.
        A car more suited to his driving preferences would suffice… That’s where motivation and confidence comes from in motorsport.

  7. RB have always steered clear of having two top drivers together.
    Two B standard drivers yes: DC and Webber. But since those days their favourites have been lavished with love while the team mate has had to accept being expendable. They can not be bothered replacing Perez. As well him as another piloto secondo.

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