Formula 1: Perez faster again: Red Bull duel comes to a head

He drives in the form of his life – and is suddenly a World Cup candidate: Sergio Perez is on the upswing after his recent victory in Monaco and the subsequent contract extension with Red Bull until 2024.
At the Azerbaijan GP in Baku on Saturday, Perez only had to admit defeat to Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari, which is traditionally strong in qualifying. Despite a problem before the decisive lap in Q3, Perez ended up ahead of his teammate Max Verstappen again – as in all three practice sessions on the fast street circuit.

“The balance is just not to my liking, it’s actually been like that all weekend,” admits Verstappen and explains: “If you don’t have the feeling, it’s just difficult to really push to the limit, especially on a street course. ”

The tight city circuits are currently causing problems for Verstappen compared to Perez: “Maybe it would be a bit better on normal routes, but even then I’m not entirely happy. The car is still pretty new,” says the Dutchman. He is accordingly dissatisfied with his trip to third place on the grid: “There were simply too many small mistakes.”

Not Max Verstappen’s day: Sergio Perez faster again

Perez, on the other hand, can better access the potential of the RB18 on Saturday – although the Mexican is kept in the pits for an unplanned long time before his last shot because the team still has to refuel. “That broke the rhythm a bit because I was far away from the other cars and didn’t have a slipstream, which is very powerful here. I also had to push way too hard on the outlap, which wasn’t ideal,” Perez said angrily rank two.

The experts are still amazed by the performance explosion of the 32-year-old: “Last season he was clearly overshadowed by Max. But this year the car suits him much better and Checo (Perez’ nickname; ed.) looks like he’s changed, he’s definitely in the fight for the world championship now,” says ex-F1 driver Paul di Resta. Perez is only 15 points behind leader Verstappen in the overall standings.

Red Bull motorsport consultant Dr. Helmut Marko was impressed after qualifying in Baku: “Perez is getting stronger from race to race,” says the Austrian happily, adding: “He doesn’t make any mistakes and is good on street circuits. Our Mexican is on fire.” And with it, of all things, sets fire under the buttocks of the world champion!

Red Bull team boss counters Verstappen criticism

Because in the Verstappen camp, the rearing up of the former number two is not well received. Already after the Monaco GP, Verstappen’s father Jos rumbled towards Red Bull, especially against the team’s tactics: “Of course I’m not objective, but they did little to help Max forward. That was disappointing for me and me I would have liked it to be done differently for the leaders of the table,” said Verstappen Senior.

However, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner countered this criticism in Baku: “The number one is the leader, it’s that simple,” explains the Briton in an interview with Sky Sports F1. “That’s why Checo was given the go-ahead for the pit stop. Max, for example, couldn’t even have held his track position on this lap,” said Horner.

Nevertheless, Red Bull is trying to calm things down: “Monaco was a bit tense, but Max was able to understand all the decisions,” says Marko and Horner calms down in the direction of the world champion dad: “Jos is his own master and master. He has his views and we have absolutely no problem with that.” Horner also makes it clear: “Our fight is not Max against Sergio either, our fight is against Ferrari. We have to act as a team.”

Still in the running: Dr. Helmut Marko hopes for victory

The result in Baku underscores this thesis, as Leclerc clinches his sixth pole in the eighth qualifying session of the year – on Saturday the Ferrari is simply a force: “When Ferrari gets everything together, they always seem to be a good step ahead of us in qualifying”, admits Perez. But the Mexican knows: “Second place on the grid is still a good result. This is one of those races where you need patience: If you finish here without making any mistakes, you’re usually in a good position.”

A special race set-up should also help the Red Bull stars: While Ferrari is on the road with more downforce and makes its time mainly in the winding first two sectors, the fast final sector with the long straight is a bank for Perez and Verstappen: Same The Red Bull is nine km/h faster than the red competition when it comes to top speed. The ulterior motive: You can overtake with it in Baku.

“We’re missing something over one lap, but our car should be good in the long run. If you have the pace, it doesn’t matter to start a little further back, then you can get ahead here,” hopes defending champion Verstappen. Marko also believes in good chances of winning because of Red Bull’s race set-up: “We have the top speed and hopefully the faster car in race trim. We also have one hard set of tires left over Ferrari. I hope that we can win on our own.”

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