With Red Bull in such a dominant position, pundits are looking for ways to increase the excitement of races in which a Red Bull 1-2 is almost a certainty. It isn’t the first time this happened in the sport, far from it, F1 has been defined by periods of domination. Most recently, it was Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton but in 2016 it was the battle between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg that provided much of the excitement. There is an attempt to do something similar this year with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, but is this a likely scenario or is this just media hype?
In the current standings, Verstappen leads Perez by just 14 points with 119 points to 105. Given that only one win separates the two, it would suggest that things are quite close. The problem is that Sergio Perez has won on tracks that suit his style, namely street circuits like Jeddah and Baku. These are the only tracks where Perez has achieved victory and if you look at Perez’s finishes at other tracks, you’ll see that he doesn’t have the consistency of his teammate.
In Bahrain, Perez finished in P2 which is fantastic, but he was +11.987s behind Verstappen in P1. In Australia, Perez suffered “unacceptable” car problems and finished P5. Now look at Verstappen’s results in the races he didn’t win – in Jeddah he was +5.355s behind Perez, in Baku he was only +2.137s behind. Even if Verstappen loses, he isn’t far behind Perez.
As we saw in Miami, Perez lost due to each driver running different tyre strategies after the hard tyre was discovered to be very effective, despite simulations suggesting that the medium would be the preferred tyre.
We are still in the early stages of a very long season, but if we compare these results to the 2016 season, we see that Perez isn’t putting up the same challenge that Nico Rosberg did against Hamilton.
In the first race of 2016 in Australia, Rosberg won +8.060s ahead of Hamilton. In Bahrain, Rosberg won again +10.282s ahead of Hamilton. China, +37.776s ahead of Hamilton, +25.022s ahead in Russia. Then in Spain, both Mercedes collided ending both their races.
It’s fairly plain to see that the 2023 season is not mirroring 2016 in the slightest. Perez has not shown the level of dominance that Rosberg did against his teammate. Granted, in 2016, Hamilton was able to regain ground during the middle of the season, so perhaps Perez is merely biding his time.
There is a mindset required to beat a driver of the same calibre as Verstappen or Hamilton, it asks so much of the driver that Rosberg retired immediately after winning the championship. It’s a mindset that Perez might not have, at least known loudmouth Ralf Schumacher doesn’t believe he does.
“Sergio Perez drove strongly in Azerbaijan,” Schumacher wrote in his Sky Germany column. “He also has the potential here and there to be faster than Max Verstappen. But with a view to the world championship fight, I don’t think he has the consistency of Verstappen.
“He sometimes makes a mistake under pressure when he’s not too happy with the car. Verstappen doesn’t make those mistakes and so I think he’ll be the better driver throughout the year.”
The team at Red Bull are certainly preparing for a title fight between their two drivers with team principal, Christian Horner, saying that he’s happy that this is kind of problem he’s facing as it’s “something [Red Bull] experienced before” and believes the “key thing is to ensure that paranoia doesn’t creep in, that both drivers are treated equally.”
So is there really the potential for a title fight between the teammates? Yes, but it is unlikely to come down to the wire. If Perez can beat Verstappen on tracks other than street circuits, we could see some drama, but as it stands, Verstappen is in a superior form. Will we see tension like we did between Rosberg and Hamilton? Unlikely, as while both Perez and Verstappen have had their moments, particularly after Brazil in 2022, the team seemed to have sorted it out behind closed doors in a short time.
So is this just a media hyped rivalry? Probably as the season is turning out to be less eventful than the last two and there has to be something to make things interesting. No one wants a boring period of dominance like we saw with Mercedes. That actively hurt viewer participation in the races, and the most recent set of regulations were designed specifically to avoid this as much as possible by allowing cars to follow more easily. We had Ferrari vs Red Bull last year, but that faded away and has failed to be carried into 2023. There needs to be a hook to get people watching, that’s the role of the F1 media, and that hook seems to be Perez vs Verstappen, for the simple fact that none of the other teams can touch Red Bull on race day.
What do you think?