Christian Horner has admitted that Sergio Perez needs to bring his “A-game” weekend in, weekend out if he hopes to challenge Max Verstappen during the 2023 campaign, describing the Dutchman as “the highest benchmark” on the F1 grid.
Perez joined Verstappen at Red Bull from Racing Point (now Aston Martin) in 2021, playing a supporting role in the Dutchman lifting that year’s drivers’ trophy before the pair combined to give the team their first constructors’ title in nine years last season.
However, despite taking sporadic wins and regular podiums with his new outfit, Perez has often struggled to live with the raw pace displayed by Verstappen – underlined by significant differences in their pole position, victory and points tallies across the two seasons they have spent together.
With 2023 marking another fresh opportunity for Perez, Horner was asked what the Mexican has got to change to challenge Verstappen at every Grand Prix weekend, to which the Red Bull team boss initially said with a smile: “His lap time.”
Race Highlights: 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix
Horner then expanded: “Look, Max is a hell of a competitor and he’s a tough… probably the highest benchmark in F1. But Checo is now in his third year in the team, he’s confident, he’s comfortable and he’s got to be on his A-game – not just with Max.
“[Ferrari’s] drivers are pushing each other hard, Mercedes’ drivers are [pushing each other] hard, we’ve got what looks like a pretty motivated veteran [Fernando Alonso] in a green car as well, so it’s going to be a really exciting year.”
Pointing out that Perez is “mature enough” to deal with the challenge of racing alongside Verstappen in the same equipment, Horner was also keen to note some of the qualities the 33-year-old brings to Red Bull.
“I think the key thing in the appointment of Checo was his experience. And it had been unfair, perhaps, on the previous two guys [Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon] to bring them in so soon,” said Horner, referring to Red Bull’s previous driver line-up movements.
“I think Checo with that experience, he’s been through some of the hard knocks and so on with his career to that point, and I think what he’s brought to us is… he’s a very rounded guy, he’s a great team player.
“He’s got a good outlook on the development of the car and he’s very easy to work with, so that’s all the reasons for taking him in the first place, and he’s delivering on that.”
Red Bull started the 2023 season with a comfortable one-two finish at the Bahrain Grand Prix – Verstappen beating Perez to pole position by just over a tenth of a second, before leading him home by almost 12 seconds on race day.