Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner claims avoiding a penalty at the next round in Qatar was the “only decent thing” to come from Sergio Perez’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Perez lagged considerably behind Max Verstappen throughout practice and qualified a seismic seven-tenths adrift of his team-mate, leaving him down in fifth on the grid.

Explaining the huge margin between his two drivers, Horner believes that Perez was struggling with confidence through the high-speed sections of the Suzuka circuit.

“I think this is a confidence circuit, and where Sergio was struggling was mainly in the high-speed corners compared to Max,” he explained.

“You could tell Max, the confidence that he had, the speed that he was able to carry through the high-speed stuff, was mind-boggling.”

While Verstappen maintained the lead at the start and soared to another supreme victory, Perez made contact with Lewis Hamilton on the blast to Turn 1, damaging his front wing.

Having overtaken Fernando Alonso on his way into the pitlane, Perez was then hit with a five-second time penalty before rejoining the pack behind the Safety Car.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 with front wing damage. 24.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Race Day.

Shortly after the restart, Perez locked up and sent Kevin Magnussen’s Haas into a spin at the Turn 11 hairpin, requiring another front wing change and earning himself a penalty.

Red Bull elected to retire the Mexican at the end of Lap 15 but sent him back out onto the track on Lap 40 in order to serve his second five-second penalty before ending his race for a second time just three laps later.

Reviewing Perez’s nightmare Sunday, Horner reflected: “He got off to a bad start. He got pinballed on the way down to Turn 1. That was unlucky for him. He then had damage, I think it was with Lewis, and broke the front wing.

“He then passed Fernando on the way in under the Safety Car, picked up another penalty, goes out, a little bit too optimistic, probably out of frustration, trying to pass Magnussen, another front wing and steering damage.

“So the only decent thing we managed to get out of today was not carrying a penalty through into the next race in Qatar,” he remarked.

Verstappen’s victory ensured Red Bull claimed the Constructors’ Championship, with the Dutchman likely to secure the Drivers’ title next time out in Qatar.

The reigning World Champion has now won 13 races this year compared to Perez’s two, leaving Verstappen with a comprehensive 177-point advantage over his team-mate.

However, Horner has highlighted Perez’s contribution to Red Bull’s success this year, arguing that nobody would be able to match Verstappen’s current performance level.

Questioned on how much harder Red Bull’s run to the title would have been without Verstappen in 2023, Horner countered: “Well he’s [Perez] still second in the World Championship and I think he’s finished second to Max six times so far. Had Max not been there, it would have been another six races on top of the two he’d already won.

“I think that Max is absolutely at the top of the game, he is the best driver in F1 at this point in time. Everything has to come together car, driver, team in total harmony.”

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