Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner believes that Sergio Perez’s Formula 1 title hopes in 2023 unravelled when he missed an “open goal” at the Miami Grand Prix.

Heading into Miami’s second-ever F1 event, Perez and Verstappen had won two races apiece to leave the Red Bull drivers only one point apart in the Dutchman’s favour.

Perez was handed a golden opportunity to lead the Drivers’ Championship for the first time in his whole F1 career in Miami when he bagged pole position and Verstappen was resigned to starting ninth after being caught out by a red flag at the end of qualifying.

However, Verstappen charged through to overtake his team-mate with 10 laps to go to preserve a lead in the standings that would only continue to grow from that point.

While Verstappen proceeded to register a record-breaking 10 consecutive race wins, Perez encountered a torrid run that saw him fail to reach Q3 in five straight rounds.

Addressing the key moment the title battle swayed away from Perez, Horner said: “I think there was a decisive moment this year, which was probably in Miami, where Checo had if you like an open goal.

“He’d won two races in Azerbaijan and Saudi, and you could see his confidence was high. And I think that Max winning that race, having been caught out by a red flag in qualifying, starting down in ninth and that he took the lead within a very short period of time, I think mentally that was quite a brutal one for Checo to deal with.

“And then on top of that, then came Monaco the next race, and then things compound. I think that Max is just relentless. He’s then just hitting aces every race from there onwards.”

(L to R): Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 and Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 battle for the lead of the race. 07.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, USA, Race Day.

Verstappen has since accrued 17 victories this year, opening up a sizeable 266-point advantage over Perez, who has only scored one podium following the summer break.

Amid repeated speculation over his Red Bull future, Horner believes the team can get Perez back to his early-season form by returning his mindset to the right place.

“If you see Checo’s performances in the first part of the year. Bahrain, very, very tight with Max, that the race in Saudi was a great race between the two of them, pushing each other really hard. Very fine margins. His race in Azerbaijan, winning the Sprint and the grand prix there. Those are the kind of performances that we know he’s capable of,” Horner explained.

“And I think it’s just getting him back into that mind frame and to get the most out of him, to get him back to those level of performances.”

Horner has also sympathised with the challenge Perez has partnering Verstappen, citing his belief that any driver would struggle against the reigning champion.

“I think being Max Verstappen’s team-mate is probably the hardest job in the pit lane,” he added.

“He’s operating at such a high level and it’s relentless. So the mental aptitude that you need to be able to deal with that every time you see a piece of data, it’s like ‘wow how did he do that?’. That takes a certain strength of character to be able to deal with that.

“The form that he’s in and been in for the last three, four years, he’s just operating at such a high level that it would be tough for any driver on the grid.”

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