1996 Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill predicts that Red Bull could look to replace Sergio Perez as the team “wants more of a wingman” for Max Verstappen.
Perez has experienced a challenging season alongside Verstappen, winning only two races compared to the Dutchman’s 13, resulting in a seismic 177-point margin between the two in the Drivers’ standings.
That has prompted repeated speculation about Perez’s future with Red Bull beyond 2024, particularly amid Daniel Ricciardo’s full-time return to Formula 1 with AlphaTauri.
The Mexican endured a nightmare weekend in Japan, qualifying six-tenths shy of Verstappen before retiring from the race after clashing with Kevin Magnussen.
“Something went wrong and he then got into trouble in the first corner. And then I think a little bit of frustration did creep in and it got worse and worse,” Hill reflected.
“The thing on Magnussen was really desperation and he was perhaps a little bit annoyed with being where he was.”
Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 passes Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19, who crashed in the first practice session. 21.07.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 12, Hungarian Grand Prix, Budapest, Hungary, Practice Day.
Red Bull’s dominance in 2023 enabled the team to seal the Constructors’ Championship with a record six rounds remaining, despite Perez’s inconsistent run.
However, Hill expects that the Austrian outfit will be searching for a better partner for Verstappen in the scenario where the squad is challenged more heavily by a rival side.
When the possibility of Red Bull facing a renewed threat and Perez continuing to underdeliver was relayed to him, Hill responded: “No, he can’t.
“I think the team desperately wants a little bit more of a wingman for Max. They know that Max is almost untouchable.
“Do you remember when Michael Schumacher dominated Ferrari and nobody could cope with being number two to Michael? I remember Ross Brawn saying to Eddie Irvine, ‘Listen, you can’t beat him. You just do the best you can,’ which is anathema to a racing driver to hear that.
“But you’re going to meet someone in this game who is exceptional and probably above your ability unless you are [Ayrton] Senna, [Lewis] Hamilton, Max Verstappen and the rest of the greats [including Juan Manuel] Fangio, Jim Clark.
“There are these people who are just so difficult to beat. All you can do is get close and do a good job for the team.”
Verstappen is set to clinch his third consecutive World Championship at this weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix.
He only needs to outscore Perez by three points to ensure his lead is unassailable, meaning a sixth-place finish in Saturday’s Sprint Race will secure him the crown.
But Verstappen insists he has “no emotions” on when his latest feat is accomplished.
“If it happens on Saturday, Sunday, or the week after, I know that it’s coming. But it’s not something that I’m thinking about too much,” the Red Bull driver addressed.
“Maybe it’s a good thing?,” regarding the possibility of winning the title on Saturday. “A good night out. Might be a bit slower on the reaction time for the lights! It’s just not something that I’m really thinking about.
“We’re just experiencing a really amazing year as a team. Also I don’t care where I win it. “It’s not about, ‘You need to win it five races in advance’ or at the last one.”
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