Is the Perez/Verstappen Partnership Forever Fractured After the Brazilian GP??
In what was a teammate pairing match made in heaven has now all the sudden turned sour...
Despite both championships already being decided, the 2022 Sao Paulo Grand Prix weekend had plenty to play for and it ended up being one of the best Grand Prix weekends of the year. The headlines out of Brazil will be Kevin Magnussen's heroic pole position for Haas and George Russell's flawless first career victory that gave Mercedes their first win of 2022. These achievements should be applauded and celebrated but yet somehow it was the reigning World Champions who stole the headlines in Sao Paulo for all the wrong reasons. A late race team order refusal from Max Verstappen stunned not only the fans watching at home, but also his own team, and most importantly his teammate Sergio Perez. Red Bull scrambled post-race to save face and put on a good showing for the media but the tension and disappointment was evident to even the most oblivious observer. After a record season in which Verstappen and Red Bull dominated the field, a potential rift between the drivers at the penultimate race in the season could prove costly going forward. Can the two drivers move past this incident or will this relationship be damaged permanently?
Sergio Perez was deeply unimpressed at his team mate’s refusal to let him by into sixth place at the end of the race. Perez is seeking to claim second in the championship and secure the first one-two in the points standings for the team in its history. His cause wasn’t helped when Max Verstappenignored a series of calls to let Perez by over the final laps. Verstappen had been waved past his team mate in an effort to overtake Fernando Alonso, but was unable to pass the Alpine before the end of the race. Verstappen was no happier with the situation than his team mate, telling his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase he had previously explained why he was unwilling to make way for his team mate on-track. Now we don't know exactly what Verstappen was referring to in this instance but many believe it was payback for Monaco qualifying earlier in the year. This was an incident that Verstappen and his camp believe to be a deliberate move by Perez to crash on the final lap of Q3 thus denying Verstappen the pole and securing Checo the higher grid slot. Dutch media have also reported that Perez has admitted to Red Bull and Christian Horner that he crashed on purpose but these claims cannot be confirmed. But upon further scrutiny of that Monaco incident, does it really make sense for Perez to have crashed on purpose when he was only P3 and still within a chance of pole on the final lap? Whether you believe this is Verstappen's reasoning for his actions or not, it seems rather petty and unnecessary from a two time World Champion with nothing to lose at this point of the season. The extra two points are totally irrelevant to Verstappen's season but those points could prove to be the difference in Red Bull securing their first ever 1-2 in the drivers championship.
It was no surprise that after the race, Sergio Perez was left dumbfounded at what had unfolded especially considering the role he has played in helping Verstappen secure his first and second world championships. “I’m really surprised....I’ve nothing to say, really, I mean, after all I’ve done for him it’s a bit disappointing to be honest,” Red Bull were very quick to assure everyone that they had discussed the matter and had come to a resolution and were now ready to move past this. Verstappen indicated he might be willing to help Perez secure second place in the drivers championship in next weekend’s season finale. “For sure if we go to Abu Dhabi and he needs the points, because they’re tied, it’s not the end of the world, it’s all about who finishes ahead anyway,” he said. “If he needs the help, I’ll be there.
“But it’s good that we talked about it now and basically cleared everything that was there why I didn’t do it.”
But have the Red Bull drivers truly cleared the air surrounding this disagreement? And will Verstappen actually assist Perez in Abu Dhabi if he's called upon? Only time will tell but a once seemingly bulletproof driver relationship is now starting to show some cracks. Perez has played the perfect team role up until now and most of the time it has come at his own cost. With Verstappen refusing to sacrifice a few meaningless points to be a team player, it has to get Checo thinking whether he will be so willing to move over next season if called upon by the team. The biggest loser in this scenario has to be Red Bull itself as the weekend in Brazil showed that inter team politics is the last thing they need right now. Whether a one off performance or not, Mercedes looked like their old selves and they seem ready to be fighting for wins again in 2023 along with Ferrari and Red Bull. Part of the reason for Red Bull's success in the last two seasons has been the strong and balanced driver partnership between Perez and Verstappen. If the drivers start to get in their own way on and off the track, their will be plenty of opportunities for their rivals in silver and red to pick up the pieces.