• Chris Kato

Teammate Tale of the Tape - Verstappen vs Perez at Red Bull

Is 2021 a game changing year for Red Bull with the addition of a new driver?

For the last two seasons, the second driver conversation at Red Bull has been one of the most talked about topics in Formula 1. The lack of performance from the second car since Daniel Ricciardo's departure had left Red Bull in an awkward place with the young driver program and the team in general. But here we are, a little over a month away from Red Bull debuting a new driver lineup but this time with their second driver coming from outside the Red Bull family. F1 veteran Sergio Perez will join Max Verstappen at Red Bull for 2021 marking the first non Red Bull junior driver since Mark Webber joined the team back in 2007. It's a welcome addition of talent and more importantly experience that Red Bull has desperately been needing in order to support Verstappen. On paper the partnership sure looks promising but in reality, how well can Verstappen and Perez work together to take Red Bull to the next level? And can Sergio Perez handle the pressure of the Red Bull environment and succeed better than his predecessors? Well, let's take a dive into the numbers and see how these two driver matchup against each other in our teammate tale of the tape!

Tale of the Tape - Verstappen vs Perez

F1 is a funny place sometimes. From being in a position where there were no seats available to having one of the best seats available is quite the roller coaster ride for Sergio Perez. After spending 7 years with Force India/Racing Point, transitioning to a brand new team isn't easy but Perez is quickly finding his feet at his new team. "Obviously I've been 7 years with a team so it feels a bit different you know, like a dog finding a new family," said Perez. "After being with a family for so many years and you are used to see them and all of the sudden you're changing but I have to say, I'm starting to feel very comfortable here, it's a fantastic team, very united and I can say there is a lot of fun ahead of us." There is certainly a lot of excitement over Perez's seat at Red Bull and I think we can all agree that no one deserves that seat more than him. But now as we're getting closer to the start of the 2021 season, the task at hand becomes more visible and the serious work is well underway. Sergio Perez will have the much difficult task of going head to head with one of the best in the sport in Max Verstappen. It's been a few seasons since Verstappen has had an older and more experienced teammate so let's take a closer look at the numbers in our tale of the tape.

There is an eight year age gap between the two along with a 72 race gap in Perez's favor. It's crazy to think that Verstappen is entering his seventh season of Formula 1 at the age of 23 years old. He's got ten race victories along with forty two podiums. Verstappen's progression as an elite Formula 1 driver has seen him finish on the podium in 35% of his career races. He's also got 10 fastest laps to his name along with finishing in the points 79% of the time in his career. On the other side of things, Sergio Perez's resume is no slouch either. A driver who has consistently maximized his machinery, Perez has 10 podiums to his name and that all important race victory which came last season in Sakhir. He's finished in the points in 60% of his races and even has four fastest laps under his belt. With Racing Point providing their drivers a very good car in 2020, Perez really showcased what he can accomplish when he's got the right car underneath him. It wasn't just his win in Sakhir that sold Red Bull on the idea of signing him, it's been a career's worth of high level performances and most importantly, consistent ones which is what Red Bull will be looking for. Both drivers have strong head to head records against their teammates. Perez is 8-2 all time vs teammates while Verstappen is 4-2 against teammates in his career. The qualifying numbers favor the Dutchman more as he is able to out-qualify teammates 69% of the time while Perez is down at 53%. In terms of racing, the two stack up much closer with Perez out-racing his teammates 54% of the time, while Verstappen is a little further ahead at 63%. It's a formidable driver lineup on paper but let's take a look at each driver individually and what skills they bring to Red Bull for 2021.

#33 Max Verstappen

Courtesy - RACEFANS.net

What is there to say about Max Verstappen that hasn't already been said? Future world champion, generational talent, you start to run out of adjectives to describe Verstappen's skills and potential. He was quick from the onset of his F1 career but it wasn't that long ago that fans and media a like were criticizing him for his crashes and clashes with other drivers. Since 2018, he's completely refined that area of his driving and has really matured as a driver to the point where we don't see him taking those needless risks anymore. Another area in which we've seen steady improvement has been Max's one lap pace. Verstappen now has 3 pole positions to his name and an average start position of sixth. Along with the three poles, he's also reached Q3 in102/119 attempts. But where Verstappen excels is of course in racing conditions. He's a consistent top five finisher and has placed third in the championship in the last two seasons. Not to mention that Verstappen was only nine points off his career best championship finish last year in a season which the Mercedes W11 was very dominant. There really aren't too many questions surrounding Verstappen as we enter the 2021 season. We know exactly the type of performances he is capable of and he's shown that even on his own, there are weekends in which he can take the fight to the Mercedes'. The bigger questions in the last few seasons have been whether Red Bull can provide a car worthy of Verstappen's talent. I feel Verstappen in equal machinery would be able to beat the likes of Lewis Hamilton if given the opportunity to do so. Whether they can be a contender in 2021 or not, I will get to in a few minutes but there is one thing I do know, Verstappen will be on the very top of his game and even better for this season.

#11 Sergio Perez

Red Bull has provided Sergio Perez with the opportunity of a lifetime at the age of 31. Although he had a short stint with a team like McLaren, I think it's accurate to argue that McLaren were on the decline at that time and Red Bull have the superior resources. So ultimately, why did Red Bull choose to go with Perez over their young Red Bull juniors? I think the answer is pretty clear and one that was the right decision. Perez is an average top ten finisher in his career which he spent most of in mid-field cars fighting in a very competitive field. He achieved his best championship result of 4th last season despite missing two races. Qualifying has been one area in which Perez greatly improved in 2020 as well achieving a best grid start of 3rd and reaching Q3 in all but two races. Perez also brings a wealth of technical knowledge to Red Bull in terms of car development. He spent seven years with one team and had a large input on the developments of the car which should help Red Bull as a team. They didn't have that the last two years with the young drivers just trying to find their feet in the new cars. One of Sergio's great assets is also his exceptional tyre management. You could argue he is the best tyre manager in this Pirelli era and that will bode well for strategies against their rivals. Imagine the difference in 2021 when Red Bull can rely on Perez to do an extra 10-20 laps and hold up one of the Mercs? The experience and knowledge of Perez is going to be a breath of fresh air for Red Bull and apparently Perez has wasted no time in sharing this knowledge with his new team. "I can bring a lot of experience, knowledge," Perez said. "I've been in the sport, in different teams, in different eras, and I think I know what I need from myself but I also feel that I can push the team forwards in certain areas. Just talking to the team, I think we know the direction... obviously I have to wait and drive the car but their is already some good ideas we've been sharing with the team that can hopefully bring some performance on track." Perez will have the very difficult job of trying to match and ultimately beat Verstappen. The key will be for Perez to adapt to the Red Bull car as quick as he possibly can. It's a huge mountain to climb this season with very limited testing but if anyone can do it, it's definitely going to be Sergio Perez.

What can we expect from Verstappen/Perez at Red Bull?

It seems like for the last few years we start every season asking ourselves, is this the year that Red Bull can finally contend? Here we are in 2021 asking ourselves the same question and we don't really know what's going to happen with the rule changes that have come into effect this season. In typical Red Bull fashion, they came on strong at the end of last season but still were only able to win two Grand Prix's in 2020 which was a step back from 2019. And then you get to the question of how much stock does Red Bull put into this season considering the major rule changes of 2022? Let's also not forget that Red Bull still have questions surrounding their future engine deal after Honda leaves at the end of this year. Putting those questions aside for a moment, I think we can expect very good results from a Verstappen and Perez lineup at Red Bull. Although Perez won't see himself as a number two driver, Red Bull needed someone like Perez who can match and maybe even in some cases beat Verstappen at any given weekend. I tend to agree with the fan poll that this rivalry will be closer than most think but that ultimately Verstappen will be the victor. With this lineup, they are well equipped to take the fight to Mercedes which is a team effort considering how dominant they've been. With all due respect to the talents of Gasly and Albon, it is a massive upgrade for Red Bull and a very welcome one indeed. It's a very exciting new driver lineup and one that I can't wait to see when we go racing in March.

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