Formula 1: Christian Horner criticized, but he’s not wrong

Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) /

Christian Horner’s claim that Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez have the “same chance” at the 2022 Formula 1 world championship has been met with some doubt.

Following three straight wins by Max Verstappen, Red Bull kept their streak alive with Sergio Perez’s first win of the 2022 Formula 1 season in the Monaco Grand Prix.

The win was the third of Perez’s career and second since he joined Red Bull. He also won last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which happens to be the next race on this year’s schedule.

Verstappen, who took the lead of the driver standings from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc after his Spanish Grand Prix victory, still leads the standings ahead of Leclerc in second place. In fact, what was a six-point gap ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix is now a nine-point gap at 125-116.

But Perez has quietly managed to close in on the top two. With 110 points, he trails Verstappen by 15 points, and he now sits just six points behind Leclerc.

The 32-year-old Mexican is performing at the highest level of his career and has played a key role in Red Bull opening up a 36-point lead over Ferrari in the constructor standings. Following his victory, it was announced that he had signed a two-year extension to continue with the Milton Keynes-based team through at least the 2024 season.

Many are under the assumption that Verstappen is the prioritized driver at Red Bull, and that may not be an incorrect assumption for several reasons, including but not limited to past performance and his own recent massive contract extension.

But Red Bull team principal Christian Horner insists that both drivers are given the same chance to compete for the world championship.

Here is what he had to say about the matter, according to Autosport.

"“It doesn’t matter to us which of the two is world champion. Of course, the constructors’ is enormously important. But whether it’s Max or Checo, they’re both Red Bull drivers, and they’ve both got the same chance.”"

Of course, some have laughed off Horner’s claim and criticized him for making it, pointing to the “team orders” given to Perez in the Spanish Grand Prix.

However, the basis of criticism regarding Horner’s claim isn’t 100% accurate.

Some claim that it should be just one point separating Verstappen and Perez after what happened in the Spanish Grand Prix, implying that Perez would have won the race and scored seven extra points ahead of Verstappen in second place, instead of the other way around. In that scenario, Verstappen would have 118 points, with Perez would have 117 and Leclerc would have 116.

But on pure pace, Verstappen was going to win whether Perez was given that order or not. It was simply a matter of ensuring there was no incident to spoil the afternoon for the entire team.

With his DRS not working, Verstappen wasn’t able to get around Mercedes’ George Russell. So Red Bull opted to pit him early to get him out in clean air, and sure enough, it worked. In fact, after Russell finally made his pit stop, Verstappen was ahead and opened up more than a full pit stop gap over him relatively quickly.

Perez obviously wasn’t going to pit at the same time Verstappen did, otherwise Russell technically could have covered off both strategies and totally eliminated Red Bull’s two-to-one advantage in the top three, at least for the time being.

When the dust had settled several laps later and Perez and Verstappen were finally close to meeting up on track, Verstappen was lapping several seconds per lap quicker than his teammate. Red Bull let Perez know this, and Perez moved over to avoid conflict.

Verstappen went on to win, with Perez, who made another pit stop, also finished ahead of Russell in second place, and he did so after running the fastest lap.

All in all, instead of taking a 1-3 finish, Red Bull took a 1-2 finish with a fastest lap, just their second 1-2 result since 2016. And it stands to reason that it was Verstappen who took the checkered flag, considering the pace the reigning world champion showed when he wasn’t being held up being a much slower W13.

As for Perez’s “unfair” remark on the radio, that was in regard to the fact that, when Verstappen couldn’t get around Russell with his DRS issues, he wasn’t instructed to let Perez past him so Perez could try, despite Verstappen having been allowed to pass Perez in an attempt to do the same thing earlier on.

Team orders or not, the right driver won — though it is a bit ironic to hear the complaints from those who were totally okay with the 2018 Russian Grand Prix, among other instances of much more obnoxious teammate result manipulation.

And it was also quite entertaining to hear the “Perez will never be allowed to win” crowd silenced just one week later with his Monaco Grand Prix triumph during a weekend when he was consistently faster than his teammate.

Through seven races in 2022, the only real points scenario that could have gone Perez’s way over Verstappen — but didn’t — took place in Jeddah, when Perez looked very strong after starting from the pole position, only to be caught out and effectively robbed of his chance to win by an ill-timed safety car. While Verstappen, who had started in fourth place, went on to win, Perez had to settle for fourth.

Even still, on sheer pace, Verstappen’s lead over Perez in points would be greater than it is now, as he lost two certain runner-up finishes due to late DNFs. Perez did lose a podium finish due to a DNF on the final lap in Bahrain as well, but had Verstappen not been forced to retire a few laps earlier, Perez’s result likely would have been off the podium anyway in fourth place.

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So make fun of Horner all you want to, but there has been absolutely no indication thus far that he’s wrong. But those who choose to see otherwise will find something to harp on every single time.