Formula 1: Made-up drama dominates Baku headlines

Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Vince Mignott/MB Media/Getty Images)
Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Vince Mignott/MB Media/Getty Images) /

The idea that Max Verstappen would be furious with Red Bull after being called into the pits never came to fruition, but it didn’t stop some from trying to manufacture drama surrounding the Formula 1 race in Baku.

Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was relatively dull for a Formula 1 race on the streets of Baku City Circuit, and the climax of the event happened quite early on, when AlphaTauri rookie Nyck de Vries brought out a safety car with a single-car incident.

Before the safety car came out, however, Red Bull called in race leader Max Verstappen to the pits. Sergio Perez, running in second place at the time, was far too close to his teammate for the team to pull off a double stack.

The safety car came out just moments later, miring Verstappen down in sixth place and giving the five drivers in front of him an opportunity to lose far less time during their pit stops. They took advantage, and two of them, Perez and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, stayed ahead of him for the ensuing restart.

Like he did shortly after the race began, Verstappen made quick work of Leclerc, but he could never get into DRS range to challenge Perez, who did an amazing job of not caving to the pressure throughout the final three-quarters of the race.

He managed his tires and responded every time his teammate took a tenth or two out of his gap and hung on for his second win in the last three races.

The Mexican driver is now the only two-time winner of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and he has already matched his career-high single-season win total through just four races in 2023.

For some reason, the impression that many Formula 1 fans had was that Verstappen was going to be seething, beside himself, and unapproachable after the Grand Prix.

We all know that the U.K.-based Sky Sports, among others, like to create drama where there isn’t any, especially when it involves Verstappen. Any sort of controversy that paints him in a negative light is king, and a teammate conflict would be like Christmas come early.

One commentator bizarrely suggested that Red Bull would consider swapping Perez and Verstappen, furthering the “preferential treatment” narrative, and another said that Verstappen would be “fuming” after the strategy didn’t go his way.

And when no swap occurred and he wasn’t “fuming”, the remark was made that Christian Horner was “calming him down” on the radio — even as Verstappen, who was as calm as anybody in the paddock, had already long conceded that sometimes things just aren’t meant to be and there is nothing he could have done about it, noting that Perez himself had lost his shot at a win in Jeddah last year due to similar circumstances.

It was actually pleasantly surprising that the camera didn’t spend five minutes looking for a straight-faced Jos Verstappen in the crowd during Perez’s celebration, which surely would have started a weeks-long manufactured controversy over how horrible it was that the elder Verstappen wasn’t singing the Mexican national anthem at the top of his lungs (like we saw post-Jeddah).

We get it. Sometimes, the races are dull, and this one certainly fit that bill. Their job is to generate interest in the sport, and they’re doing the best they can with what they have to work with.

But at some point, don’t you have to consider giving it a rest, or at least switching up the narrative?

Of course Verstappen wants to win every race. But Perez even called out the media and fans for “making up stories” earlier this season, and he was the one whom many were trying to portray as the one getting a raw deal compared to his teammate.

We haven’t reached Shattered Glass-level fiction, but even he is sick and tired of it — and so is his own father Antonio.

Verstappen did call for the team to review their decision to have him come into the pits, but that had nothing to do with Perez’s win and more to do with the fact that they had him pit when there was no safety car, at a time when it looked like one could be on its way.

There was simply no logical reason for them to have him come in when he did, and any team would be smart to review such a scenario.

Perez was fortunate to have worked his way into Verstappen’s DRS range, preventing the team from attempting a potential double stack — and thus having both drivers fall victim to a poor decision.

Had that happened, Perez would have found himself in third place behind Verstappen in second, with Leclerc leading again, so it probably still would have resulted in a 1-2 finish for Red Bull, albeit in a very uncharacteristic manner following a poor strategy call.

As long as Perez and Verstappen remain close in the championship battle, there will be efforts from the media to create conflict between the two where there isn’t any. There will be nonsense headlines insinuating division within the team to milk any Verstappen non-win as much as possible.

If Verstappen extends his lead, there will be accusations of the team giving Perez a bad car. If Perez gets out to a lead, there will be accusations of Verstappen being angry at the team.

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Formula 1 fans are used to it all by now. It’s happened before with other teammates. But at some point, it’s going to grow old even for those who have been eating it up willingly the entire time. The post-Baku reaction is proof that it’s growing quite stale.