Sergio Perez joined Red Bull ahead of the 2021 season and enjoyed a relatively quiet year alongside Max Verstappen, with the duo looking like they were building a partnership of mutual respect.
Well, at least Checo seemed keen to settle in to life at the Austrian outfit and was largely content playing a supporting act to Max.
The 2021 season was intense and as far as clashes between its two drivers were concerned, there was little to distract Red Bull.
Last year, though, things got a lot more complicated.
The fiasco at the end of the Brazilian Grand Prix completely changed the dynamics within the team, though.
Verstappen refused to allow Perez through despite being instructed by his team to do so.
It was a pivotal race for Checo in the race for second spot in the drivers’ standings.
Verstappen had already wrapped up his second-successive title by then and in all fairness, there was little on the line for him.
However, as things got spicy off the track and behind the scenes, a number of allegations were aimed by both drivers at each other.
In one media interaction following the incident, Perez claimed that without him, Verstappen would never have enjoyed the sort of success that he did and his refusal to allow him through “showed who he really was”.
Red Bull publically stood by Verstappen, with Horner taking the blame on the team instead of allowing the media to paint Verstappen as a public enemy.
Since then, Perez and Verstappen reportedly “hate each other” and there was even talk that Verstappen was pushing for Checo’s exit and Ricciardo’s swift promotion to a full-time role.
Red Bull might try to paint the picture of treating both drivers equally, but this is far from the truth.
The team has placed its trust in Max Verstappen for a long time now and it is unlikely that they would want to upset him at a time when he has started dominating the circuit.
Horner discusses internal team dynamics
Horner spoke about the dynamics present at the team, claiming that Verstappen was clearly “the man to beat” at Red Bull.
“I think over a season, the form that has been in his, of course he is the man to beat, he’s the reigning champion,” Horner said.
“Checo has to strive for that otherwise you know, why is he competing? But I think you know the reality is that the probability is that Max over the season, is likely to be the more likely candidate for the world championship.
“But, Checo should also you know he has the capability to also be right there.”
Verstappen had a remarkable year in 2022, as Red Bull proved just how dominant it was compared to any other competitors on the circuit.
The Dutchman claimed 15 race wins in the season, an all-time record in the sport’s history.
Perez, meanwhile, struggled to catch the imagination despite driving in a car that was widely believed to be superior to racers from other teams.
Best Red Bull pairing in history?
Horner, though, seems more than content with the current pairing, terming it as “the best in the team’s history” during a media interaction at the unveiling of the RB19.
“I think it’s the best pairing we’ve ever had in Formula 1,” Horner said.
With regard to the other drivers, Horner is under no illusions that the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes will come hard in 2023 and paid tribute to their strong partnerships as well.
“We have very good drivers, but if you go to Mercedes and Ferrari you see that they also have very strong riders,” Horner said.
“I think the top teams all have fantastic drivers. It’s about how we operate as a collective.”