For any Formula One fan hopeful of seeing a competitive season in 2023, the opening two races of the current campaign could not have got off to a more ominous start after Red Bull completed back-to-back one-twos. Alarmingly, the races weren’t even remotely close as Red Bull’s nearest competitors finished 38 seconds behind them in Bahrain and 20 seconds after them in Saudi Arabia.
Formula One’s busted flush
Try as they might, the powers that be of F1 can’t seem to manufacture a competitive spectacle and most seasoned fans would have groaned as both Red Bulls rocketed past the checkered flag in the opening races. In many instances, this new dawn of car and rule changes has failed spectacularly, and even after two races, it seems a certainty that Christian Horner’s team will win both the Drivers and Constructors’ Championships.
In fact, as of the 20th of March, Red Bull have been priced at just -2000 to win the Constructors’ Championship in the latest sports betting F1 outright markets. Those are truly remarkable odds when you take into account that there are still 21 races to go in 2023.
Yes, this might be the most one-sided F1 season since Mercedes managed to win seven Constructors’ Championships in a row but remarkably, it may still be one of the most captivating on account of the ruthless in-house competition that is set to take place between both Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
Trouble is brewing
It has quickly become apparent that any sort of goodwill between the drivers that may have been in place during the now-infamous Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021 is gone. On that occasion, Perez gallantly fought off an advancing Lewis Hamilton in order to help Verstappen rein the Englishman in. It was a selfless act that helped Verstappen finish on top of the 2021 standings and also led viewers to believe that Perez was happy to play second fiddle to his teammate whilst he was contracted at Red Bull.
Max Verstappen 🗣️ “Checo is a legend.”
Sergio Perez does a great job to hold off Lewis Hamilton and narrow the gap for his Red Bull team-mate…
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) December 12, 2021
The reality is that the Mexican may have been open to the idea until the Sao Paulo Grand Prix in 2022 when Verstappen disobeyed team orders which stated that he let Perez through in order for the driver to consolidate his position as second in the overall championship. With the Red Bull pit wall dumbfounded at Verstappen’s refusal to comply with team orders, they naturally asked what had happened when he completed the race.
Verstappen responded over the radio: “I told you already last time. Don’t ask that again to me — are we clear about that? I gave my reasons and I stand by it.”
Perez, referring to Verstappen’s insubordination, was then quick to say on his own radio: “It shows who he really is.”
It was a jaw-dropping exchange that told the world all was not well in the Red Bull garage and ultimately, there would be war in the future.
The Mexican would go on to finish three points behind Charles Leclerc at the end of the season.
Max, a red bull in a china shop
Fast forward to the recently concluded Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and there can be no doubt that the knives are out between teammates. Indeed, over the course of the 50 laps around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, we got to see the telltale signs of a classic and bitter rivalry rapidly brewing.
There was unmistakable paranoia in the form of Perez asking the team why they were encouraging Verstappen to go faster yet asking him to reduce his engine power. The Mexcian seemed sure that there was skullduggery going on that would result in Verstappen catching him so he put his foot down and drove as fast as he could.
Then there was defiance as Verstappen stopped responding to calls from the team who pleaded with him to nurse the car home.
The Dutchman instead pushed his car to the limit and even recorded the fastest lap of the race during the final lap. Crucially, doing this meant that Verstappen held on to a one-point lead over Perez in the championship.
On top of what one should probably say was justified paranoia from Perez and then the defiance from Verstappen, there was also the revealing pettiness that defines a feud as the Mexican went to celebrate his win with the Red Bull team. As he was jubilantly embraced by members of the garage, it was clear that one man was not smiling, and that was Max’s dad Jos Verstappen, who awkwardly stood stone-faced among a sea of smiles.
Jos Verstappen getting caught up in the Sergio Perez celebrations 😅 pic.twitter.com/R8vXNNQ4Cw
— ESPN F1 (@ESPNF1) March 19, 2023
Just after that, in the cool-down room, where the three podium drivers share small talk before going to collect their prizes, Verstappen made it his business to sit in the winners’ chair despite coming second.
Could this be F1’s next great rivalry?
At this stage, no action between the two drivers can be dismissed as inconsequential or irrelevant; they’re desperate to get the upper hand and will resort to every tactic to get it. Fans would have seen this type of tit-for-tat throughout F1 history, whether it was Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, James Hunt and Niki Lauda, or Alain Prost and the late, great Ayrton Senna. The archives show when two drivers become obsessed with beating each other, the entertainment is box office.
Mercifully, there is an epic duel developing in the Red Bull team which will ensure F1 still makes for compelling viewing this season.