Sergio Perez has made it crystal-clear that he won’t spend the 2023 season in service to his Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen if he feels the world champion isn’t doing the same.
Memorably, Perez played an instrumental defensive role in holding up Lewis Hamilton in pursuit at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021, allowing Verstappen to close the gap between his British rival to only two seconds.
Verstappen later claimed victory, and with it, his first world championship.
But ahead of the start of the 2023 season in Bahrain on Sunday, Perez was explicit that in the future, if the Dutchman doesn’t return the favours, he won’t get anymore.
Speaking to Mexico’s Fox Sports, he said: ‘It’s always important to work as a team and obviously if I see that I don’t receive support when I need it, I won’t give it either.’
Sergio Perez will waste no time in being selfish if he feels his team-mate Max Verstappen is too
Perez was vital in Abu Dhabi in 2021, infuriating Lewis Hamilton as Verstappen made ground
Perez and Verstappen have been team-mates since the start of the 2021 season
‘I think we are very clear about the important thing, it will be a very intense season surely, with six cars fighting for the championship, so it will be very important to work as a team in many races.’
Perez’s statement is a pertinent one, learning last year about the limits to Verstappen’s support at the Brazil Grand Prix.
Verstappen, by that point in the season crowned world championship, refused a team order over the radio to hand back sixth place to his team-mate, who had allowed the world champion through in order to attack fifth-placed Fernando Alonso.
Having failed to move past the Spaniard, Verstappen was told to give back the place to Perez, in order to increase the chances of a one-two finish in the final points for the Red Bull drivers at the end of the season.
Verstappen ignored the orders, and finished four seconds ahead of his team-mate in sixth after an early crash with Hamilton.
After the race, Perez said the move ‘[showed] who [Verstappen] really is.’
He added: ‘I have nothing to say really. After all I’ve done for him, it’s disappointing. I have no idea. I’m really surprised’.
The issue was later resolved between the players and team hierarchy, with Red Bull later putting out a statement that stated: ‘Max was only informed at the final corner of the request to give up position without all the necessary information being relayed.
‘This put Max, who has always been an open and fair team player, in a compromising situation with little time to react, which was not our intention. The team accepts Max’s reasoning.’
Things got heated at Interlagos in 2022 when Verstappen refused to cede his place to Perez
Verstappen will be in hot pursuit of his third consecutive title after a promising testing session
But Perez is hungry for the challenge and will show no hesitation in taking on his team-mate
In the interview, Perez went on to discuss his prospects for the 2023 season, as he prepares to challenge his team-mate for the world championship.
The Mexican driver said: ‘Without a doubt this year will determine many things: how good I am, how much I want to continue in the sport, without a doubt, it is a crucial year in my career.
‘If you don’t have 100 percent desire to get up, train every day, take care of what you eat all year, everything you have to give to sport; if you don’t have that 100 percent energy, I don’t see don’t see myself being here at 90 percent.’
After last weekend’s pre-season testing Red Bull look to continue their winning stream on the grid this year, with the constructor setting the fastest times in both qualifying and race simulations.
Perez went fastest on the third day of testing, beating Mercedes’ Hamilton by 0.28seconds.
The season will begin this weekend with its inaugural race in Bahrain on Sunday.