RED BULL chief Christian Horner has underlined Max Verstappen’s place as the team’s centrepiece after Sergio Perez disappointed in the French Grand Prix.
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Max Verstappen is very much the apple of Red Bull’s eye if Christian Horner is to be believed. The team principal risked offending Sergio Perez with his latest praise of Formula 1 titleholder Verstappen, who won his seventh race in 12 outings so far this year at Sunday’s French Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old extended his lead in the drivers’ standings while partner Perez, 32, courted criticism for allowing Mercedes’ George Russell to snatch third behind team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen sits 63 points clear of Ferrari star Charles Leclerc, on course to successfully defend his crown.
Horner told Eurosport that Verstappen is now “very much a mature package” having won his maiden world championship in his seventh season as a full-time driver. Asked how he sizes up against Red Bull’s only other champion, Sebastian Vettel, the team boss found it hard to rank stars past and present.
“It’s very difficult to compare drivers,” said Horner, who is in his 18th year as Red Bull’s head of operations. “We’ve had some amazing drivers but he [Verstappen] is certainly right up [there]. The target is to keep building on what we’ve achieved. There’s no finite targets. It’s just about race by race, season by season and giving him a car that his talent warrants.”
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Sergio Perez is second in Red Bull’s pecking order (Image: Getty)
Perez’s fourth-place finish last term was the joint-best of his 11-year career up to then, and few may realistically place him alongside Vettel or Verstappen. Still, it may smart slightly to feel so conclusively ignored in the discussion regarding how Red Bull’s RB18 should run.
It’s clear why the Milton Keynes outfit would structure around the Dutchman given his age and that the contract he signed in March runs until 2028. Perez penned a new two-year agreement in May, and despite being eight years older than his team-mate, his edge in wisdom is dwindling.
“He’s [Verstappen’s] got experience behind him but he’s still very, very young,” added Horner. “He’s hugely talented and is using his experience, using his head and his drive, his determination is undiminished. So he’s just evolving still as a person and as a driver.”
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Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen became team-mates last year (Image: Getty)
There was a time when Verstappen—who became the youngest driver to start an F1 race in 2015, aged 17—held a reputation as a hothead without the talent to back up his aggression. Despite the controversial close to his title-winning campaign last year, it’s safe to say he’s improved in terms of composure and reliability.
Perez claimed the third race victory of his F1 career at the Monaco Grand Prix in May, but two retirements in his last four starts have left him third in the table. Verstappen is making the most of Red Bull’s design after a sticky start to the campaign, backing up the hype as the biggest talent in F1 right now.