Sergio Perez has denied that Daniel Ricciardo’s new role at Red Bull is a worrying sign for his own future in Formula 1.
Towards the end of last season, internal tension between the Mexican driver and world champion Max Verstappen became obvious over a team orders controversy.
At around the same time, Red Bull signed Verstappen’s former teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who had lost his 2023 seat at McLaren, to a ‘third driver’ role for this year.
At the New York launch of Red Bull’s 2023 season and the 2026 tie-up with Ford, Perez played down the Verstappen tension.
“Max and I have to work together to bring the title to the team,” he said.
“That is why a compromise is necessary and the team must always come first. It’s not just about Max or me.”
Team boss Christian Horner, however, said at the launch that Red Bull has ‘the best pair’ of drivers on the grid – a statement that made some people wonder if he meant Verstappen and Australian Ricciardo.
One theory is that Horner is deliberately putting pressure on Perez.
“When you’re at Red Bull you have to do your best,” Perez insists. “It doesn’t matter if Daniel is here or not because Red Bull can pick pretty much any driver it wants on the grid.”
Another major factor is that Horner freely admits that Ricciardo has “fallen out of love a little bit” with Formula 1 after several “really tough” seasons.
The team has also emphasised that a big part of Ricciardo’s role is ambassadorial for the Red Bull brand and its sponsors.
Another rumour is that Ricciardo has to take a lower-profile approach to his 2023 role as per the terms of his mutual contract split with McLaren – which will see him paid millions by the Woking based team in 2023.
“I did talk with other teams,” Ricciardo said last Friday, “but deep down I knew that it would lead nowhere.
“I thought about whether I really wanted to stay on the grid, and when I was able to answer myself honestly I realised I wanted to rest for the season.
“I am sure that I will drive in the course of the season, but I cannot say that I’m burning with desire for it. I’m still happy that 2023 is starting off pretty calmly for me.
“I still think I’m doing the right thing and we’ll see how things play out over the next couple of months.”
At any rate, Horner thinks Verstappen will maintain his position of dominance over Perez this season.
“I think in the form that Max is in, he is still the man to beat over a full season,” he told Auto Motor und Sport.
“Checo must strive for that, because why else would you race, but in reality I think Max is the most likely to take a shot at the title again.”