Horner reveals car set-up gave Verstappen pace advantage over Perez as he rubbishes team orders claim

Sergio Perez ended the Azerbaijan Grand Prix second after rescinding the lead to team-mate Max Verstappen.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has praised the sensibility of Sergio Perez after he was asked not to fight Max Verstappen in Baku.

Perez had out-qualified Verstappen for the third time this season and the second time consecutively by starting the race second behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and he took the lead from the Monegasque into Turn One.

The Mexican was leading comfortably when a Virtual Safety Car was deployed after Carlos Sainz suffered a hydraulic failure and stopped on the exit of Turn Four, and Ferrari brought Leclerc in while the Red Bulls stayed out.

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The undercut put the Monegasque back ahead of Perez, but not before Verstappen had caught and passed his team-mate into Turn One.

The reigning champion had a superior pace advantage compared to the 32-year-old on Sunday, and Red Bull recognised this, so told Perez “no fighting” over the radio.

Perez duly obliged, giving Verstappen plenty of room into Turn One as the Dutchman cleared the three-time race winner and took what ultimately became the win after Leclerc suffered an engine failure.

Horner insisted after the race that the message to Perez was not a team order per se, but rather a call for him to see the bigger picture and not fight what was going to be a losing battle against his quicker team-mate.

“I think today wasn’t strictly team orders,” said Horner.

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“It was just a question of you’ve got a faster car and a slower car and Max had a significant pace advantage on Checo at that point, and Checo had quite heavy graining on his tyres.

“So it was a question of ‘guys, let’s not put each other against the pit wall here if one car is quicker…concede and let’s focus on getting the best result for the team.’” 

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Perez is now second in the Drivers’ Championship and 21 points behind Verstappen, so the team boss is delighted with the form his driver is currently in as he continues to deliver solid results for the Austrian side that is chasing its fifth constructors’ crown.

“I think Checo, he’s a mature guy and he gets the bigger picture and that it’s a long championship,” explained Horner.

“He’s in the form of his career off the back of Monaco and his qualifying performance here.

“I think maybe, with the benefit of hindsight coming into this weekend, perhaps there was too much weight put behind his qualifying set-up with the rear deg he experienced. 

“So, that’s something to look at because Max was certainly in better shape in the race than Checo at the back end of that first stint.”

Verstappen’s win in Baku was the 25th of his career, and the fifth of the 2022 season as Ferrari’s winless run was extended to five races on Sunday.