Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko has defended Sergio Perez after the Mexican was criticised for his part in helping team-mate Max Verstappen win the 2021 championship.
With Sir Lewis Hamilton leading and comfortably pulling away from Verstappen in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Perez was kept on track longer before his first stop to hold the Mercedes driver up and push him back into the clutches of the Dutchman.
Red Bull calculated that Perez cost the Briton around eight seconds in the process, with Verstappen taking to the radio to label his team-mate a “legend.”
While a controversial late Safety Car cost Hamilton the title, many have suggested that the 37-year-old would have had the luxury of a free pit stop had it not been for Perez’s staunch defence.
Formula 1 journalist Will Buxton was full of praise for the Mexican’s efforts.
“The Red Bull just doesn’t look like it’s got the race pace to keep up with Mercedes as Verstappen slips back again, but my word what an incredible piece of defensive driving from Perez. Sensational,” he wrote in a tweet during the race.
However, this irked former F1 driver Sebastien Bourdais, who sent an irritable reply to Buxton.
“I thought you loved racing, that was BS,” said the Frenchman.
“I can’t begin to understand how Perez can be happy with himself and how people applaud him for what he did.”
He then accused both Perez and Red Bull of lacking sportsmanship for impeding the Mercedes driver.
“Purposely slowing down and using every dirty trick to impede Hamilton. Zero sportsmanship, from the whole team really.”
Recognising that the Constructors’ Championship was now realistically beyond them, Red Bull placed all their eggs into one basket and deployed Perez to stall Hamilton, aiding Verstappen’s championship quest.
This did not sit right with Bourdais, who criticised them for sacrificing Perez.
“They completely sacrificed Perez’s race to put him in that position. Losing purposely seconds per lap to impede, look again…he wasn’t trying to stay ahead but only slowing Lewis as much time as possible.”
Dr Marko disagrees with this notion, stressing that the manner in which Perez held Verstappen’s rival up was well within the regulations.
“He slowed down Hamilton by eight seconds in two laps, but in a very fair way,” he said in an interview ServusTV.
Once Hamilton had eventually cleared the 31-year-old, he took to the radio to brand Perez’s driving as “dangerous”, to which Dr Marko pays little attention.
“Of course he said ‘dangerous driving’ again, we know that.”
Abu Dhabi was not the first time Perez had hindered Hamilton in 2021; he held the Mercedes driver up in Turkey several weeks before, ultimately meaning the Briton ended the race in fifth, while both Red Bulls claimed a podium finish behind race winner Valtteri Bottas.
Dr Marko is full of enthusiasm for his driver’s attitude.
“He is incredibly loyal and a team player. Of course, we have discussed certain scenarios with him and he then delivers them – and without grumbling or any rebellion or questioning,” he said.
The Austrian then went on to reveal that the team had made slight alterations to the set-up of Perez’s car, designed for the purpose of holding Hamilton up should they have required him to.
“Although only marginally different from Max, he had more downforce so he was faster in the third sector.
“And that also made it easier for him to carry out this defence,” he added.
Verstappen himself thanked his team-mate for his efforts in helping the 24-year-old claim the championship, and recognises that without it, Mercedes would have been able to pit Hamilton during the late Safety Car period.
“What Checo did is incredible.
“That also made our race in the end because Mercedes couldn’t stop at the Safety Car. Without Checo, of course, I wouldn’t have become World Champion,” said Verstappen.
Speaking on the battle Perez had with Hamilton, Dr Marko used this instance of race-craft as an example that, while his qualifying pace needs improvement, his race performance is of a high standard.
“For example, in Turkey, where he also met with him,” said the Austrian, recalling his Turkish GP battle with Hamilton
“He has one weakness, that’s qualifying. But in race speed he is impeccably there.”
Perez won his first race for Red Bull at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix last year, in what was the first of his five podiums in 2021.
His 16 points finishes guided him to a fourth-placed Drivers’ Championship finish, but Red Bull missed out on their fifth Constructors’ Championship to Mercedes.