F1 2023 | Red Bull | Verstappen & Pérez to become title rivals as Red Bull remains the team to beat

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Five rounds into the season, Red Bull Racing have solidified their position as the favourites to bag both championship titles again this year.

Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

The Red Bull duo, Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez, have been trading victories back and forth since the opening round in Bahrain, racking up a total of four 1-2 finishes. So far, no other driver has come close to standing on the top step of the podium.

Although Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc managed to beat both Red Bull rivals to pole in Azerbaijan, the RB19’s impressive speed ensures the Milton Keynes-based team is in a league of its own come race day. With Red Bull lacking significant competition from the rest of the field, the stage looks set for an intra-team battle between defending champion Verstappen and seasoned teammate Pérez.

Red Bull has perfected a formidable formula with the RB19

The car that debuted in February has proven to be an improvement over its predecessor, 2022’s RB18, with Red Bull building upon what was already an incredibly competitive package.

Speaking to the media during winter testing, Verstappen revealed the RB19 is better “everywhere” over last year’s championship-winning car. So far, the RB19 has shown very few weaknesses, being faster, lighter, and (up to this point) more reliable than the previous model.

While the RB19 hasn’t exactly been bulletproof—Verstappen encountered driveshaft issues during the qualifying session ahead of the Saudi Arabian GP, for example—mechanical issues have yet to prevent either of the drivers from putting in an optimal performance on Sunday. At this point last year, Verstappen had already suffered two mechanical failures, including a double DNF for the team in the closing stages of the first round in Bahrain.

Additionally, team principal Christian Horner has recently confirmed that Adrian Newey, the chief technical officer responsible for designing a string of competitive Red Bull cars, is expected to remain with the team for the “longer term.”

Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

The car’s impressive straight-line speed, particularly when aided by an open DRS, coupled with a lack of significant tyre degradation, has allowed the drivers to easily make up ground on Sunday even when starting out of position—Pérez finished P5 after starting from the pitlane in Melbourne, while Verstappen climbed from fifteenth to second in Jeddah.

This also translates to less strategic gambles—and, by extension, less mishaps.

Red Bull’s performance advantage over the rest of the field has allowed them to enjoy a dominant start to the season, scoring a total of 224 points in the first five rounds. Their closest competitor, surprise frontrunner Aston Martin, is sitting 122 points behind in P2, while Mercedes and Ferrari have yet to break into triple digits.

Pérez takes the fight to Verstappen

With their opponents not posing much of a real threat, it looks like the only one who can prevent a Red Bull driver from winning the championship this year is… a Red Bull driver.

Sergio Pérez has enjoyed a strong start to his 2023 campaign. His recent victories in Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan in particular have strengthened his reputation as something of a street circuit expert.

Over the past two seasons Pérez has demonstrated that he can be a consistent, dependable driver, picking up race wins when his teammate could not. However, he has never seriously challenged his teammate for the title, with Verstappen’s main rivals being Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc in 2021 and 2022 respectively. Could 2023 be the year we finally witness a fully-fledged intra-team championship battle at Red Bull?

Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

The duo has achieved four 1-2 finishes to date, with Verstappen claiming three victories (Bahrain, Australia, Miami) to Pérez’s two (Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan.)

The Mexican’s current form has given him the confidence to believe he can be a championship contender: “Having three kids at home I wouldn’t be travelling around the world if I didn’t believe I could be a world champion.

“I’m working towards that, there’s so much you can talk about outside the car, it’s important to deliver on the track.”

Although Pérez has displayed great skill and confidence this year, it’s Verstappen who remains the favourite to win his third consecutive world title. The reigning champion has amassed a total of 119 points to date, sitting in P1 in the Drivers’ Championship standings since the season opener in Bahrain. Pérez is fourteen points down, with 105 points to his name after the first five rounds.

Verstappen has the edge over Pérez in the main head-to-head comparisons, outperforming his teammate both in qualifying and in the race (3-2 in Verstappen’s favour in both cases.) The Dutch driver most recently outclassed his Mexican stablemate in Miami, where he came back from ninth to claim victory over Pérez, who started on pole.

Is a record-breaking season on the cards?

Red Bull’s dominance has prompted some of their rivals to predict that they will go on to win every round held in 2023, beating Mercedes’s 2016 record of 19 wins in a (21-race) season. Christian Horner has rubbished these predictions, explaining that there are too many factors at play.

Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

He added that the 10% reduction in aero development time will sooner or later catch up to Red Bull: “We’re now six months through the penalty. It will have an effect on the second half of this year and on next year.”

“I think [winning every race is] a massively tall order. You’ve got 23 events, many street circuits, there’s going to be the weather that turns up (…) and there’s going to be reliability, strategy, an element of luck…

“To win 23 races is unimaginable. I’m sitting here after five races and we’ve won the first five, it’s by far the best start we’ve ever had to a Grand Prix season so we just want to keep that rolling as long as we can then take one race at a time and not think about trying to win 23 races.”