February 23, 2024

Maxsports

All Sports To The Max

POLE POSITION: Sergio Perez is perfect for ruthless Red Bull

Red Bull’s ruthlessness has been the greatest ally of their interrupted success down the years. A bad driver? Jettisoned.

Ask Daniil Kvyat, Pierre Gasly or, the best of the trio, Alex Albon. He got the gig too early and wilted under the pressure, though — as his most recent compelling performance for Williams in Montreal underlined — he possesses immense talent.

These were drivers who couldn’t live with the storm that is Max Verstappen.

Which brings us to Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez.

The Mexican has struggled of late to match the Dutchman’s untouchable brilliance. But Perez remains to my mind the best foil in the business.

Sergio Perez is the best foil in the business and played his part for the Red Bull team

Sergio Perez is the best foil in the business and played his part for the Red Bull team 

Perez's driving has allowed Max Verstappen to take centre stage as Red Bull's number one

Perez’s driving has allowed Max Verstappen to take centre stage as Red Bull’s number one 

The pairing of Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton as team-mates is something the sport needs

The pairing of Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton as team-mates is something the sport needs 

As we have noted before, his defensive driving in the team’s cause is unmatched. Abu Dhabi 2021 is the most obvious reference point, but not the only one. He needs the support of team principal Christian Horner, which seems to be forthcoming. ‘I think he just needs a good weekend to lift his confidence,’ said his boss. ‘He’ll be back.’

Quite honestly, Horner cares almost uniquely about Verstappen winning. There is barely another concern in his world, and as long as Perez is not a great liability he can live with a few bumps for a while.

However, he would be well-advised not to find himself in the situation Mercedes were in for a year or two when they put up with Valtteri Bottas’s diminishing contribution. They continued for too long to employ the Finn, despite evidence that his self-belief was shot.

They refused to do the obvious a season earlier and bring in George Russell. It suited Hamilton, and so they went along with the status quo. It was an error founded on hubris. All great sports teams need to evolve, as Sir Alex Ferguson demonstrated at Manchester United. Evolution is the key to elongated success.

Perez’s contract has another year to run. I would give him every opportunity to show his worth. If that doesn’t work out, who else?

Lando Norris perhaps. Or, best of all, but they won’t do it, Hamilton as Verstappen’s team-mate. Which is what all the sport wants and needs.

Mind the gap  

Lando Norris was handed a five-second penalty for unsportsmanlike behaviour in Canada. Someone less worthy of that opprobrium is hard to detect.

His crime was building a gap to his team-mate Oscar Piastri in preparation for a double-stacked pit stop.

This has become accepted practice, and clearly Norris believed he was above board, yet he was punished. The stewards may have been right by the letter of the law, but it was tough to categorise Norris as unsporting.

Lando Norris was handed a five-second penalty at the Canadian Grand Prix for building a gap

Lando Norris was handed a five-second penalty at the Canadian Grand Prix for building a gap

M is the magic formula  

When I started writing about Formula One 300 or so races ago, I was told a rule of thumb. If the venue starts with an ‘M’, it is a good one to be at.

Monaco, Monza, Melbourne, Montreal emphatically made the case.

But this broad brushstroke verdict is subject to a bit of revisionism today.

Monaco, yes, remains to my mind the race of races as an attendee, even if the grand prix itself is processional on a small circuit with fat cars and liable to be a bore on TV. Monza maintains its allure for pure Ferrari mania. As for Melbourne it is, after London, the best city in the world to watch any sport. 

It should be restored to be the opening round of the season, if only the greedy Formula One Group could spurn the Middle Eastern moolah that gives the region first dibs.

Montreal hasn't got the same spark as some of the other Grand Prix venues on the circuit

Montreal hasn’t got the same spark as some of the other Grand Prix venues on the circuit 

Montreal? Having just come back from there it feels as if it is stuck in the 1970s, when, incidentally, it ran up debts of more than £1billion to stage the Olympic Games of 1976.

It boasts a fine race circuit, but is wallowing in the past. The facilities are outdated. The buzz in the city, once so vibrant, is a pale shadow of the party that it used to be.

Travel is difficult. Hotel prices are absurdly high. The paddock has no extras — bars, music, or merriment of any kind.

It is acting as if the likes of Miami have not shifted the dial. It is a relic of a bygone age, and the sooner it leaves the calendar the better.

Though, alas, it has subscribed itself until 2031. Approximately seven years too long.

Bishop’s move  

Matt Bishop was drafted in at McLaren by Ron Dennis to deal with the Spygate farrago of 2007. 

He’d been editor of F1 Racing and was detailed, as a newly minted and soon-to-be highly-rated PR hand, to answer the charge that the Woking-based team used Ferrari technical data to enhance their own car.

After a stint at W Series and Aston Martin, where he promulgated the painful green views of Sebastian Vettel, he has started up his own agency called ‘Diagonal’. Which, considering he is a Bishop, is the only possible move.

I’m having a whine… and not just over the lack of wine!

I made an argument during the Covid years that nothing in the F1 paddock would ever be the same again.

In the old days, you could wander into any motorhome and go about your business as a journalist unhindered. A word here, a rumour there.

Now Red Bull, once so accommodating, have a bouncer dubbed the ‘Gorilla’ on the door to prevent the intrusion of reporters. 

McLaren’s hospitality knew no bounds; not so now. At a Spanish Grand Prix in 2015, Ron Dennis asked me and one colleague, the Times correspondent, in for a champagne breakfast on the proviso that the Conservatives won the election. He was a pal of George Osborne. If the result went as Ron wished, he wanted to toast the victory before first practice on Friday morning — at 10am. Imagine such largesse now!

The media access in the paddock isn't what it used to be and has changed since Covid

The media access in the paddock isn’t what it used to be and has changed since Covid 

Another incident. I had been away on other assignments for the Daily Mail and returned to F1 after a hiatus to Monaco, probably in 2013, and the top hostess at McLaren, Jacs, presented me with a glass of white wine filled to the brim. It was the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Nowadays — nothing. Other than at Aston Martin, and perhaps Williams, generous souls. The rest have pretty much gone teetotal. Hard luck, pal, you may say.

But it was through such access to motorhomes that journalists did their jobs. It was where stories were garnered. Now they all want to keep us out and funnel us press releases. A younger generation of online scribes rarely leave their desks or get a fresh story. I weep for the loss.

If I were a team principal or director of comms, I’d want to be the one who flung wide the gates to let in free speech. We’re watching, with rosettes to pin on lapels for the sainted.