Max Verstappen-Sergio Perez tensions have the potential to turn nuclear

By Kevin Garside /

The biggest talking points in F1 after Red Bull dominate the 2023 Saudi GP, including FIA incompetence on Fernando Alonso and why Lewis Hamilton is no longer Mercedes’ leading man

Fernando Alonso described his 10-second penalty that never was as a poor show. He was being polite to F1’s ruling body the FIA.

It is bad enough that the outcome of races is known before a wheel is turned as a result of Red Bull’s dominance. F1 doesn’t need to damage the spectacle further by chucking in regulatory confusion and incompetence.

Alonso was handed a five-second penalty for incorrect positioning in his front row box at the start of the race. Though being too far to the left was a technical infringement it conferred no advantage in this case. However, that it might prove advantageous in another example was enough to bring the principle into play. Fair enough.

Since Alonso served the penalty under the safety car, he was able to hang on to second place. All good. Except it wasn’t. The stewards subsequently noted that the mechanics had slid the jack into place whilst the penalty was being served.

Though it was not in use at this time it was considered an infringement and a further penalty of ten seconds applied after the race dropping Alonso out of the podium places into fourth.

Viewers across the world who gloried in another remarkable Alonso drive and shared in his podium delight subsequently discovered he wasn’t third after all, demoted over an infringement that offered nil performance gain and had been, it turned out, practiced before without penalty.

What a mess. Having made their case successfully through appeal, Aston Martin and Alonso were restored to the podium. By then the damage was done. News of his demotion had gone around the world.

To have to undo an injustice heaped mortification upon embarrassment and called into question not only the competence of the stewards but the framing of rules around technical details that the drivers all agree have no bearing on outcomes.

Tensions mount at rampant Red Bull

In the absence of inter-team competition to ratchet the tension, the action is all within the Red Bull garage. What we are seeing is a potential repeat of the fractious intra-team dynamic witnessed at Mercedes in 2016 when relations between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton turned nuclear.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner had his hands full last year over Max Verstappen’s refusal to honour a reciprocal arrangement to let Sergio Perez through in Brazil. Verstappen was already world champion and still chose to dig in over a perceived slight at Monaco where he alleged Perez crashed deliberately in qualifying to deny him a shot at pole.

In Saudi Arabia, Perez lost the fastest lap to his teammate in the final lap of the race, a move which denied him the lead in the championship. Perez believed the cars were operating under the same instruction, which would have protected his fastest lap.

“Two laps from the end, they told me to keep a certain pace, they told me I had the fastest lap and to keep the pace, a certain pace,” Perez said. “I thought the communication was the same to Max, so it’s something we need to review. Because I certainly got different information, and I just couldn’t push there in the end.”

Horner offered a different perspective, suggesting Perez did understand he was free to go flat out over the final lap but backed out. “Both drivers had the info of Checo had the fastest lap at that point, he asked what it was, so it was obvious why he was asking, he knew that Max was going to have a crack at it, and Checo gave it up after the first couple of turns, he was already a tenth and a half down and then you saw him back out of it.

“Inevitably, as Max said on the radio, the point for the fastest lap meant a great deal to him. And there was no reason for us not to let either he or Checo have a crack at it.”


Saudi GP 2023 result in full

  • 1st: Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
  • 2nd: Max Verstappen (Red Bull)*
  • 3rd: Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
  • 4th: George Russell (Mercedes)
  • 5th: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  • 6th: Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
  • 7th: Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
  • 8th: Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
  • 9th: Pierre Gasly (Alpine)
  • 10th: Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
  • 11th: Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
  • 12th: Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)
  • 13th: Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)
  • 14th: Nyck de Vries (AlphaTauri)
  • 15th: Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
  • 16th: Logan Sargeant (Williams)
  • 17th: Lando Norris (McLaren)
  • 18th: Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
  • DNF: Alexander Albon (Williams), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)

*extra point for fastest lap

While the mess at Mercedes has sapped Lewis Hamilton’s spirit, the contrast with team-mate George Russell is striking. Russell is just as disappointed at the turn of events but not in the least dispirited.

The messaging from Russell is thus positive and energised, which allows him to get more from a reluctant car. Russell flipped the narrative of Bahrain to outqualify and outscore Hamilton in Saudi Arabia with a controlled display.

This suggests two things; a repeat of last year’s success relative to his team-mate is likely, and Mercedes have found a driver capable of leading the team whichever way Hamilton’s contract talks go.

Haas on the board

Outqualified again by new team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, who made it into Q3 for the second successive grand prix, Kevin Magnussen responded just as he did in Bahrain by reversing the power dynamic in the race, and banking the first point of the campaign for Haas. His gaffer Guenther Steiner will always want more, but at least a point kept the f-bombs down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *