Christian Horner does not believe Sergio Perez has accepted number two driver status at Red Bull, despite obliging to the team's request not to fight with Max Verstappen during the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Mexican driver played a crucial role in helping Verstappen to F1 title glory in 2021, especially during the final race in Abu Dhabi when he helped to cut Lewis Hamilton's lead with some expert defending.
The new season offered Perez the chance to mount his own title charge, with the Milton Keynes-based squad having built a competitive car and promised him equal machinery to Verstappen.
But after moving aside to allow a faster Verstappen to pass early on in Barcelona, the team did not return the favour when the situation was flipped mid-way through the race.
And with only a handful of laps remaining, Red Bull then asked Perez not to fight his World Champion teammate for the win, a call he described as "unfair".
Horner: Being Verstapen's teammate is a head-screw
During their 28 races as Red Bull teammates, Perez has won just once to Verstappen's 14. But that does not mean he has accepted the role of rear-gunner, stressed Horner as he spoke exclusively with RacingNews365.com.
Since the chequered flag in Barcelona, both Horner and Verstappen have described Perez as a team player, but neither have described him as a number two.
"Being Max Verstappen's teammate is a bit of a head-screw for any driver, but I think Checo has got the maturity to deal with that at the stage he's at in his career and with the experience that he's got," said Horner.
"He's finally got himself into a competitive car and he wants to make the very best of that at this point in his career.
"He knows that he gets the same equipment, the same chance, but I think he's realistic in his expectations as well. And he's very much a team player."
Perez has passed the Red Bull test that other drivers failed
Red Bull trialled plenty of alternatives in their quest to find the perfect comrade to Verstappen. Given that their spells with the team remained brief, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon both failed.
Perez seems to have passed the test, however, with talks having already started over a possible new contract extension.
"I think with his performances to date, so far, he's converged with Max. The dynamic between the two of them is very good. I think Checo is more settled in the team this year, in his second year, and, of course, with a reset with a new car, he's been very much closer to the pace," continued Horner.
"Inevitably, in the next few weeks, we'll start talking about future seasons, but we're not in a desperate rush."
Viewed by others:
Perez is fighting Red Bull's most competitive driver ever, say Horner
Since the start of last season, Verstappen's performances have demonstrated why he is ranked amongst the best of the best in Formula 1. In that period, Verstappen has won half of the races he has entered and has stood on the top step of the podium in every Grand Prix he has finished in 2022.
"Max now has that World Championship on his CV," explained Horner.
"Nobody can take that off him, so I think in many respects that's released him but it's also given him that hunger that he wants more. I haven't really seen a real change in his approach but, of course, he's just got the benefit of experience now.
"He's not focused on numbers, he just wants to achieve it again. And then I'm sure he'll want to do it again after that. He just loves racing, he loves competing, he's the most competitive driver we've ever had in one of our cars in terms of his desire to win.
"I think he's very clear on what he needs to go quicker and I think that he gives you clarity of what his limiting factors are. He doesn't get distracted by other stuff. He's very much to the point of what he needs to go quicker."
F1 Podcast: Did off-track matters ruin the spectacle at the Spanish GP?
RacingNews365.com F1 journalists Dieter Rencken and Michael Butterworth discuss the Spanish Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen won a thrilling race after Charles Leclerc retired. But was the on-track action soured by a poor fan experience at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya?