Jolyon Palmer has called on Red Bull to show more trust in their drivers after Sergio Perez was asked not to fight with Max Verstappen at last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix.
Perez was leading the race on a one-stop strategy when Verstappen, having pitted for fresh tyres, began to close in on his teammate.
The pair had found themselves in first and second after a fight with the Mercedes of George Russell, during which Verstappen struggled to make a pass due to DRS (Drag Reduction System) issues.
Perez moved beyond Russell with ease, however, and into the lead of the race on ageing tyres. But as Verstappen closed in on the Mexican, the team requested that Perez did not put up a fight, to which he obliged.
That allowed the World Champion to take the lead unchallenged, before he built a gap to win the Grand Prix and take the lead of the F1 standings.
How did the Spanish GP unfold at Red Bull?
Palmer feels Red Bull were tough on Perez after the former Racing Point driver was not allowed to overtake Verstappen in similar circumstances earlier in the race, compromising his pace.
"Perez [was] ahead of Verstappen after Max went off, and he was ordered to immediately get out of the way. He couldn't get past Russell, so let's see if Verstappen can get past – but Verstappen can't," explained Palmer, speaking to F1 TV.
"So Max pits at the same time as George, but Perez then has a tyre advantage when they met again. He's on the radio saying, 'let me through now, I can go quicker', which is what he thought would be reciprocated after he let Verstappen through earlier on.
"But Red Bull held Verstappen there, trying to pass Russell on merit, and that compromised Perez's pace when he could have probably gone on and passed George Russell.
"Perez gave way to Verstappen but did not get the reciprocation. Then we get the moment that decided the race, much later on.
"It was Verstappen on much fresher tyres and before he even gets the chance to race with his teammate, Perez is ordered not to fight and let him through and that will be the race win."
Palmer: Red Bull should trust their drivers to fight
As a result, Perez now finds himself a clear number two driver behind Verstappen, believes Palmer, despite only a quarter of the 2022 season having been completed.
"I thought that was particularly tough on Perez, who had a good drive and was cooperative all the way through. It really sets the team orders out for Red Bull," he said.
"I think if they were allowed to fight, so long as the DRS was working for Max, I think he would have been able to pass Perez anyway.
"I just think it is a shame that Red Bull made it so obvious and so clear that Perez will jump out of the way for his teammate, rather than letting it fight out on track.
"I know people will say there's no need to do that, it's a risk. It does make sense but I think sometimes you have to trust the driver, as well, not to have incidents.
"We've seen so many times that drivers fight on track as teammates. If Verstappen can fight Lewis Hamilton cleanly last year for the win, then I think he can fight his teammate."
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Why Palmer views Red Bull team orders differently
Red Bull are not the first team to deploy team orders, Palmer admits, but the former Renault racer does feel the decision to hand Verstappen a win over Perez has come too early in the campaign.
"People will say Mercedes have done team orders, everyone else has done team orders in the past. This year it just feels a little bit more contention for me," he commented.
"Whilst Mercedes have done it famously in Sochi, that was with about four or five races to go and [Valtteri] Bottas wasn't in Championship contention, Hamilton was. Technically speaking, Perez was only 19 points behind Verstappen coming into this race. One bad race for Verstappen and a win for Perez and he would have been ahead of Max.
"I think it was a bit harsh that, through that race, Red Bull didn't let Perez try and fight to see what he could do."
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?