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Red Bull Racing

Red Bull urged to sign 'minister of defence' to protect Verstappen

There is one driver Christian Horner has been told to sign for Red Bull next season.

Horner Red Bull Silverstone
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To news overview © Red Bull Contentpool

Former F1 team principal Otmar Szafnauer has urged Christian Horner to re-sign Sergio Perez for next season to continue in his role as the 'Mexican minister of defence'.

Perez is out of contract at the end of the year, and although the seat is his to lose, there are many suitors eager to replace him and be the next team-mate to Max Verstappen.

Szafnauer, who worked with Perez for eight seasons from 2014-2020, knows the driver well and feels of all the options available to Horner, the 36-year-old represents "the best" choice.

"I was in Abu Dhabi [last week] doing this F1 thing, David Coulthard was with me on stage, and I was asked the question, 'If you were Christian Horner, who would you replace Checo with?'" said Szafnauer, speaking to select media, including RacingNews365.

"I said 'Knowing Checo as well as I do, I would replace Checo with Checo'. If I were Christian, I would still keep him there for next year."

Referring to Verstappen's debut title victory in 2021, Szafnauer recognises that whilst Perez's stout defence against Lewis Hamilton in the final contentious race in Abu Dhabi played its part, other moments should not be overlooked.

"Let's not forget, the first year Max won, it was partly because of Checo, partly because of the circumstance," said Szafnauer. "[But] Don't just look at the last race, look at all the other races that also counted to that win.

"That was when he had the nickname in Mexico as the 'Minister of Defence' or whatever he was.

"He's had some lows. This year, from what I can see, apart from a couple of races where I think he should have finished a bit higher, he's doing it."

Szafnauer claims Perez's strength has "always been racecraft", compensating for the fact that "he's never been a great qualifier".

That has been underlined by his numerous performances at Red Bull since joining in 2021, with his one-lap pace often poor in stark contrast to Verstappen.

Reflecting on their time together at Force India/Racing Point, Szafnauer recalled: "There are not many times that I can count where he worked for me where you think, 'Why did you do that in a race?'

"There's only one time I can remember, in Singapore, where he got frustrated and hit a Williams, but the rest of the time he is very, very good at overtaking without making mistakes. He's really good at it."

Perez's tyre management is also a stand-out area for Szafnauer, drawing on references, in particular, to his four-season partnership with Nico Hulkenberg, who is joining Stake next year and will be driving for Audi in 2026.

"When he was up against Hulkenberg, Hulkenberg would always get him over a lap," said Szafnauer. "By the end of it, Checo could manage his tyres, and Checo would get him.

"Twelve laps into it, Hulkenberg would be on the radio [saying] 'My rear tyres are gone', even when it was front-limited his rear tyres were gone. But Checo? Never. He just has that ability.

"I hired Jun [Matsuzaki, chief tyre performance engineer], one of the best tyre guys, and he would tell him, 'In this corner, make sure you don't put any lateral load into the tyre because it'll wear it quicker'.

"So the drivers would know, that corner, that corner, that corner, just longitudinal load. Wait until it's straight before you get on the throttle.

"Checo could do it, and you didn't even have to tell him. He just had that sense of knowing what the tyre was doing, and that's a benefit."

Pointed out to Szafnauer, however, that 'Max had wiped the floor with him [Perez] over the past 12 months', he replied: "Max is just better."

* Szafnauer was speaking at an event to promote his new Eventr travel app, as previously reported by RacingNews365 here.

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