David Coulthard believes Sergio Perez must play to his strengths to beat Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen for the 2024 Formula 1 World Championship.
Perez, who goes into the final year of his current Red Bull deal, secured runners-up honours in 2023, helping the Milton Keynes-based outfit claim their first 1-2 finish in the drivers championship.
But, he had a troublesome run to second after enduring a drop in form following May’s Miami Grand Prix, enduring five consecutive Q3 misses and only three podium finishes.
With support from Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, Perez dug deep in the second half of 2023 and wrapped up second in the drivers’ championship after finishing third in November’s Las Vegas GP.
“He needs to play to his strengths, and whatever he was doing when he’s been at his most potent, he needs more of that,” Coulthard exclusively told Total-Motorsport.com.
“Whatever it is that’s distracting him from delivering that performance, and it may be that there’s nothing distracting him. But you only have to go to Mexico to see he’s a national treasure his face [is] everywhere, he represents several brands.
“So everyone’s going to make their choices, but everyone’s got to understand through themselves and their management, where their focus lies. I particularly always wanted, and I learned that through my McLaren years, not to be distracted by anything other than what the team needed me to do and to drive the car.
“And I think that although I was not ultimately the best racing driver, I think I got the best out of the potential I had because I remained focused on driving.”
Perez and others need to step up to end Verstappen dominance
Verstappen and Red Bull’s romp to second consecutive drivers and constructors’ championship double came during a season where the Dutchman won 19 out of 22 races in the 2023 season.
Red Bull’s only blemish in 2023 came at mid-September’s Singapore GP, where Carlos Sainz drove a clever race to win for Ferrari from McLaren’s Lando Norris, with Verstappen finishing fifth after struggling for pace all weekend.
Since the new regulations were introduced in 2022, Red Bull has tasted victory in 38 of the last 44 Grand Prix, during a period where neither Mercedes nor Ferrari have been able to challenge consistently.
Ferrari suffered several strategic blunders during Charles Leclerc’s title challenge in 2022, with the failure to end the prancing horse’s title drought costing then-team principal Mattia Binotto his job.
Mercedes’ hasn’t managed much better, taking only one win since 2021 courtesy of George Russell at the 2022 Sao Paulo GP as the team’s continued persistence with the ‘no’ sidepod concept into 2023 backfired.
“I think we got supercharged Formula 1 in 2021 when Max and Lewis were literally tripping over each other on their way to the showdown in Abu Dhabi,” reflected Coulthard.
“In the years before that, Mercedes were dominant, but I guess it was kept interesting because of the inter-team battle between Rosberg and Hamilton. I think as long as you’ve got two guys going at it head to head, then that will keep it interesting.
“But for that [to happen], obviously, Checo needs to step up, or another team needs to come into the fold and then challenge. Both of those things are possible, I guess more probable, [is] another team such as Mercedes or Ferrari will get one of their star drivers an opportunity to take the battle to Max.
“As we know, this is a technology championship, primarily, and then the best drivers find their way into the best cars and then go off and win races.
“If Red Bull, for whatever reason, has an issue, then it’ll be difficult for Max to win. None of us can predict what’s going to happen this year, but all of the teams most likely [to challenge] have had a good couple of years observing this technical set of regulations to understand where their weaknesses are and to work on that, so in theory, it should be a closer year.”