With Verstappen‘s second world title already secured, Red Bull turned their attention to Perez and wrapping up the team’s first-ever one-two finish in the drivers’ championship, but things took a sour turn at Interlagos.
Running sixth, Verstappen refused an order on the last lap to let his teammate past for what could have been two crucial extra points in the Mexican’s battle with Charles Leclerc, citing an incident earlier in the season for his disobedience.
Speculation mounted that it was because Perez had intentionally crashed on his final flying lap during qualifying for the Monaco GP, thus earning him de facto pole position.
The Mexican denied the allegation and hit back at Verstappen on the warm-down lap in Sao Paolo, saying “it shows who he really is” to team boss Christian Horner.
Up until then, the Red Bull duo had enjoyed about as harmonious a working relationship as is possible in a front-running F1 outfit, but Croft believes there will be little to no goodwill left when racing resumes for the 2023 F1 season.
“There has to be trust issues there,” Croft told Natalie Pinkham and Karun Chandhok. “You need to be able to trust your team, and as a driver, trust your teammate.
“Whatever went on in Monaco, and the assumption is there was something about Checo’s crash that wasn’t misfortune, shall we say.
“If it wasn’t an act of misfortune, there is a trust issue there and in the back of your mind you are thinking, ‘Will they do that again’?
“I don’t see how it gets repaired.”
‘Ricciardo is not the future for Red Bull’
Also intriguing to see this year is how Red Bull will use Daniel Ricciardo after the Australian was announced as the team’s 2023 reserve driver following a torrid spell with McLaren.
Given his history – he drove for Red Bull from 2014 to 2018 – and the potential friction between Verstappen and Perez, many were quick to speculate that the 33-year-old could be in line for a return to the grid alongside the Dutchman in 2024.
Stranger things have happened, but Croft believes the team would be better targeting a younger driver should a change be in the offing at the end of this season.
“I think [Ricciardo and Perez] are two very different styles of driver,” Croft added. “They are both capable of winning races but, to me, they win races in very different way.
“I hate to say this, I think Daniel is a terrific bloke, but he is not the future for Red Bull, not by any stretch of the imagination, mainly because of age.
“When Max spoke at the end of the season about potentially stopping at the age of 31, that is a big revelation to me. He is already thinking about the time he is stopping racing.
“If he is thinking that, then Red Bull should be thinking it too. Personally, I would be trying to identify someone else to come in in 2024 if Checo is not the answer.”