It’s April 2022, and after a miserable start to the F1 season, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez come onto the podium as one after securing a one-two in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, with the pair locking arms in an act of unity portraying an image of a Red Bull team working in harmony.
The moment of unity came at a time when Verstappen was still riding high from his 2021 world title win that Perez was instrumental in helping secure, as his selfless acts of defence against Lewis Hamilton gave Verstappen some breathing space in the championship race.
Fast forward seven months, and that unity which had helped Red Bull take both championships took a hammer blow in at the 2022 Brazilian GP when Verstappen refused to let Perez pass for sixth place, causing a post-race war of words between the pair.
But how did the most harmonious driver partnership in Formula 1 quickly turn into a quietly simmering feud?
Signs of cracking
Following their victorious rendezvous in Italy, Verstappen took yet another victory in Miami, putting his championship bid back on track heading into Barcelona.
Although Charles Leclerc had dominated the weekend, a turbo failure put him out of the race whilst leading comfortably, putting Perez and George Russell in the ascendency for the victory.
In contrast, Verstappen had a nightmare race enduring an uncharacteristic off at the Repsol corner before having to deal with a DRS button that simply refused to work, much to his fury.
With Verstappen closing in Perez was told to let his teammate through handing the Dutchman a controversial victory that left a bitter taste in the Mexican’s mouth.
A week later, and with the Catalonian elephant still in the room, Perez looked to get his revenge at the grandest race of them all, at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Qualifying had looked like a straight fight between Ferrari and Red Bull, with Leclerc taking provisional pole on the first runs in Q3 with Perez and Verstappen not far behind.
On his final run, Perez had seemingly pushed too hard on his run down to Portier, clipping the inside of the barrier, wrecking his car and bringing out the red flag, meaning that no driver could improve on their time with Verstappen lobbing his gloves onto the ground in Parc Fermé.
The race, however, was a different story as a botched Ferrari strategy paved the way for Perez to take a historic victory from Carlos Sainz and Verstappen, with the Mexican’s dream weekend getting ever sweeter after picking up a two-year contract extension with Red Bull.
The feud quietens
Following Monaco talk started over whether Red Bull had a potential title fight between their two drivers on their hands.
That question was answered in Canada when Verstappen took another win whilst Perez suffered a gearbox problem early in the race, starting a run of races where Verstappen regularly won, and Perez flopped, failing to stand on the rostrum again until Spa.
With Perez’s win in Singapore, attention turned to securing both championships, with Verstappen wrapping up the drivers at Suzuka whilst Red Bull won its first Constructors’ Championship in nine years at Austin.
But after a stroll in the park in Mexico, Red Bull had a nightmare race in Brazil, with Verstappen being penalised for contact with Hamilton, whilst Perez struggled to hold the Mercedes and Ferrari advance at bay.
Then to add insult to injury, Verstappen ignored calls to let Perez pass for sixth with a verbal jousting between the pair after the race, with the Dutchman telling his team not to ask him again to let Perez through.
Perez fired back, saying that without his help, he wouldn’t have had two world championships, with wild speculation spreading from Dutch television that Verstappen hadn’t let Perez through because of his crash in qualifying at Monaco, which some are now saying was deliberate.
What happens now?
The fallout from Sao Paulo caps off a run of races where Red Bull has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
From the budget cap saga to bickering teammates, the end of the season hasn’t been a happy one for Christian Horner, who will need to defuse what has quickly become a test of his management skills.
Perez had his say on social media the day after the race, saying that he and Verstappen had a discussion where they put the incident behind them but regardless, the gloves are firmly off with the Formula 1 world seeing Verstappen’s ruthless side again.
Verstappen’s refusal to move over raised questions about whether he was a team player and made comparisons to Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna, who were notorious for their savagery when trying to prove that they’re was only room for one top driver in the team.
However, even Senna and Schumacher let their teammates take victory from time to time, yet Verstappen was uninterested in yielding sixth position to his teammate, who is inches away from securing the runners-up in the Drivers’ Championship.
Although there’s still time to rectify the damage, Red Bull would have preferred it if Perez had a slight buffer on Leclerc going into the weekend and no talk over divided loyalties in the camp.