Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has said Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez are free to race each other as they prepare to return after a three-week F1 hiatus at the Azerbaijan GP.
Verstappen was fastest overall in the first and only practice session of the weekend in Baku ahead of the inaugural 2023 Sprint Race, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc beating out Perez into second.
The Dutchman leads his teammate by 15 points in the drivers‘ standings with two race wins from three at the start of this season, but Horner told Sky Sports F1 that the driver would remain free to race each other on track with the championship still to play for at this early stage.
“The priority is take as many points as you can and.. it’s such an early stage of the championship still, it’s about not fluttering away points,” he said.
“So it’s going to be a question of, okay, let’s make sure we get the points on the board.
“The drivers are, of course, free to race just so long as they do it cleanly. And they respect each other and the obviously the team because, you know, we have a lot riding on this.”
The weekend in Baku sees the first outing for F1’s new Sprint Race format, with the qualifying session later on Friday to set the grid for the Grand Prix.
Verstappen has said that the format means he would be less inclined to take risks for fear of damaging his car for the more lucrative race on Sunday, but Horner said that from an action standpoint, it was hard to argue with, given the typically exciting racing on display in Baku.
“I think my comments have been taken a little about context, as I did, what I said is completely mad to be doing a sprint race here at this circuit, probably one of the most dangerous on the calendar from a team’s point of view, because the jeopardy, the damage that potentially is, is there with another street race next weekend,” he said.
“But from a fan’s point of view, and from an action point of view, I mean, it’s going to be flat out racing all weekend here.
“So I think there’s going to be plenty of action, and it’s going to be about trying to navigate your way through it as seamlessly as you can.”