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Horner: Red Bull F1 drivers free to race and battle will "ebb and flow"

Red Bull Formula 1 boss Christian Horner says Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen remain free to race each other and expects their battle to "ebb and flow" during this season.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Victories for Perez in both Saturday’s sprint and Sunday’s grand prix in Azerbaijan left the Mexican just six points shy of his team-mate after the first four events of the 2023 campaign.

Horner stressed that the team is happy to see the points shared out between the duo as it helps to lift both drivers clear of the rest of the field.

He says the strong showing from both drivers will help create a buffer that will be useful if rivals improve their form and Red Bull’s cost cap penalty starts to hit development as the season progresses.

“At moment it's the two of them,” said Horner of the title battle. “There's a slight gap between the rest of the field, but there's 19 more races to go, and five sprint races.

“There's a huge amount of racing and a whole variance of different circuits to go through, so it could ebb and flow between the two of them.

“Reliability will be a key factor. And what we're more focused on as well at the moment is building a buffer with both of the drivers.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

“Because when we get back to Europe, I'm sure there's going to be sizeable upgrades. And, of course, we have a reduced capacity to develop this year, so that's where our focus is - trying to build a gap.”

Horner made it clear that there are no team orders in the Red Bull camp and it’s a straight fight between Verstappen and Perez.

“There's six points between them after four races so yeah, they're both competitive drivers,” he said.

“They both want to win, which is why they're employed by the team. And I think that it's down to what they do on the track. They were free to race today and, all year so far, they've been free.”

Asked if that would continue further into the season, Horner added: “Yes, until the team's interests, if you're competing against a competitor, becomes bigger than the drivers' interests. But, as it is at the moment, they're free to race.”

Horner revealed that before the Baku race he reminded both men of the infamous clash between Verstappen and then team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in the 2018 Azerbaijan GP.

“I think 2018 is fairly etched on everybody's memory in this team,” he said. “And it's something we discussed this morning in the briefing, that they're free to race, but we don't want a 2018 replay.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB14 and Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB14 crash

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB14 and Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB14 crash

Photo by: Sutton Images

“And they pushed each other as hard as they could, and it was a fine margin today that split the two of them.”

Horner also praised Perez for adding another street race victory to his CV following wins for the team at several other temporary venues, including Monaco, Singapore and Jeddah.

“Checo is definitely living up to his nickname of king of the streets or whatever his latest docu-series is going to be called,” said Horner.

“Obviously, he got a little bit lucky with the timing of the safety car. But, having got the lead, he built close to a four-second lead at one point and controlled the race, so he used his opportunity, and converted it into a great win.

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“You've got Max Verstappen behind you. He's not taking it easy. And he was able to build up I think a 3.7 seconds lead at one point. All credit to Checo, he drove a great race today.

“They were pushing each other hard. I think they were comparing times that they touched the wall under the podium there.

“But we let them push all the way through, that was always the plan going into the race.”

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