Max Verstappen singled out as Horner told Red Bull aren’t at Mercedes’ level

1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve believes that the difference between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s dominance is that the former isn’t driving the outright fastest car. He suggested that Sergio Perez’s struggles prove that Red Bull aren’t as dominant as perceived.

Verstappen heads into the final five rounds of the season with an unprecedented advantage over team-mate Perez and the rest of the field. The 26-year-old sits 209 points clear at the top of the standings with his third successive world championship sewn up. 

Red Bull’s star driver is on course to demolish the existing record for the largest winning margin in the history of the F1 Drivers’ Championship with Verstappen already 54 points clear of Sebastian Vettel’s 155-point advantage over Fernando Alonso back in 2013. 

Speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport about Verstappen’s historic 2023 campaign, Villeneuve said: “It is wrong to say Red Bull is unbeatable, Max is.” The former F1 star went on to claim that Christian Horner’s Red Bull are not as dominant as the Mercedes team that saw Hamilton claim six world titles in seven years between 2014 and 2020. He added: “One has to remember that Mercedes was a second faster than the rest when they dominated.

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“There was a fight at that time only because there was a conflict between Mercedes’ drivers. Red Bull is not a second faster than the rest of the field. They struggle to grab pole positions and if they do it at all, it’s by a tenth of a second.

“Verstappen has taken the poles, not Perez. The Mexican is much further back each time, which shows the level of the car. Verstappen is a beast. He won the titles in the last three years. His car was not the deciding factor.”

While Verstappen has thrived this season in spite of competition from both his team-mate and, more recently, the McLaren duo of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris, Perez has struggled to retain consistency.

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When the RB19 was the undisputed king of the grid at the start of the season the 33-year-old enjoyed positive results, claiming two Grand Prix victories in the opening four rounds before snatching pole position at the fifth race of the season in Miami. 

However, once the chasing pack started to eat into Red Bull’s advantage, Perez’s performances dipped with the Mexican driver struggling to string qualifying laps together while Verstappen embarked on a record-breaking ten-race winning streak. 

With Verstappen so dominant and Perez still hanging on to P2 in the Drivers’ World Championship standings, Red Bull have already wrapped up their second successive Constructors’ Championship title with five rounds to spare.

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