Red Bull drivers Max Vestappen, left, and Sergio “Checo” Pérez. Photo: Google

By MARK LORENZANA

It was a one-two punch for Mercedes at the São Paulo Grand Prix on Sunday, Nov. 13, the penultimate race of the ongoing 2022 Formula 1 (F1) World Championship, as Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton took first and second place, respectively, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. took the last podium spot at third.

After the race, however, the drama shifted to the two Red Bull drivers —  Dutchman Max Verstappen and Mexican Sergio “Checo” Pérez — as Verstappen refused to cede fourth place to Pérez, thereby jeopardizing Checo’s chances as runner-up to Verstappen’s World Drivers’ Championship. The Dutchman already claimed the title — his second in two years — after winning the Japanese Grand Prix on Oct. 9. Pérez finished fifth at the Interlagos Circuit in São Paulo on Sunday.

Before the Brazilian Grand Prix, Pérez held on to a precarious lead in the Drivers’ Championship at second, over Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc — Checo had 284 points to Leclerc’s 278. Now the two drivers are at a dead heat in the standings with 290 points apiece. Needless to say, Pérez must go all out in the final race of this F1 season, at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, Nov. 20, if he wants to fend off Leclerc and finish as the runner-up to his Red Bull teammate.

In Sunday’s race, a Red Bull engineer was overheard on the radio during the telecast, asking Verstappen to cede fourth place to Pérez.

“Max, let Checo through,” the two-time world champion was told on the radio.

Verstappen, however, issued a curt reply instead of following the team strategy.

“I’ve already told you. Don’t ask me again. Is it clear to you? I’ve given you my reasons, and I stand by them,” Verstappen said, refusing to give way to Pérez.

When the Red Bull team informed Pérez that his fellow driver wasn’t ceding fourth place, the Mexican, visibly disappointed, vented on the radio.

“He really shows who he is,” Checo said.

Moments later, after the race, Pérez spoke to journalists from sports-streaming platform DAZN, acknowledging that “it was a difficult race, especially at the end.” About the incident with Verstappen, Checo said, “I don’t understand the reasons.”

Pérez, however, later spoke at length on Fox Sports, reminding Verstappen that the Dutchman’s two F1 World Championships was a result of Checo’s sacrifices for the team.

“I’m very surprised. I don’t know what happened, especially after everything I’ve done for him,” Pérez told Fox Sports. “I don’t understand his reasons. I think if he has two championships, it’s thanks to me.”

Back in May of this year, Pérez begrudgingly gave way to Verstappen at the Spanish Grand Prix, settling for second place as his teammate won the race.

“It’s very unfair, but okay,” a disgruntled Pérez was overheard saying on the radio when the Red Bull team asked Checo to let his teammate pass him on lap 49 of 66.

It remains to be seen whether Pérez will eventually be the runner-up in the World Drivers’ Championship after the last race in Abu Dhabi. Perhaps if Checo eventually finishes second to Verstappen, it would be enough to nip in the bud the growing enmity between the two Red Bull drivers.

Otherwise, even though Red Bull already claimed this season’s Constructors’ Championship and Drivers’ Championship, it will be an uphill climb getting its drivers to agree on team strategy for next season, considering that Pérez recently signed a contract extension with the team for another two years.

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