Three-time Formula One world champion Max Verstappen has done little to squash growing speculation that his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez is in line to be replaced by Daniel Ricciardo in 2024. Perez's worrying form in the back-end of the current season - coupled with the resurgence of Ricciardo at sister team AlphaTauri - has seen calls growing for the Aussie to make a sensational return to Red Bull.
Perez did nothing to dampen the mounting speculation after suffering the worst-possible result at his home Mexican Grand Prix. The home town favourite had a shot at taking the lead on the opening lap of the race heading into turn one but found himself flying through the air after a collision with the Ferrari of pole-sitter Charles Leclerc.
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The incident ruled the Mexican driver out of the race in another crushing blow to his hopes of keeping his seat at Red Bull in 2024. In contrast, Ricciardo has been in sensational form since joining AlphaTauri and outqualified Perez and teammate Yuki Tsunoda at the Mexican GP.
After qualifying fourth-fastest, Ricciardo went on to finish seventh in the main race to earn his first points since returning to a full-time drive. With Ricciardo continuing to shine and Perez struggling, many after the race that the Aussie driver will be Red Bull's No.2 next year.
Such a move would see Ricciardo reunite with his former teammate Verstappen at Red Bull, where the Aussie enjoyed a successful spell until 2018 when he announced a move to Renault. Speaking about the possibility of teaming up with the Aussie again in 2024, Verstappen remained diplomatic, even if it was far from a glowing endorsement of his current teammate, Perez.
"They have been great teammates and it's not up to me at the end of the day to make these kind of decisions because I'm very focused on my own performance," Verstappen told reporters at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix at Interlagos. "So if it's Checo (Perez) next year, then great. I have had a great working relationship with him but also personally I think he's a great guy.
"And if it's Daniel then also we will get along fine and we have a great time. "F1 can be a tough sport. You're asking these kinds of questions but maybe also nothing happens right? We will see."
Ricciardo was elevated to race for AlphaTauri - Red Bull's junior team - earlier this year after starting the season as a reserve driver. Despite his sensational return to the F1 grid this year and constant reports linking him to a Red Bull return, the 34-year-old insists nothing has been discussed.
"All the stuff around my contract next year has been related to AlphaTauri. I'd say that's honestly as far as that goes," he added. Perez still remains second in the driver standings, 20 points clear of third-placed Lewis Hamilton with three races remaining - largely due to his earlier season form.
Red Bull vying for historic one-two in driver standings
Red Bull have never ended a season with their drivers one-two in the standings, something Verstappen is keen to change. "I'm confident in Checo (Perez) that he can stay ahead, because I do think that on average we have the faster car," the Dutch driver said.
Another man being linked to Perez's Red Bull seat in 2024 is veteran Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso, who has denied rumours he's becoming increasingly more frustrated at the F1 team. "I'm not demotivated at all, I'm still enjoying a lot the project, I love the team, I think we had an incredible season even if now we are not obviously fast enough," he said.
"There are always going to be some rumours in Formula One, we should not believe maybe the people that are saying those rumours. These rumours are coming from people that are just social media guys, they want just some followers. It's a shame and I will make sure there are consequences."
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