Max Verstappen is the Lone Star but error-prone Sergio Perez is in Texas danger at US Grand Prix

Ricciardo is waiting in the wings at Red Bull.

Max Verstappen is the Lone Star but error-prone Sergio Perez is in Texas danger at US Grand Prix
Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo have had vastly different seasons
Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo have had vastly different seasons (Picture: Getty)

Max Verstappen must feel at home in the Lone Star state, such has been his dominance this year.

He had his third world title rubber-stamped in Qatar but there is zero chance he will ease off the gas in the final five races of the season.

Austin is set to pack in the action, with the fifth sprint race of the year scheduled for 11pm UK time tomorrow ahead of Sunday’s US Grand Prix at 8pm.

Verstappen has been victorious at the last two GPs here, while Lewis Hamilton is the Circuit of the Americas’ most successful combatant, having stood on the top step of the podium and donned the Pirelli-branded Stetson five times.

Last year, having won the title in Japan, Max went on to win three of the remaining four GPs of the season. This year he has the best car of his career – perhaps of anyone’s career – and, even though points mean nothing now, he’s on a mission to crush the opposition at every turn. Including his own team-mate.

Austin’s proximity to Mexico and large Hispanic population mean for Sergio Perez this is like a second home race. Third in 2021 is his best result. After his dismal performance in Qatar he’s now on warning.

Christian Horner seems to have given Perez a pass for the rest of the year – the pressure is off now both titles have been sealed. So it appears, for now, Red Bull will let him start next season but if Checo is unable to score consistent podiums in the first few races of 2024 he will likely be dropped immediately, possibly for Daniel Ricciardo.

Lewis Hamilton is pushing to take second place in the Championship from Sergio Perez
Lewis Hamilton is pushing to take second place in the championship (Getty)

So, in these remaining five rounds, all eyes will be on the Australian. Austin is his first race back since Zandvoort in August, where he broke the metacarpal bone in his left hand in a practice smash. Brought into AlphaTauri to replace Nyck de Vries, he has only made two race starts so far and hasn’t troubled the points, so it’s a long shot Ricciardo could step into a Red Bull RB20 and suddenly be all over Verstappen.

Liam Lawson, who filled in for five rounds starting with Zandvoort, looked the more promising driver, picking up an impressive ninth in Singapore. So if Ricciardo wants to get back in a Red Bull next year he needs to find a better result than that this weekend.

He loves Texas and all the cowboy gear and country music but he must not get distracted by any of that. Such is the lure of Red Bull, I’m sure a McLaren driver or two would consider buying their way out of their contract if Perez’s seat becomes available, even though partnering Verstappen would be daunting to anyone. But would that be the right move?

McLaren are in the ascendance, with both drivers on the podium at both of the last two rounds. Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris could score a win this weekend if Verstappen has a wobble.

Perez has two battles on the horizon; one with himself, because he is clearly capable of winning grands prix when his head’s in the right place, and one with Lewis Hamilton.

Had the seven-time world champion not made an uncharacteristic error into turn one in Qatar, he’d be closing in on second in the standings now. The Mexican leads him by 30 points.

Seizing runner-up honours would be a serious achievement for Hamilton, who hasn’t won a race in nearly two years. To fumble a Red Bull championship one-two would be another nail in Perez’s career coffin. There’s a good chance this is Checo’s final chance to win in Austin and Mexico. His future depends on it.

Starring role for designer

Red Bull has turned to its fans to come up with a special livery for the US
Grand Prix. Verstappen and Perez will take on the competition in the colours
of Texas’ Lone Star flag.

Franco Cavallone, a 39-year-old graphic designer from Argentina, beat 2,000 other entries.

The team last ran a special livery in Miami in May, the work of another Argentinian, where Verstappen was first past the chequered flag.

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