Christian Horner has defended Red Bull’s development work which Sergio Perez believes is hindering his championship hopes in favour of Max Verstappen.

Perez currently lies third in the drivers’ championship standings behind teammate Verstappen, after Red Bull managed to quickly get on top of its early season reliability issues and make headway in the development race as Ferrari floundered and Mercedes went looking for answers to its bouncing problems.

The Mexican driver possesses a 57-point gap in front of him to Verstappen, as the reigning champion only furthers his grip on the championship and a second title. Verstappen has beaten Perez in every single race this year, except the British GP at Silverstone, where the Dutchman battled bruising floor damage that dropped him to P7, along with Monaco.

Perez has certainly not disappointed himself or his team this season, but bettering the force that is Verstappen is incredibly unlikely and ultimately not what the Mexican is employed to do anyway. But in the first few races, there were times when Perez was not too far off, genuinely taking it to his teammate in Miami.

However, since this period the RB18 has been fitted with significant upgrades that have not only moved it firmly ahead of Ferrari, but, according to Perez, away from the Mexican’s driving style too. What is clear is that the Mexican has been unable to move himself as close to Verstappen in recent races as before.

Some onlookers now question whether Perez is realistically still in with a shout at the title, or at least in with a chance of pushing back the race at which Verstappen wins. Red Bull’s long-time team principal Horner, who has worked with each and every Red Bull driver in the past but rarely someone as experienced as Perez, is adamant though that he is still in the title fight.

“Absolutely,” Horner answered when asked. “We are just at the halfway point of the championship and, you know, things swing around quite a lot. [There’s] still an awfully long way to go. It’s frustrating from the constructors’ position and Ferrari obviously had their own issue.

“So actually I would say this weekend [in Austria] was sort of damage limitation and we managed to get the pole, get the sprint victory and see the second place. I think Max has only lost five points to Charles in the drivers’ [championship] and obviously damage has been relatively contained in the constructors’,” summed up Horner.

The Red Bull chief ultimately goes against Perez’s belief that the Red Bull car development has gone away from him, in fear of inadvertently suggesting development is focused on improving Verstappen’s chances. Instead, Horner points to the set-up being key for Perez to master every weekend while the RB18 has “overall car performance” improvements added to aid both drivers.

When Perez’s original comment was put to Horner, the Red Bull boss replied: “I’m not sure that’s entirely correct, I think the set-up is crucial,” he advised as an area in which Perez is losing out to Verstappen. “I think that Checo was very competitive in the race at Silverstone. And I think that, he’ll have races that we know he will performance very well at. So you know, certainly the developments aren’t being driven in one direction, just an overall car performance improvement.”

Whether Horner’s intimation that the set-up is Perez’s achilles heel is meant as a suggestion to the driver to hone in on at race weekends, or whether it points to the notion that set-up changes that succour Verstappen and hinder Perez are baked in is unclear at the moment. The difference between the pair however is not a monumental one – Verstappen will likely always have an advantage over Perez.

Here’s Max Verstappen on Paul Ricard, Spa

Here’s Christian Horner on Mercedes, Ferrari