Christian Horner
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner is being slammed by racing fans after appearing to show favouritism between his two drivers at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday.

Sergio Perez won the first Sprint Race of the season on Saturday after overtaking Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc very easily at the start of the race. His teammate Max Verstappen could only manage to finish in third after sustaining damage in the opening lap from a nudge by George Russell's Mercedes.

In the main race, Leclerc started from pole once more but he could only stay in front for four laps due to the visibly superior race pace on Verstappen's Red Bull. Even without DRS, the Dutchman was already all over the Ferrari's mirrors. As soon as DRS was enabled, it became clear the Leclerc simply had no chance to stay in front.

Then, just two laps later, the Ferrari looked like a sitting duck as the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez also came whipping past. The two Red Bulls started to battle for the lead, and Perez was clearly putting pressure on a Verstappen.

Red Bull called Verstappen into the pits for fresh tyres when AlphaTauri driver Nyck de Vries clipped the wall and stopped on the track. Unfortunately for Verstappen, the Safety Car was called out and his teammate was able to make his own stop and still stay in front.

The podium places stayed the same until the chequered flag, with Perez and Verstappen in front of Leclerc. After the race ended, Horner was on the radio to Verstappen saying: "Checo was a little lucky with the safety car, but don't worry Max, there's a long World Championship ahead. You scored good points today," before adding that it was a great team result.

Verstappen did not really sound particularly agitated by what happened though, and even went up to congratulate the Mexican as soon as he got out of the car.

Horner also took to Instagram to repeat what he said about Checo's "luck" with the pit stop.

"Vamos Checo! 🏆👏 @schecoperezhas had a sensational weekend to add the Grand Prix win to his Sprint Victory. He just excels here in Baku, got a little lucky with the safety car today but he made the most of it, built a gap and controlled the race," he captioned a post showing him hugging the Mexican.

It may be pointed out that Perez himself "liked" the post.

However, fans all over Twitter were not happy with Horner's words and accused him of of favouritism and downplaying the Mexican's victory.

"#CristianHorner is an absolute disgrace. Telling max over the radio how checo got lucky. Checo is Also YOUR driver Cristian," said one fan. Another said, "God, can Horner ever be openly happy for Checo? Already calling him "lucky" to placate Max from having another tantrum."

Meanwhile in the same post, Horner explained the decision to pit Verstappen when they did and called the 1-2 finish a "brilliant" result nonetheless. "P2 for @MaxVerstappen1 secures a brilliant Team result and our 25th 1-2 in Team history. It was the optimum time to stop for Max from the mediums, we'd committed to the stop and sometimes things like that just don't go your way." he then added that Verstappen's "misfortune" benefited his teammate.

The Red Bulls have now won all four of the opening races this season, with each driver winning two apiece. Horner then said that there is still a long way to go this season and that they had to keep fighting "as a Team" to defend both the Drivers' and Constructors' Championship titles.

At this point, Sky Sports commentators were correct to say that if Perez wasn't challenging Verstappen, no one will. Such is the pace advantage of the Austrian team ahead of the other cars that even if Leclerc started from pole on both the Sprint and Main race in Baku, he could not keep the lead for more than a few laps.

Checo could cause an internal conflict at Red Bull

Perez now sits just six points behind Verstappen in the drivers' standings. The next closest contender, Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso, is 27 points away from the Mexican.

With the Red Bulls keeping a monopoly of the top spot on the podium until now, it is clear that this season will likely be a battle between their two drivers. However, while many are expecting Verstappen to breeze through to a hat-trick of titles, it seems that Perez has other ideas.

After winning in Baku, Perez said: "I wouldn't travel the world if I didn't believe I could be a world champion. Without the issues we had in qualifying in Melbourne, we should be leading the Championship."

He was referring to Q1 at the Australian Grand Prix, where he beached his car almost as soon as he got out of the pits, forcing him to start the race at the back of the pack. However, the fact that he pointed out that he should be leading the championship clearly indicated his intention not to sit back as Verstappen's wing man this season.

This isn't the first time that Perez made it publicly clear that he is not doing his teammate any favours. However, he claims that he still has a "great" relationship with Verstappen and that they are simply pushing each other on the track.

Sergio Perez
Cheered on: Red Bull's Mexican driver Sergio Perez racing in front of his home fans ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP