Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has upgraded his recent remarks on Sergio Perez' future with the team to insist there is absolutely no doubt that the Mexican will be with the squad in 2024.
Horner told the media last month that it was Red Bull's "intention" to keep Perez in the seat next year. But the use of that word inadvertently left many pundits speculating that it fell short of an absolute guarantee.
Perez' place at Red Bull has been in question since he suffered a mid-season slump in performance that saw him go from challenging Max Verstappen for the title to focusing on fending off Lewis Hamilton for P2 in the standings.
His poor qualifying efforts and a number of high profile mistakes including crashing out at the first corner of his home Grand Prix saw him come under fire from Horner and Red Bull motorsports consultant Dr Helmet Marko.
But despite the criticism and speculation, Perez already had a contract to stay at Red Bull next season. Horner has consistently stated that this would be honoured and there were no plans to replace him with Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo returned to the junior AlphaTauri team over the summer and was seventh in Mexico after recovering from injury. Red Bull junior Liam Lawson sat in for Ricciardo and also put himself into the running for a full-time seat.
But despite the backlog of potential replacements waiting for Perez to stumble, Horner insists there is no current opening in prospect - especially after Perez' epic battle for a podium place with Fernando Alonso in Brazil last week.
“I thought he drove brilliantly well,” Horner said at the time. “That result was important for his confidence. That was the Checo we know, and what he’s capable of, and that’ll give him just the boost he needs.
"For Checo to outscore Lewis by 12 points, it was a very strong weekend for him, with third [in the Sprint] and fourth [in the Grand Prix] from ninth on the grid," he said, praising Perez for shrugging off all the criticism.
"One of his strengths is that he has a very thick skin, and many times he’s picked himself up, brushed himself down and got back up again," he added.
Asked if this meant there was no question of replacing Perez in 2024, Horner stated: “I am absolutely confident and clear that Checo will be our driver next year,” adding: "The clear plan, and therefore the clear intention, is that he will continue."
Challenged about his use of "intention", Horner subsequently doubled down on his reassurance: "It's only noise on the outside. On the inside everything is always clear.
“I am absolutely confident and clear that Checo will be our driver next year,” he reiterated. “We have announced the AlphaTauri drivers, we have our Red Bull racing drivers, and that is how we intend to go racing in 2024.
“Now if he was injured or something like that, then there are circumstances beyond your control," he admitted, before stating unequivocally that any decision had nothing to do with Perez' final position in the 2023 championship.
“We’ll give him all the support we can to ensure that he finishes second, but there’s no prerequisite that if he doesn’t finish second, you’re out.”
A poor result for Hamilton in Brazil means that Perez now has a 32 point lead in the standings with just two races in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi to go. That should be enough to seal the runners-up spot, unless he suffers two pointless outings.