Is Red Bull Perez's Final Chapter in F1?
Written by Daniel Whitmore, Edited by Yu Xin Wang
There is no doubt that Sergio Perez, also known as Checo, is a huge talent in Formula One. He is loved amongst most fans of the sport and has had an extremely successful career. 235 Grand Prix starts, 28 podiums, and a five-time race winner. He is the third most experienced driver on the 2023 grid, after Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Despite all this, does Red Bull feel that he is a worthy teammate for Max Verstappen?
Red Bull has gone through many drivers in the past few years. Ever since they saw the departure of Daniel Ricciardo from the team, they have struggled to find a driver capable of delivering at the same level of Verstappen. However, this is a big ask. Verstappen is arguably one of the greatest drivers in F1 history. It would be an extremely difficult task to find someone who's able to challenge him, but Red Bull certainly needs a driver who performs roughly similar to their #1 car.
In 2019, Ricciardo moved to Renault, and Red Bull had to find a fresh face to join their team. They felt that Pierre Gasly, their academy driver in Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri), had proved himself worthy of a drive in the top team. Following a series of underperformances and countless crashes, they soon figured out that Gasly was, in fact, not ready.
By the summer break of the 2019 season, Gasly was trailing his teammate Verstappen by 118 points. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner then decided that Gasly had his chance, and that rookie Alex Albon was a worthy talent. Horner wanted to swap Gasly with Albon for the 2nd Red Bull seat, thus Gasly returned to Toro Rosso for the remainder of the season.
Putting up a couple of impressive performances, the Austrian team decided to keep Albon for the 2020 season. This was when things went downhill for Albon. He began delivering many performances similar to that of Gasly the previous season. Red Bull was stumped. The team did not want to keep Albon for another season, but couldn’t find anyone who they felt was worthy of replacing him. This was until the Bahrain Grand Prix.
At Racing Point (now Aston Martin), it had been recently announced that Sebastian Vettel would be joining the team the following year. This left Perez without a seat. With no options available, he put all his performance into what he believed to be his final few races in Formula One.
Starting fifth on the grid for the Bahrain Grand Prix, Perez had moved up to third after going three-wide with Verstappen and Charles Leclerc. However, Perez spun around when Leclerc locked his brakes and tagged the rear right of Perez’s car, and he saw the entire grid thundering past him.
There was then a safety car as Leclerc and Verstappen had both gone into the wall following the incident. Perez then began an incredible recovery drive after the safety car pulled into the pits and racing had begun once again.
Eventually, Perez took the lead of the race. Perez had pushed through and gone from last all the way to first. Horner saw the exceptional performance by Perez, and the potential that Perez has. This was exactly the kind of driver Horner wanted in his team. After that season, Red Bull announced that they had signed Perez for the 2021 season.
In 2021 and 2022, Perez has proven himself to be an excellent driver. He has been on the podium on multiple occasions, and he helped the team when they needed him. This was especially the case in the 2021 season. Perez had put in fastest laps to stop Lewis Hamilton from gaining points, he has covered off alternate strategies from Mercedes while sometimes sacrificing his own race, and in Abu Dhabi, he defended from Hamilton relentlessly, losing him 8 seconds to let Verstappen catch up. It was said by many people that Verstappen would not have won the championship if it wasn’t for Perez. -
This brings us to the question, will Perez become sick of putting Verstappen before himself, for the sake of the team? It has happened before that being the “wingman” for your teammate becomes tiring and draining. This was the case for Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes, who was often seen as a #2 driver during his time there.
In 2022, there was lots of drama between the two Red Bulls, but things really boiled over at the Brazilian Grand Prix when Verstappen had already won the championship while Perez was still fighting for second in the championship against Leclerc. Towards the end of the race, Perez was told to let Verstappen past him, but Verstappen needed to give the place back if he could not catch the next driver. Verstappen was eventually asked by his engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, to return the place to Perez after failing to catch Fernando Alonso.
“Don’t worry about the DRS Max, let Checo through. Let Checo through. Max let Checo through please!”
*Verstappen does not respond and crosses the line*
“Max what happened?” - Lambiase
“I told you guys already last summer. You guys don’t ask that again to me. Okay? Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons, and I stand by it.” - Verstappen
It is unclear what Verstappen was talking about. Many people believed the most reasonable thing he could have been talking about was an incident that happened in Monaco earlier that year.
Perez had crashed in qualifying which brought out a red flag, halting everyone’s final lap. This put Leclerc in first, Sainz in second, Perez in third and Verstappen in fourth. Since Monaco is such a difficult track to overtake on, qualifying is extremely important. It is believed that Verstappen was angry at Perez because he felt he had crashed purposefully to give himself an advantage over him.
Perez did end up winning the Monaco Grand Prix due to poor strategy from Ferrari. Perhaps Verstappen felt he could have won the race if he had been able to finish that final lap in qualifying. This turned the majority of the F1 community against Verstappen as they thought that he was being unfair and petty.
There have been a few rows between the Red Bull pair and their chemistry seems very poor. This began to raise questions about Perez’s future at Red Bull. If these falling-outs continue and escalate, the team may not have a choice but to make a change. Verstappen has been their #1 driver for a long time and he is the reigning World Champion. Red Bull would never change his seat. Therefore, Perez’s place may be under threat. If the scenario came that Red Bull wished to change Perez, what would happen? For the team, there are a few different options:
Ricciardo signed as a third driver for Red Bull in 2023. In the past, he has proven himself capable of bringing the fight to Verstappen and winning races. Although he has had a poor couple of seasons with McLaren, Ricciardo always was more suited to the driving style of the Red Bull car.
With some time off the grid, it’s possible that we may see him again in the future with a new attitude and a new burst of pace. He may take Perez’s place or join AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s sister team.
Tsunoda has been with AlphaTauri since 2021. He came to F1 through the Red Bull Academy. This gives him a direct link with the team. Should Tsunoda show to impress in the future, it is entirely possible he will be offered a seat at Red Bull.
He has a very aggressive driving style and is quite the hothead in the car. However, he is still very young and may need to gain some more experience if he is to join a top team.
Nyck de Vries
2019 Formula 2 World Champion and 2021 Formula E World Champion Nyck de Vries is a hot talent in F1. He signed for AlphaTauri in 2023 following a brilliant performance in Monza in 2022 as he filled in for Alex Albon at Williams and scored points on his F1 debut. Many teams were interested in de Vries after his performance in Italy but he settled with AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s sister team.
Horner will definitely be keeping an eye on him in 2023. If he proves himself worthy, he could be in for a chance for a seat at Red Bull.
Norris joined F1 in 2019 and has been with McLaren ever since. Norris and McLaren have experienced many good years together, scoring P4 in the Constructors' Championship in 2020 and 2021. However, they saw a severe drop in performance in the new era of cars in 2022, and have had a very poor start to the 2023 season. Norris may be looking for a new outfit for the coming years. Horner has been in talks with the Briton in the past, and Norris may be becoming more interested after the disappointing seasons with McLaren.
If one of these moves were to happen, it would leave Perez to decide what to do for his future.
It is very possible Perez might be offered a different seat on the F1 grid. He is a strong and dependable driver, which would be essential to any team. He has been with multiple teams in his career so he may also have strong relations in some places.
Red Bull may even do a driver swap, either with AlphaTauri or with other teams. They have done this in the past with their sister team, when they swapped Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon in 2019.
Many drivers from F1 or F2, who end up without a seat, often find a drive in the IndyCar Series. For example: Marcus Ericsson, Marcus Armstrong, Romain Grosjean, Christian Lundgaard and Calum Ilott. IndyCar would be a good option for Perez, considering that his racing career has always revolved more around downforce cars.
World Endurance Championship (WEC)
WEC is another series which many F1 drivers opt for after their time in F1. Jenson Button raced in Le Mans in 2018, and Kevin Magnussen drove in the 2021 Le Mans with his father, Jan Magnussen. Antonio Giovinazzi is driving for Ferrari in the WEC for 2023. Alonso even won Le Mans in 2018 and 2019. Amongst these names are also Juan Pablo Montoya, Stoffel Vandoorne, Paul di Resta and Bruce McLaren. All in all, Perez may see himself eyeing up a crack at Le Mans in the future.
Formula E has also been visited by many F1 drivers, and as it is fully electric, it may be the future of racing. Drivers such as Pierre Gasly, Karun Chandhok, Nick Heidfeld, Felipe Massa, Nelson Piquet Jr, Bruno Senna, Kamui Kobayashi, Stoffel Vandoorne, Jacques Villeneuve and Antonio Giovinazzi have all been in Formula 1 and Formula E. There is no doubt that it is a big option for Perez, and it also may be a good idea for him to support the future of motorsport.
To conclude, Sergio Perez is a fantastic driver and is an amazing asset to Red Bull. Can he bring the fight to Verstappen in 2023? We will have to wait and see, but he has a huge mountain to climb to challenge the reigning World Champion. Will tensions rise? Will there be more friction between the pair? We will see what 2023 has to offer us, so stay tuned.