Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Leah Brown
Sergio Pérez is currently experiencing his best season yet in Formula 1, with five podiums and a win through the first eight races of 2022. As a result, he’s currently second in the World Drivers’ Championship standings, 21 points behind teammate Max Verstappen, with serious title aspirations. After Baku, however, those title dreams were quickly doubted by many, for a number of reasons. If anyone knows how it feels to be in Checo’s place currently, it’s got to be a former Red Bull driver, Mark Webber.
The careers of both drivers are very similar. Both have driven for an up-and-coming midfield team - Webber for Jaguar and Pérez for Sauber. Oddly enough, both also drove one or two seasons for former championship winning teams during their decline, these being McLaren for Pérez and Williams for Webber. Lastly, both Aussie Grit and Checo found a team they could call home…almost. Whereas Webber joined Red Bull in 2007 and stayed there until 2013, Pérez was forced out of the team he helped build for six years, Force India/Racing Point, before joining Red Bull in 2021. The Mexican and the Australian also both had to wait a long time before their first poles and wins in F1 (Webber’s first pole and first win came in his 149th start, while it took Checo 190 starts to get a win and 215 to start on pole).
Perhaps the most worrying similarity the two are starting to share is their team’s attitude towards them. Back in ‘09, along with a race-winning car, Webber also got a new teammate, Sebastian Vettel. Soon, Red Bull realized Seb’s potential and he was made the number one driver. This left the Aussie in the dark a lot of the time, with the team not backing him as much as they should; examples such as Turkey and Siverstone 2010 come to mind. It got so bad that even when team orders were issued in favor of Webber, Vettel ignored them. Of course I’m referring to Malaysia 2013 and the famous Multi-21 incident, when Vettel disobeyed team orders to remain behind Webber, taking over the lead from the Aussie.
Now in 2022, Pérez finds himself in a similar position. Let’s look at Spain for instance. Verstappen was stuck behind the Mercedes of George Russell, chasing for second place, which became first when Charles Leclerc had to retire. On paper, the Red Bull was much faster, but a malfunctioning DRS (Drag Reduction System) meant Verstappen couldn’t get past. Instead of letting Pérez, who was behind Max, have a go, they told him to hold position and not fight Verstappen for the win. Baku looked to be a similar story. Both the Bulls were in the mix for victory, something that only became more certain when, again, Leclerc DNFed. Pérez was now in front, but was told not to fight his teammate. It’s also worth mentioning that the Mexican had not one, but two slow pit stops.
Checo has signed a contract for 2024, which means Red Bull clearly want him on their team for at least a few more years. But are they going to revert back to their old ways of limiting the potential of their other driver, as they look to return to their past successes? Things will become clearer as we head into the middle part of the season, so watch this space!