Despite finishing in P2 to his team mate at the opening round of the 2023 Formula One season, Sergio Perez future is still being questioned within the paddock. Yet as many of Lewis Hamilton’s team mates will testify, some times the driver across the garage is just to quick to beat during a normal F1 weekend.
Question marks over Perez future within the Red Bull team surfaced at last seasons Brazilian GP. Verstappen and the team had closed out both F1 titles and Perez was in a duel with Charles Leclerc for second in the drivers’ championship.
Cause of ‘bad blood’ in RB team
In the closing laps in Sau Paulo the team ordered Verstappen to give up his place to Perez who was behind, but Max ignored the instruction.
As the chequered flag fell, Verstappne’s engineer asked “what happened?”
Verstappen replied, “I gave my reasons, and I stand by it.”
Immediately the post race paddock talk was all about Perez behaviour at the Monaco GP earlier in the season. There Checo crashed on his final qualifying lap, was hit by Carlos Sainz and brought out the red flag.
Verstappen visibly angry
This prevented Verstappen from delivering his final qualifying run meaning he was set to start behind his team mate Sergio Perez.
At the time Verstappen was visibly angered refusing to speak with his mentor Helmut Marko, pushing him aside. Rumours in the paddock swirled suggesting Perez had crashed deliberately in order to start the GP where overtaking is notoriously difficult ahead of his team mate and world championship leader.
When asked about Perez future, Christian Horner replied:
Horner calls on Perez for “A-Game”
“Look, Max is a hell of a competitor and he’s a tough… probably the highest benchmark in F1. But Checo is now in his third year in the team, he’s confident, he’s comfortable and he’s got to be on his A-game – not just with Max.”
Whilst Red Bull had it easy first time out in Bahrain, many believe the extremely abrasive Sakhir circuit asphalt disadvantaged the Ferrari car more than the Red Bull. In Jeddah Horner believes things will be closer hence why Checo needs to be on his “A-Game.”
Whilst Verstappen winning his third drivers’ title is important to the team, its the constructors championship they value the highest in terms of history and prestige.
RB competition driver pairings are close
As Horner explains, their main competitors have driver pairings which have proven to be closely matched and this is what delivers the best points tally for the team.
“[Ferrari’s] drivers are pushing each other hard, Mercedes’ drivers are [pushing each other] hard, we’ve got what looks like a pretty motivated veteran [Fernando Alonso] in a green car as well, so it’s going to be a really exciting year.”
For Horner’s use of the word “exciting” read “closer battle” for the team championship.
Sergio has been called on to assist Verstappen on several occasions during their two year partnership.
Perez threatens to withdraw co-operation
One example was Checo holding up the Lewis Hamilton for lap after lap at the Abu Dhabi finale in 2021 allowing Verstappen to close in making up several seconds.
However, Perez fired a shot across Red Bull and Verstappen’s bows when speaking to Fox Sports during the recent Bahrain F1 weekend. The Mexican implied he will with hold his co-operation to help Verstappen in future if he believes its merely a one way street.
“It’s always important to work as a team and obviously if I see that I don’t receive support when I need it, I won’t give it either,” said Perez.
Checho’s performance will decide his 2024
Yet its Checo’s performance that will determine whether the second year option on his contract for 2024 is firmed up or not.
By the end of round four in Imola last season, Verstappen had accumulated 59 points to his team mates 54 giving a team total of 113 points.
Ferrari still held the advantage in the constructors championship by 11 points despite Perez efforts to remain close to his team mate. From there on Sergio slipped further and further away fro Verstappen finishing the season a whopping 149 points behind his world championship team mate.
Ferrari let Sergio off the hook
It was fortunate for Red Bull that similarly from round for last year, the Ferrari challenge also fell away due to car failures, poor strategy and driver error the Ferrari challenge fell away.
Had this not been the case, Perez performances would have been under far greater scrutiny.
Whilst Imola may not be the benchmark by which Red Bull judge Perez capabilities this season, it could be as early as in Monaco when the team decide whether the Mexican driver will remain with them into 2024.
Checo potential replacements
If the RB19 proves to be clearly better than the rest as was the case in the hands of Verstappen in Bahrain, Perez should be able to maintain second place to his team mate in the drivers’ title chase keeping Red Bull firmly ahead of its competitors.
Given their car advantage Red Bull would surely have the pick of the field for a Perez replacement, though it could be Daniel Ricciardo who gets the call.
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Afternoon, @SChecoPerez 😄 pic.twitter.com/JLznRgwRo3
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) March 16, 2023
To my understanding, his on a straight two-year deal rather than a 1+1 form, but in any case, sacking is always possible & as for possible successor options, Ricciardo would be an easy choice considering his present situation, but I wouldn’t entirely rule out Norris either despite, like Perez, already being under contract beyond the current season.