Too much has been written about Sergio Perez during the 2023 Formula One season and little of it good since his two wins during the opening rounds of the season. After another lacklustre weekend in Qatar, Perez is again under pressure as the Reed Bull management are forced to fend off questions about their underperforming driver.
The writing was on the wall for Sergio as early as the Miami Grand Prix when despite Max starting in P9 he hunted down Perez in the closing stages making an easy pass to claim victory in the Florida heat.
Perez qualifying “shocking”
Checo has failed to make the final qualifying sessions a remarkable 8 times in 17 races this season and again in Qatar the Mexican struggled to deliver a legal time in Q2 which saw him out of the pole position shootout.
Perez’s ill judged move up the inside of Nico Hulkenberg during the sprint race in Qatar saw his RB19 beached on the gravel and this finally handed the 2023 driers title to his team mate.
In qualifying, the head to head amongst the Red bull drivers is startling. Verstappen has beaten Perez 15-2 which is amongst the biggest differentials on this years F1 grid.
Logan Sargeant has so far failed to beat Albon at all and Lance Stroll is also suffering a 15-2 deficit to his veteran team mate Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton wants P2
With Red Bull wining the constructors’ championship and Verstappen the drivers’ title, the attention of Christian Horner and other senior team members has turned to a record they’ve never held – a 1-2 in the drivers’ final table.
At present Sergio has a 30 point lead over Lewis Hamilton whose misjudgement at turn one I Qatar saw him out of the race and failing to score. Perez with three 5 second time penalties ws relegated to P10, but scored a single point in his battle with the Mercedes driver.
Hamilton had closed the gap to Checo by 25 points over the three races from Monza to Suzuka and has started it is his mission to overhaul the lead of the Red Bull number two driver.
Its been almost two years and 40 races since Lewis won a Grand Prix and he has been forced to lower his sights on what he considers to be a successful season. Previously drivers like Kimi Raikkonenen and Hamilton have scorned a P2 finish in the championship as ‘irrelevant’ and even merely the place for the first of the losers.
Webber weighs in
Yet Lewis now considers this to be his target for the remaining races this year, ‘to deny Red Bull their first ever 1-2.’
Mark Webber, the manager of Sprint race winner Oscar Piastri, has weighed in on the upcoming Hamilton/Perez duel to the end of the year. The ex-Red Bull Race multiple winner believes Perez struggles with the extreme heat at the desert venues.
“Well when we talk about weather that’s gonna be an interesting one with Brazil and Mexico, and once we get out of these UAE countries, as that’s where Sergio is still struggling, these mixed weather conditions,” the eight-time Grand Prix winner told Channel 4.
“He’s lost a lot of points throughout the year, of course. That’s where Lewis is just going to be relentless. That’ll be pretty brutal if he tracks him down.
“But,” he added, “I think Sergio will still nip it.”
Marko says Perez 2024 drive ‘conditional’
It appears there is a lot on the line for Checo and he needs to deliver this ‘minor trophy’ for Red Bull given comments made in Qatar by Dr. Helmet Marko.
Speaking of the gulf between the 433 points of Verstappen to just 224 from Perez, Marko insisted in Losail:
“The gap is simply too big at the moment because second place in the World Championship is also at risk now,” he told ORF.
The 80-year old Red Bull advisor then warned that Perez’s deal for 2024 with Red Bull was not guaranteed.
Red Bull reserves in the running
“In general we want to implement the contractual situation, which lasts until 2024. And that’s entirely up to him now.”
When questioned whether Red Bull would really ditch Sergio, Marko was defiant.
“We have three relatively good drivers in AlphaTauri, and [Liam] Lawson is a reserve driver for four cars. So a lot can happen [in the future],” Marko warned.
And its not just the outspoken Helmet Marko cranking up the pressure on Sergio, his team boss Christian Horner was forced to make unfavourable comparisons about his Mexican driver during the weekend in Qatar.
Horner comapres Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren pairings
“The other teams are working as a pair, sometimes that becomes a bit confrontational as we saw today,” Horner told Sky F1 referring to the 1st corner crash between the Mercedes pair.
“But you know Mercedes, it’s very tight between their pair, Ferrari is very tight between their pair, Oscar, what a great job he’s doing as a rookie, very tight with Lando,” noted Horner.
“We really need Checo to get into that window because it’s not this year so much, but certainly next year, we need him to be firing on all cylinders.”
Christian Horner was forced to consider the options should Perez not come through and he admitted the opportunities were limited outside the pool of drivers within Reed Bull and AlphaTauri.
Perez blames RB19 development
“Well Lando obviously he’s under contract, Oscar you’d be saying as well, he’s under contract as well,” said Horner.
“So all these drivers under contract, we’ve got AlphaTauri as well, but we have a contract with Sergio and we’re not seeing the best of Sergio.
“We need to unpick what it is that’s causing this slump in form for him and we’re going to support him as much as we can to achieve that.”
Perez has blamed the development direction the RB19 had taken after the first five rounds this year, for his loss of confidence in driving on the edge without making mistakes.
McLaren outscore Red Bull last 3 races
Yet while it once looked as though Red Bull may get an easy pass in 2024, McLaren have stormed back in the championship this season, now outscoring all teams but Red Bull since the Austrian Grand Prix.
The shock for Red Bull is the Woking based team’s pair of drivers in Norris and Piastri have outscored Red Bull at each of the last three Grand Prix.
McLaren have racked up 105 points from Singapore onwards, while Red Bull’s tally is a mere 74.
Five races to save his red Bull career
Despite Verstappen wining two of those races, the lack of contribution from Perez has meant McLaren have capitalised.
Of course were this to happen early in 2024, Red Bull may be up against it to claim their seventh constructors’ championship even were Verstappen to again win the drivers’ title with ease.
The last five races of the year for Sergio Perez are now critical and will decide whether Red Bull replace him or not for the start of 2024.
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