Sergio Perez redeemed himself somewhat at this weekends Formula One Grand Prix weekend in Brazil. Whilst he qualified just 9th for the race on Sunday, his performance in the Sprint event on Saturday saw him claim P3 and a podium.
The Red Bull Mexican driver last made the podium at the Italian Grand Prix six races ago despite driving the all conquering RB11. In that time Lando Norris who is driving for McLaren – a Mercedes customer team has racked up three P2’s and a third place.
Perez P3 no big result
Perez woeful performance at his home race last time out lit the fire under the speculation he would be toast for next season. Having tried a hero to zero move at turn one on lap one, the Red Bull driver was out of the Grand Prix allowing Lewis Hamilton to close the gap for 2nd in there drivers’ title to just 20 points.
Checo qualified third for the Sprint race in Sao Paulo but lost two positions on the opening lap of the race. Yet he showed a steely determination to recover overtaking both Charles Leclerc and George Russell to claim third place.
That said in the race which is just one third distance of the Grand Prix, Perez finished over 13 seconds behind his team mate at the chequered flag. Over the full distance of the Sunday race this extrapolates to an astonishing 39 seconds off the pace of his team mate over 72 laps at Interlagos.
There have been well sourced paddock rumours that Sergio would be out of Red Bull for 2024 despite having a contract should he fail to claim second in the drivers’ championship – something Red Bull in their seven title winning seasons have never achieved.
Horner defends Perez for months
Before this weekends Grand Prix in Brazil, Christian Horner tried to make it clear this was not the case, yet his form of words stating it was “not a pre-requisite” for Sergio merely served to open the door to the suggestion that even should Checo deliver this – his seat is not guaranteed for next season.
The Red Bull team boss once again was interrogated over his Mexican drivers’ future and once again he failed to be crystal clear that Perez will drive alongside Verstappen at the start of next year.
Speaking to the assembled media after Perez’s third place in the Brazilian Sprint race, Horner said:
Vague promises and caveats
“I am absolutely confident and clear that Checo will be our driver next year.
“Now, if he was injured or something like that, then they are circumstances beyond your control.
“But the clear intention is that he will continue here.”
Yet why use 40 words when 7 would suffice?
Lack of absolute commitment creates speculation
‘Sergio will be driving as Max team mate next year whatever the situation,’ would have been an absolute statement Christian Horner is clearly not prepared to make.
Horner then adds to the quagmire of doubt by stating: “We’re planning to continue, we have announced the AlphaTauri drivers, we have our Red Bull drivers and that is how we intend to go racing in 2024.”
‘Planning’ of course is something which often fails to materialise in all kinds of walks of life and the caveat “is how we intend to go racing” just adds further intrigue and mystery to what Red Bull will really decide.
The Red Bull boss was then questioned as to how the constant paddock chatter surrounding Perez’s performances was surely affecting him and the team as a whole.
Perez affected or not by speculation?
“It hasn’t because it is only noise on the outside,” Horner claimed. Then Christian appeared to change his mid stating:
“I’m sure it does [affect him] but I think what we’ve seen with him, or one of his strengths, is he has a very thick skin.
“Yeah, many times he’s picked himself up, brushed himself and got back up again.”
Sergio Perez clearly does indeed have a very thick skin because his percentage of points scored for Red Bull this year compared to Max is similar to that of a rookie.
Ricciardo yet Ito stake his claim
There is no way the crushing blow of seeing his team mate score pole positions and wins week in week out does not affect Checo’s self confidence.
So why is it so difficult for Christian Horner to say, “categorically, Sergio Perez will be driving a Red Bull car alongside max Verstappen next season.”?
Well the rub of the green has not gone with the Red Bull management who promoted Daniel Ricciardo from the reserve driver role to replace Nyck De Vries after a startlingly short period of just 10 races as a rookie.
The hope was with 12 events remaining, Ricciardo would clearly stake a claim to replace the Mexican driver with a strong of results for Alpha tour not seen for a number of years. However, the Aussie broke his hand in Zandvoort which ruled him out until the Japanese Grand Prix. While Ricciardo has shown moments of his old brilliance and scored points that lifted the team from last to earth last time out in Mexico, the opportunity for a massive result which would earn him the Red Bull drive in 2024 has been diminished.
The decision on Perez is not made
Yet with three Grand Prix left Horner et al are still waiting for the magic result from the Honey Badger which will justify the team sacking Perez and appointing Daniel to race alongside Max next year.
With three Grand Prix remaining there is still hope Ricciardo can pull of a magic result which will justify Red Bull parting company with Perez.
Further, today’s Sprint result where Checo fought back well for third place and increased the gap over Lewis Hamilton for the second place inn the drivers’ title has tilted the “do nothing” decision in Checo’s favour.
This should give Perez the confidence he can come through the field from his start position P9 and even potentially claim another podium which will bolster support for retaining him for the near future at least.