July 16, 2024

Sergio Perez

Red Bull is open it needs more from Sergio Perez, despite the Mexican having a contract in place for next year
Red Bull Formula 1 team boss Christian Horner has talked in the past of the duty he has to publicly back his drivers – be it for controversies or lacklustre performances.

So, it was interesting to note in Austria last weekend some hints of frustration about Sergio Perez’s showing, as the gap between the Mexican and his team-mate Max Verstappen was all too obvious.

Perhaps nothing tells the story more about where things stack up at the moment than the fact that Verstappen had his crash with Lando Norris, toured slowly back to the pits with a puncture for fresh tyres, picked up his 10-second FIA penalty and still finished 17.4 seconds in front of the second Red Bull.

Sure, Perez’s ultimate potential on Sunday was hampered by sidepod damage he picked up in a first-lap clash with Oscar Piastri – which Horner said acted like an ‘airbrake’ on the straights.

However, there is no denying it was another weekend where Perez had not been right at the front where he is now needed for the championship battle – with him coincidentally having finished the sprint a similar 17.4 seconds behind.

It was Perez’s lacklustre showing on Saturday that prompted Horner to suggest the team was needing to probe deeper about just what was going wrong.

“We’re doing our best to find out what is missing, because the first four or five races were very competitive and whatever has happened to cause him to drop off,” Horner told Sky F1.
Max Verstappen
“In Suzuka, one of the toughest tracks in the world and a real driver’s circuit, he was a tenth of a second off Max. Here with nine corners the gap is significantly greater. So, we just need to get to the bottom of it and help him recover.”

The need for recovery is even more important now with Red Bull coming under ever more pressure from its closest challengers at the front.

Only its solid team work in terms of strategy and pit stops, allied to Verstappen’s driving brilliance, has shut the door on McLaren in particular walking away with a spate of wins recently.

The threat from the opposition means that where once a few tenths gap between Verstappen and Perez was barely noticeable in grid positions, now there is no escaping the fact that even one tenth is important.

And being a couple of tenths off the front can be the difference between Perez backing up Verstappen to help for the win, or being dumped out in Q1 or Q2 and getting mixed up in the midfield mess.

And it is also making a difference in the constructors’ championship because, where Verstappen is edging clearer in the drivers’ championship, things are closing up in the teams’ battle.

Based on the last five races, Red Bull is only the third best team with a tally of 116 points – behind Mercedes on 132 and McLaren on 144.
Max Verstappen
With the driver contribution being Verstappen 101 and Perez 15, it is obvious to see how critical it is the second car starts delivering more.

And, while Red Bull obviously hopes that can happen and it can unlock something within Perez to turn things around, the big question will be what happens if it cannot.

The other thing that has changed since Japan is that Perez now has a firm contract in his pocket, with the team having signed an extension with him until the end of 2026.

That deal was concluded in spite of some struggles Perez was already facing with the RB20 around the time of Spain/Monaco, with it understood that Red Bull felt that having some job security would perhaps be better for the Mexican in clearing any distractions outside the car.

But with the opposite having taken place, and Perez’s current dip now looking worse with no need to save his seat, it has inevitably prompted some suggestions that Red Bull should have waited longer before locking itself in.

Horner was pushed himself on that topic and gave an interesting response about having potentially gone to early in signing Perez.

“I think that Checo’s position within the team and what he has contributed to the team has warranted that [new contract] but of course there is always pressure to perform – and that is irrelevant of contracts which we are obviously never going to go into the detail of,” he said.

The reference to the contract is intriguing because it is almost certain that Red Bull will have given itself some kind of insurance policy – a performance-related clause in the contract that will allow it an escape route if things do not work out with Perez.

Such elements in contracts normally take the form of either a minimum position in the drivers’ championship, or a percentage of the other drivers’ final tally at specific points of the year – most probably before the summer break and then the end of the campaign.

At the moment, Perez is fifth in the drivers’ championship and his tally of 118 points is only just more than half of Verstappen’s 237.

It is unlikely that either of those numbers are within the range that Red Bull would like to see. It is understood that for now the focus is on trying to do everything to help Perez turn things around, but equally it is not ignoring the fact that things must improve if it is not to start considering whether or not it needs someone else in that second seat.

The best news for Perez though is that there is not an obvious candidate banging on the door that Red Bull can think will instantly do a better job.

Daniel Ricciardo was supposed to have acted as Red Bull’s comfort blanket in offering it an alternative solution to Perez for 2025, but he has not covered himself in glory – and is even fighting for his own F1 future.

And just as Perez is finding out at Red Bull, Ricciardo says all that Red Bull bosses like Helmut Marko care for is hard results.

“I’ve known Helmut for such a long time and at the end of the day he doesn’t care about personality,” said the Australian. “What he cares about is the stopwatch and the classification.

“He’s a racer and that’s all he really wants to see from us. I know that that can make him not think great about me to all of a sudden think great about me. I think this weekend [Austria] has helped.

“I said it’s a little bit more consistent now so just keep it going. Hopefully by the summer break he’s lying on a beach somewhere saying: “That Ricciardo, he’s still got it…”

Until that moment comes for Ricciardo, or there is another top-line option readily available (and sources say there have been some interesting approaches who already appeared locked down elsewhere), then Perez will have some breathing space.

But Horner says Perez will not be ignorant of the fact that the time has come to do a better job.

“Checo knows it is a pressure business and he knows the scrutiny there is, particularly in a car that is winning a lot of races and performing with the other driver the way that it is,” he added.

“That is Formula 1, and that pressure just naturally exists on any team-mate that is under-delivering. The media start asking questions and it is very easy to lose your head at that.

“What I’ve been impressed by Checo over the last four years is that whenever the pressure has been really on, and it is on at the moment, he has always been able to bounce back. He is going to need to dig deep to do that.”

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