The ability possessed by Sergio Perez has been clear for some time now, yet still, he came so close to losing his place in Formula 1 last season.
In the early part of the 2020 campaign, Perez found himself in a sticky situation alongside the son of Racing Point owner Lawrence Stroll and with rumours of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel swirling, his unfortunate departure from the Silverstone-based outfit quickly became inevitable.
The Mexican racer served that team so well during his seven seasons, not only consistently delivering results that the car was undeserving of, but also helping to keep them solvent in 2018. To have been treated the way he was is far from fair, but that is just F1 I suppose.
Luckily, since his dismissal, things have fallen in his favour and the now one-time race winner can look forward to a second bite at the apple with a top team in the shape of Red Bull. In fairness, his first bite at said apple was more of a nibble than a wholehearted chomp, with his one season at McLaren coming at the start of their period of decline. Nonetheless, Perez arrives in Milton Keynes as a more experienced and well-seasoned driver than he was back in 2013, and one who proved last season that he is capable of taking the step up when given the right machinery.
The challenge awaiting him though is one of the most daunting in motor racing, as he is tasked with competing against Max Verstappen in the same car. Verstappen brutalised Alex Albon’s confidence last season, outqualifying him at each of the 17 Grands Prix with an average gap of 0.633 seconds. In the final standings, he finished third with two race wins and nine podiums, while Albon was on the podium just twice and on each occasion, in races where Verstappen retired.
Now, I do not expect Perez to focus too heavily on beating Verstappen on Saturdays. In terms of raw speed, the Dutchman is one of the quickest on the grid and if he has to settle for an average gap of around three-tenths of a second, I think Perez will do that. Aston Martin technical director Andrew Green cited on the Beyond the Grid podcast last year that the 30-year-old is insistent on optimising his setup for the race and I doubt that will change following his move to Red Bull.
“He understands that his weakness is a Saturday afternoon in qualifying,” Green said. “But I think part of that is driven by the fact that he likes to set the car up for his driving style on a Sunday afternoon and sometimes that isn’t always the quickest way to set your car up on a Saturday afternoon.
“But he’s absolutely insistent, ‘this is the way I want it’. And I think time and time again, he’s proven to be right.”
Provided Red Bull remain clear of Ferrari, Aston Martin, Alpine and McLaren as the second fastest on the grid, such a strategy could play right into Perez’s hands as he uses his expert tyre management to sneak podiums from fourth on the grid. If Red Bull take a step back and face more competition from the midfield of 2020, this could become more difficult, but as always in F1, much will depend on the quality of the package underneath him.
Overall, I think that Perez has the skill, experience and intelligence to make this move work. He has operated in multiple teams, can play the politics and will know his role within the organisation. While I think the seat next to Verstappen overawed Pierre Gasly and Albon, Perez will take it in his stride and get down to business, just like he did for seven years with team Silverstone.
The Braking Point is an opinion piece by Will Dodds, GrandPrix247 editor