Mexican veteran Sergio Perez is going through one of the worst patches of his Formula 1 career, at Suzuka on Sunday “he had a shocker” says Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. Will the keep his seat when contract renewal time comes around?
Perez had a nightmare Japanese Grand Prix with collisions, penalties, retirement and subsequent un-retirement in a race that ended Red Bull’s 100% finishing record for the season. He did nothing to help his team clinch the 2023 F1 Constructors’ title on the day.
Dominant Max Verstappen, the unattainable benchmark Perez is chasing in vain, won the race comfortably and did enough to trigger title-winning celebrations. Red Bull team champions for a second year running.
Notably, Verstappen has scored a massive 400 points so far this season, more than the second-place Mercedes team and their two drivers, whose combined total is 305 points. The Dutch ace has turned RBR into a one-man show.
Perez needs to raise his game to stay in the game so to speak, at least back to the level he was at early in the season when he won two races in Jeddah and Baku fair and square. But after that, he has spiralled out of form alarmingly, in a ‘Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren’ kind of way. Simply destroyed by his younger teammate.
Horner told reporters after the race at Suzuka: “It was a shocker of a race for Perez. He got off to a bad start where he sort of got concertinaed on the run down to turn one and picked up some front wing damage. Then we needed to change the front wing and he overtook Fernando (Alonso) on the way into the pit lane, then picked up a penalty and then he went out and dive-bombed one of the Haases.”
Glock: He no longer has a chance against Verstappen
German ex-F1 driver turned Sky Germany pundit Timo Glock, is wary of what future lies in store for Perez after such a performance: “Sergio Perez has fallen off dramatically after a good start to the season. He no longer has a chance against Verstappen and little by little his limits have been shown to him, which is why he is probably pretty mentally down.
“Some of the mistakes that Perez makes are simply incomprehensible given his experience and put him in a difficult position,” argued Glock.
He also believes 33-year-old Perez could be replaced or even demoted if he does not find his mojo versus his teammate: “Nevertheless, Red Bull has said clearly that Perez will continue to share a garage alongside Verstappen next year.
“But of course, you bring in certain drivers like Daniel Ricciardo, Liam Lawson or Yuki Tsunoda who could take over if Perez doesn’t do a good job next year either. Which probably means he won’t be in a good position when his contract is due to be extended,” ventured Glock.
As for the team’s stance on the matter, Horner revealed to reporters in Japan: “At Red Bull Racing we want the best two drivers that are available. We’ve got a long-term contract with Max. Checo is out of contract at the end of 2024. So you want to explore and see all of those options.
“Checo is in the hot seat at the moment and will obviously be keen to extend. We’ll see how Daniel does, we’ll see how Yuki does and, in the background, we’ll see what Liam is capable of in the test and reserve role,” Horner explained.
Marko: Perez is second in the championship. Why take action?
In July, Marko said this of Perez: “He has now woken up from his world championship dream. Maybe that will help him to focus again on delivering the best possible performance. We have a contract with Perez until the end of 2024. He is second in the world championship. What need do we have to take action?”
After Perez’s Suzuka shenanigans, Marko observed: “He had an unfortunate day which originated in the free practice sessions. He couldn’t match Max’s speed and today just everything went wrong, but we are confident of a strong comeback from him.”
While no pundits are advocating Perez be ditched before he sees his contract out at the end of next year, however, another ex-F1 driver turned Sky Germany pundit, six-time GP winner Ralf Schumacher is convinced RBR won’t extend the deal.
He commented on the Perez saga: “I think the answer is relatively clear. For me, the issue of Perez at the end of the season is solved. I think he knows that himself, the simplest and most logical solution for me is Ricciardo being at Red Bull next year.”
Perez has time on his side to raise his game to a level he is capable of as we saw earlier in the year. But will know that with Verstappen in the other car, the benchmark can be raised at any time. If anything, that’s been his harshest lesson this year.