Belated Happy Birthday! Sergio Perez turned 34 on 26 January, ahead of his make-or-break season as Max Verstappen’s teammate at Red Bull, as he faces unprecedented pressure from drivers lining up to replace him in the Formula 1 reigning World Champion team.
Checo fans could argue that he did finish second in the 2023 F1 drivers’ standings, a first for Red Bull having their drivers finish 1-2 in a Championship. Not even during the first period of dominance during the Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber era a dozen years ago.
However, it was how Perez struggled to match Verstappen that triggered criticism. The Dutchman romped to 19 wins last year while his teammate only managed two. Those were early in the season, after which the Mexican veteran’s form dipped alarmingly.
StatsF1 show that driving the same outstanding Red Bull RB19 Max outscored Checo 575 to 285 in the final standings. It was a drubbing,
So much so that RBR Management re-signed prodigal son Daniel Ricciardo to their B-Team, formerly AlphaTauri now awkwardly named VCARB, which is a clear message to Perez, in the A-Team that should he not get his act together the Australian is only to happy to step up.
Happy Birthday Checo Perez!
On the occasion of Perez’s birthday last week, the team shared on social media: “Happy Birthday! ‘Checo’ Perez. We hope you have a fantastic day.”
The 34-year-old needs more than one “fantastic day” in 2024, but rather a fantastic year (make that 72 days!) to stay beyond 2024, let alone make it into the new F1 rules era with RBR in 2026. In contrast, Verstappen is locked into the team until at least 2028.
Red Bull management have justifiably ignored calls from media (mainly the UK-based members of our tribe with their own agendas) that constantly question Perez’s presence in the team, while the lobbying by the same crowd to get Ricciardo back in the team is at fever pitch.
As if the big smiling Aussie won’t be hammered by Verstappen who is by far a more complete driver than he was when the pair were teammates at Red Bull from 2016 to 2018, by which point it was clear who the ‘number one’ driver was in the team. And has remained ever since, for good reason aka five F1 titles in three years added to the RBR trophy cabinet.
Will Ricciardo be better than Perez in the second Red Bull?
Ricciardo on the other hand has never been able to replicate the form he showed as a Red Bull driver, in fact, he got worse. To the point that he was not good enough to see out his contract with McLaren, who ditched one Aussie for another, as Dan was shown the door at Woking to make way for Oscar Piastri.
Faced with near-oblivion, Red Bull threw Ricciardo a lifeline with the AlphaTauri (now VCARB deal) and with it, a clear message to Perez that he needs to raise his game or the world will be forced to watch the gross ‘Shoey’ celebrations Dan-The-Man made so famous when. Or so think RBR. As if Verstappen will not destroy his former teammate again, and even more so.
Speaking to Mega Dice, Johnny Herbert recalled his time playing second fiddle in F1: “Michael Schumacher always had favouritism over me even though we were a team. It’s hard to perform when you feel that as Sergio Perez will know.”
Herbert: Sergio has got to put himself into a cocoon
“In all my negotiations with Benetton, Flavio Briatore told me that Michael Schumacher and I were a team, that we worked together and everyone had access to the same information. It never worked that way because there tends to be favouritism towards the guy who does deliver,” revealed Herbert, a three-time GP winner who was Schumaher’s teammate for 19 races in 1994 and 1995.
“When that is there, you feel it and when you feel it that is a hard thing to be able to bat away. As much as Sergio says he ignores it, it does affect you. Sergio has got to put himself into a cocoon and deliver every single time with the battering that comes from the media and from within the team on occasion,” added Herbert.
Double F1 World Champ, Mika Hakkinen did not mince his words when he assessed Perez’s future with the team: “I know that having a Mexican driver is important for Red Bull. Mexico is a big market which has its effect on things. But, ultimately, you’re there to race and bring good results, to develop the car faster.
“You can’t rely on one driver only. You need to have two drivers on a certain level to develop the car. Is Perez’s future at Red Bull? I think it’s highly unlikely,” predicted Hakkinen.
For now on can argue that Red Bull are in a good place with an almost invincible driver racking up F1 world titles, and a number two doing the #2 thing as expected.
Perez cannot get trounced as he was by Verstappen last year
And the ball is firmly in Perez’s court according to RBR team boss Horner: “Checo is our driver. If he does well, we’ll want to keep him for 2025, but it’s all about how he performs in relation to his teammate.”
This means Perez needs to find the mojo he had when he won the Saudi Grand Prix and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix last year. And most importantly find the kind of relentless consistency that Verstappen delivers every race weekend.
Once Perez finds that again – retains it and delivers those kinds of performances for 24 races of the 2024 F1 World Championship and if he can shadow Max, finish second when the #1 car wins, and sneak a handful of victories should fate allow – then he won’t be fired or demoted by Red Bull, as he is doing what is expected with the tools he has.
Simply put, Perez will know he cannot get trounced again like he was last year by Verstappen and expect to stay in what is arguably the most coveted seat on the F1 grid.
Stats show that in 2024, Perez embarks on his 14th season in F1 which began with his debut for Sauber at the 2011 Australian Grand Prix. The 2024 F1 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix will be his 258th start in the top flight. He has celebrated 35 podiums
Big Question: What must Sergio Perez do in 2024 to not get fired by Red Bull?