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Is Perez good enough to keep his Red Bull seat and who would take it?

F1 Grand Prix of Brazil
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 05: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 05, 2023 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images) Photographer Credit Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

It’s not a secret that Sergio Perez is under a lot of pressure to keep his seat at Red Bull next year. Red Bull is notorious for having a number 1 and a number 2 driver. The number 2 driver at Red Bull has always been somewhat of a scapegoat or a tool to defend and protect the number 1.

For a long time, Red Bull’s number 2 driver has not lived up to or looked to challenge that of Max Verstappen. Perez has largely fit into this mould and stereotype of a Red Bull number 2. With RedBull, there comes a minimum standard, however, and it’s pretty plain to see that Perez is not hitting them. 

A background

Sergio Perez joined the team for the 2021 season after leaving Racing Point (Now Aston Martin). In his first season, Perez achieved 5 podiums and 1 win scoring him 190 points and 4th place in the drivers standings.

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In his second season in 2022, he scored 11 podiums with 2 wins. This season is arguably his stand out for the team being a very good teammate for Verstappen. During the season he picked up wins in Monaco and Singapore. Both are notorious for being tricky and taxing tracks. He played a vital part in helping to win Red Bull the constructors championship scoring 305 to Verstappens 454.

At the same time, he acted as a “proper” number 2 at Red Bull. There were times when Sergio Perez had to put Verstappen first when he could have gone on to win. 2022 was Perez’s year where he cemented himself into the team and in many ways broke the stereotype of a Red Bull number 2. By the end of the season, he finished 3rd in the drivers standings. Unlike the season before, Perez and Verstappen had fallen out.

As a result of Verstappen ignoring team order in the final stages of the Brazillian GP, Perez finished 3rd overall with a 3-point back to Leclerc’s 308 points. This was a large kick in the teeth for Sergio Perez as he obeyed team orders for the last 2 seasons to better the team as well as himself as a driver. Overall, Perez had a good season and his seat looked very safe. 

The 2023 season is where things have gone wrong. His qualifying record throughout the season has been inconsistent and poor in comparison to his teammate. He has only started in the top five 7 times this season. He has not made Q3 6 times this season, crashing out in Q1 in Australia and costing the team a large amount of money.

To make matters worse, he has only started within the front two rows 4 times. Of those 7 times, four of them were within the first 5 races. This is a major cause of concern as Sergio Perez is in the same if not very similar car to Verstappen meaning he should be more consistent as well as better overall. 

Perez’s race performances have also been far from what he “could” be getting. It’s important to know that this is easier said than done. If it were all that easy, everyone would be doing it. As mentioned before, there is a minimum standard for a Red Bull number 2. It would be expected, especially this season, to be scoring regular podiums. In the 2023 season, Perez has 8 podiums. 

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On paper using his race results, this seems. However, if you look at how far behind Perez has finished behind Verstappen then a picture starts to form of why there is pressure. In Monaco, Sergio Perez was lapped twice. In Spain, the next race, he was 35+ seconds behind. Canada is even worse being 51 seconds behind Verstappen. Another notable race of concern is Singapore finishing 54 seconds behind. Japan is where the debate of “would Perez keep his seat” swung more to the no side.

After a 41-minute pitstop as a result of driver error, Perez went back on track to the DNF as a result of poor driving. That leads nicely onto Qatar (the race after Japan). This was a real chance for the debate to go back on itself. Perez had a chance to prove to the team that he deserved to see out his contract. This in reality was not the case finishing 80 seconds behind Verstappen.

Red Bull knows that Perez needs to do better. He is simply not performing at the same level that gained him the seat nor is he an in-form driver. 

So it begs the question who would replace him? This could be the saving grace for Perez to gain another season. Unlike previous years the Red Bull “B” team (Alpha Tauri) is by no means performing like it has in previous years. Perez did not follow the usual Red Bull driver pathway.

This means he did not come through the “B” team and get promoted. In recent years drivers that have followed this path include Alex Albon, Piere Gasly Danil Kvyat, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Looking at the current crop of the “junior” team, they don’t offer a valid option. To put it simply Yuki Tsunoda isn’t good enough.

Daniel Ricciardo hasn’t had the time to prove he is still fit to be a driver on the grid. As for Liam Lawson, I believe he has a future in F1 but has not had time to prove himself. If Sargent is dropped, Williams is a real option. 

Now for the possible replacements. 

Oscar Pisatri

He has impressed and gone beyond pre-season expectations by some distance. His recent form is better than Perez’s. He is a young driver with lots of potential. More important he is averaging 8-9th place. He has improved as the season has progressed with recent back-to-back podiums. His agent is also Mark Webber, a former Red Bull driver. The connections there may add some ease to the negotiations, however switching teams so quickly does not look good from a loyalty point of view. 

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Lando Norris 

From a marketing point of view, Lando Norris would be a no-brainer. The Red Bull fans as well as the Max Verstappen fan base LOVE Lando. Norris throughout his F1 career has been a popular figure across the paddock. He would be a popular choice among Red Bull fans. In terms of sponsorship, Red Bull would be raking it in due to the two dynamics on and off the track. From a driver’s perspective, Lando Norris has shown a high level of loyalty to McLaren and is a world champion in the making. 

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Alex Albon

Alex Albon has had a relatively unsuccessful stint with the team before. When joining Williams it was understood that he had parted from the Red Bull family. While this was on good terms as we know, the likelihood of him returning to the team dropped. Albon has relations within the team however and has performed very well at Williams. Throughout the season he has proved his defending abilities time and time again. This would tick the box for a Red Bull second driver. Albon is starting to become a mature F1 driver meaning he will soon be starting to reach his full potential. The questions would be if Albon was willing to go to a second driver role and if he would be willing to return to Red Bull. 

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Carlos Sainz 

Carlos has had a history with the Red Bull family. He drove for the “B” team when it was named Toro Rosso. Ferrari has improved as a team, but there is no doubt that Sainz’s legacy in the sport has been stifled by the team’s strategy decisions. He is also regarded as a number 2 to Leclerc meaning a move to Red Bull could be attractive. 

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Ayumu Iwasa 

Iwasa is currently 3rd in F2 with 152 points. He is currently the most promising driver in the Red Bull academy. The driver has very little experience in F1 meaning it would be a very outlandish shout from the team to bring him in as a replacement. 

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Overall, Perez remains under extreme pressure. His saving grace is that a lot of the grid is signed up to big contracts. It makes the most sense to wait for Perez’s contract out and hope he improves. In my opinion, he needs replacing and the team needs to take a financial risk. A big worry would be the cost cap, which Red Bull has already breached once. However which is more financially detrimental to the team, Perez’s crashes or breaking his contract and possibly other drivers. 

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