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Opinion

The dangers of Red Bull re-signing Perez

OPINION: A new two-year deal for Sergio Perez shows Red Bull's intention to maintain the status quo. But question marks over whether the Mexican has done enough to earn his extension are likely to persist, especially if the team's worst fear is realised

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

Somehow, the news that Red Bull has re-signed Sergio Perez for another two seasons, taking his tenure at the team to six years, is not a surprise. But perhaps it should be, given the Mexican's performances alongside Max Verstappen.

A case could be made for it being the wrong move for Red Bull and, indeed, Formula 1, so let's make it.

Any neutral fan wants the top seats to be taken by the best drivers. It stands to reason you'd want to have as much competition at the front as possible. And from a team's point of view, you normally want to score as heavily with both cars as possible. Constructors' championship points mean, quite literally, prizes.

Red Bull has had a dominant enough car that it hasn't had to worry about this since the ground effect rules arrived in 2022. Famously, Verstappen would have won the constructors' crown last year on his own.

But recent evidence suggests the field is catching up – Ferrari is just 24 points behind in the constructors' standings – and Red Bull might not have that luxury in future. Given the high quality of everything else Red Bull does, it seems a little strange to have that chink in its armour.

For those feeling we're being harsh on Perez, a popular figure who earned a chance in a frontrunning team after years of performing strongly in the midfield, let's look at some of the facts.

Perez hasn't had a glittering start to the season and currently sits fifth in the standings heading to Montreal

Perez hasn't had a glittering start to the season and currently sits fifth in the standings heading to Montreal

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Firstly, on the supertimes matrix, Perez is the worst-performing driver compared to his team-mate in 2024 apart from Logan Sargeant at Williams.

Supertimes are based on the fastest single lap by each driver at each race weekend, expressed as a percentage of the fastest single lap overall (100.000%) and averaged over the season. In other words, it's a measure of raw pace:

Fastest-slowest supertimes gap

POS Team Drivers Gap (seconds)
1 Alpine Ocon-Gasly 0.051
2 McLaren Norris-Piastri 0.087
3 Mercedes Russell-Hamilton 0.190
4 Aston Martin Alonso-Stroll 0.233
5 RB Tsunoda-Ricciardo 0.329
6 Ferrari Leclerc-Sainz 0.351
7 Haas Hulkenberg-Magnussen 0.516
8 Sauber Bottas-Zhou 0.542
9 Red Bull Verstappen-Perez 0.642
10 Williams Albon-Sargeant 0.914

Some will argue that Verstappen is a tough benchmark and, seeing as the Dutchman is already becoming one of F1's greats, that's true. But this overlooks two things.

The first is that top teams tend to employ top drivers; you're always going to come up against the best at the front and Perez is not alone in having a tough colleague.

Perez hasn't won a race since Baku last year, and missed out on a golden opportunity at Miami in 2023 to Verstappen

Perez hasn't won a race since Baku last year, and missed out on a golden opportunity at Miami in 2023 to Verstappen

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

The other is that no driver, however brilliant, can take a car faster around a circuit than it can go. The very best might get to 99% but they can't defy physics; the job of the very good driver against a great one is to get as close as possible.

Perez's gap to Verstappen on raw speed has also been pretty consistent. This isn't about one of the much-discussed 'Perez off his game' moments. In 2021 he was 0.7% behind on average across the season, in 2022 0.545% and in 2023 0.761%. These are big gaps in a modern F1 context.

For comparison, Valtteri Bottas was 0.116% behind Lewis Hamilton across their five seasons together, while in 2018 Daniel Ricciardo was 0.138% behind Verstappen. Alex Albon, a far less experienced F1 driver than Perez, was 0.784% behind Verstappen in 2020 and he lost his Red Bull drive…

Perez scored 48% of Verstappen's total in 2021, a year when Red Bull arguably had a marginally better car than Mercedes and won the drivers' championship but lost the constructors' crown

You could argue that raw speed isn't Perez's greatest strength, that he's better at the races. But even there he can rarely get close to an unhindered Verstappen, who has proved better at maintaining tyre life while lapping quickly, something that was previously considered a Perez strength.

At the start of 2022, we took on the challenge of finding the best number two drivers in F1 history. During the course of that research, we picked out three classes of team-mates based on the percentage of their number one's points score.

If a driver scored 80% or more of their team leader, that tended to mean a team actually had two equal number ones or at least a 'number 1.5' close enough to give the lead driver a headache.

As fans, this is the sort of combination we most want to see, but it can be problematic for teams, as most famously seen with Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet at Williams, and Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at McLaren.

Drivers scoring 55-79% tend to be ideal as useful number two drivers for a leading team. Think Bottas or Rubens Barrichello.

Bottas got closer to Hamilton's points tally in 2021 than Perez did to Verstappen, which was crucial in Mercedes taking the constructors' championship that year

Bottas got closer to Hamilton's points tally in 2021 than Perez did to Verstappen, which was crucial in Mercedes taking the constructors' championship that year

Photo by: Mark Sutton

Those managing 55% or less are not doing enough, unreliability and misfortune aside, and can cost a team a constructors' title.

Perez scored 48% of Verstappen's total in 2021, a year when Red Bull arguably had a marginally better car than Mercedes and won the drivers' championship but lost the constructors' crown. Bottas scored 58% of Hamilton's total, which made the difference.

Perez improved to 67% in 2022, fell to 50% against an admittedly remarkable score from Verstappen last year, and is currently on 63%. Across their time together at Red Bull, Perez has racked up 887 points compared to Verstappen's 1593.5. That's just under 56%, perilously close to dropping into the danger zone.

In a wider context, F1 also needs as many competitive drivers at the front as it can get. That was this writer's frustration during Kimi Raikkonen's second stint at Ferrari, where he was consistently the sixth-best performer across the top three teams. Charles Leclerc almost immediately showed that Sebastian Vettel wasn't unbeatable at Ferrari when he arrived in 2019.

When one team is dominating, as Red Bull has for the past two years, it makes a big difference if the two drivers in the best car are evenly matched. McLaren's domination in the late-1980s was still fascinating thanks to the duel between Senna and Prost, while Nico Rosberg was close enough to Hamilton across 2014-16 to at least mean that the result of each race wasn't a foregone conclusion. The gap between the two Red Bulls since the start of 2022 has undoubtedly made F1 less exciting.

None of that is Red Bull's concern, of course. But what it should be concerned about is making sure it has all bases covered and its second seat has been a problem since Ricciardo left at the end of 2018.

Red Bull's junior programme, which has done so much for motorsport, hasn't quite produced a suitable replacement, though it's probably fair to say Pierre Gasly and Albon have become more complete performers since they left the senior team.

This isn't to say Perez shouldn't be an F1 driver. Indeed, his knowledge of Red Bull and experience as a six-time race winner in his 265 starts could be invaluable to one of the teams further down the grid, but we've now seen enough to know he's not quite a topliner.

Perez has rarely been able to match Verstappen in his time at Red Bull, allowing his team-mate a clear path to glory

Perez has rarely been able to match Verstappen in his time at Red Bull, allowing his team-mate a clear path to glory

So, who should Red Bull have gone for? For a team with the money and dynamism it has shown in the past, it's surprising it hasn't made more of an effort to go and get another big name, such as Verstappen's mate Lando Norris. Or gone for Carlos Sainz, the best driver currently available.

There are even some left-field options, such as Yuki Tsunoda, given his fine performances against RB team-mate Ricciardo, or Esteban Ocon, though he has an even more tumultuous past with Verstappen than Sainz.

Keeping Verstappen happy is, of course, a primary concern. Red Bull knows that, even if it produces a merely competitive car, Verstappen will have it at or near the front, which might be important in a post-Adrian Newey/post-Honda era.

Red Bull is clearly banking on keeping Verstappen despite all the recent turmoil, but even that might not be enough to ensure lucrative constructors' championship successes

But it could be in real trouble if he decides to go elsewhere. Could Perez really lead the team?

Given the fact he failed to finish second in the 2022 points race and is currently fifth, surely not. So Red Bull is clearly banking on keeping Verstappen despite all the recent turmoil, but even that might not be enough to ensure lucrative constructors' championship successes in 2025-26. Either way, Red Bull has left itself vulnerable.

McLaren bent over backwards to keep Senna in the early 1990s – some argued to the detriment of car development such were his wage demands – but he jumped ship to Williams as soon as he could. Even with a young Mika Hakkinen in the wings, McLaren didn't even win another race for three years…

Could Red Bull depend on Perez if Verstappen did depart?

Could Red Bull depend on Perez if Verstappen did depart?

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