It’s a question I don’t think anyone would have expected to be asking after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but when we dig into the details it might not be quite as simple a decision as it seems on the surface.
Let’s start with the obvious comparisons. It’s not really fair to compare points totals in isolation for Perez and the two drivers that went before him, because of the greater level of competitiveness Red Bull enjoys this year compared to last year – when Mercedes was dominant – or the year before when Ferrari’s engine saw it regularly at the front too.
But regardless of the car’s level, the one constant for all three drivers has been the very impressive man across the garage in the form of Verstappen. And this is where Perez has an advantage, albeit a slender one. With 104 points compared to 185 for his team-mate, Perez has scored 56% of Verstappen’s total over the first ten races this year.
When you compare that to Albon last year, the British-Thai driver had 50% of Verstappen’s total over the same period (64 v 128) while Gasly was a long way off on this metric in 2019 with just 40% of Verstappen’s points (55 v 136).
If I delve into the dangerous world of hypotheticals, though, it all becomes even less clear-cut. Perez has a victory to his name from Baku – the one that was meant to cement his position – but that only became possible when a tyre blew for Verstappen when set for a comfortable victory himself. That would leave the score at 97 v 210, and just 46% of Verstappen’s points.
But the retirement did happen, and there’s a million things that we could point to between Albon and Verstappen the previous year that could move the needle one way or another. Two retirements for the Dutchman in Italy is one side, but Austria springs to mind on the other where a surprise win looked on the cards for Albon before contact with Hamilton. On that occasion, the chance to win when Verstappen was out of the race was missed, whereas Perez took it.
It must be said, however, that Perez only took it because Hamilton accidentally activated a brake setting that saw him sail straight on at Turn One. Without that bizarre error, Hamilton easily leads into the first corner, likely wins and the picture again looks very different.
This isn’t to belittle Perez in any way, but it does highlight the tiny margins that can define success and failure for drivers, especially in comparison with others. And perhaps explains why it’s not a certainty he gets another year.