Has Sergio Perez done enough for a new 2022 Red Bull F1 contract?


Sergio Perez has shown he can deliver results in the Red Bull, but some of his races have left the team in a spin. With Pierre Gasly looking strong, the Mexican may be questioning his F1 future again, writes Chris Medland

Sergio Perez with his crash helmet in 2021

Is Sergio Perez headed for a new contract or the exit?

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Formula 1 is about to head off on its traditional summer break, one that was obviously lacking last year thanks to the delayed start to the season caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The impact of that disrupted 2020 on the driver market could be seen quite clearly with the number of major moves that were announced even before the season had started, but normal service has already been resumed this year, with the majority of unconfirmed seats remaining unconfirmed as teams keep their options open.

The most high-profile of those seats is of course the Mercedes one, with Valtteri Bottas and George Russell the only two in the frame. Toto Wolff says a decision will be made during the summer break, and it’s a complex decision for the Mercedes boss to make, but he’s not the only one facing such a dilemma out of the title contenders…

While Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are locked in, their respective team-mates aren’t and at Red Bull it is perhaps surprising that there remains uncertainty – as used to it as we’ve been in the past – because the team went in a different direction this year.

We didn’t expect to be asking ‘Has Perez done enough?’ after Baku

In hiring Sergio Perez and dropping Alex Albon, Red Bull went for the tried-and-tested approach rather than its usual concept of promoting from within. There clearly wasn’t enough faith in either Albon to bounce back from a tough 2020, nor Pierre Gasly to perform if handed a second chance alongside Verstappen.

Perez was the obvious candidate. Out of a drive after being unceremoniously dumped by Racing Point in favour of Sebastian Vettel, he then duly won a thrilling Sakhir Grand Prix and showed he has what it takes to deliver the biggest results when they are on offer. But has he done that often enough this year to convince Red Bull to stick with him?

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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.

Sergio Perez, 2021 Baku

Baku victory — after Verstappen blowout — reduced Perez’s points deficit to his team-mate

Grand Prix Photo

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.

Alex Albon, Lewis Hamilton, 2020 Austrian GP

Hamilton contact ended Albon's hope of Austria victory

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton locks up at the 2021 Azerbaijan GP restart

Hamilton's lock-up at Baku restart gave Perez the lead


On top of that, the original decision to sign Perez in the first place went completely against the Red Bull ethos of promoting exciting young drivers that have come through its academy – whether they’re ready or not. Both Albon and Gasly weren’t ready, but Albon was the closer of the two. He appeared that bit more adaptable and confident when the car was working for him than the Frenchman he replaced.

But Gasly has come on leaps and bounds since then after being given a second chance at AlphaTauri. It’s a good place for him, no doubt, but even Red Bull are starting to find his performances hard to ignore. Where talk of a return to the main team was dismissed in the past – and is still given little time – now Helmut Marko at least says Gasly would not perform like he did in 2019 if handed another chance.

It’s a small change in tone, but one that just reminds Perez that the quality within the Red Bull ranks is still being acknowledged.

It also shouldn’t be overlooked that Perez might need to do a little bit more than either Albon or Gasly would in the same position, given the investment Red Bull makes in its own drivers. To stick with Perez would continue to undermine the young driver programme to a degree, and therefore what could prove to the the right sporting decision gets a little bit of resistance from a wider business point of view.

Sergio Perez with Lando Norris in 2021

The gap between Perez and Verstappen is being filled by impressive Norris


The relative struggles of Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo in new cars perhaps bought Perez some time at the start of the year, because it was clearly difficult to make a switch. But the ongoing gap to Verstappen over one lap is being accentuated by impressive performances from youngsters in qualifying, with Perez only registering one top-three qualifying result since Spain, when Lando Norris split the Red Bulls in the second Austrian round.

Qualifying eighth in Spain, ninth in Monaco and seventh in Baku has been followed by more consistency on Saturdays, but there haven’t been the Sunday results to match, with a solid podium in France preceding a fourth and sixth – beaten by both Mercedes’ drivers on both occasions – as Verstappen dominated in Austria.

And Silverstone was another painful one, with Perez spinning in the Sprint and having to start from the pit lane, eventually being reduced to the role of sacrificing a point or two of his own in favour of taking the fastest lap point away from Hamilton.

That came after Verstappen’s crash, but Perez’s own struggles ensured it was a pointless weekend for Red Bull. While he did what the team asked with the fastest lap, he wasn’t running near the front to limit the damage, and that’s what Red Bull wanted from the more experienced choice this year.

There have been enough highs – and good ones – that could lead to an early decision, but Red Bull might also be tempted to wait it out a little longer to see how Perez fares in the second half of the season. With Norris and Bottas ahead of the Mexican in the drivers’ championship right now, there might just be a bigger question mark than expected over that Red Bull seat this summer.