MPH: Is retirement Perez's best option to end his woeful F1 form?


Sergio Perez has been promised Red Bull's support after a string of below-par performances in his championship-winning car. But instead of struggling on, retirement may be a more appealing option, writes Mark Hughes

Sergio Perez wipes face with towel after 2023 Qatar Grand Prix

Perez struggled to keep his Red Bull on the track in Qatar

Mark Thompson/Getty via Red Bull

Sergio Perez is contracted to Red Bull to the end of next year. He’s also lying in second place in the world drivers’ championship. But his recent performance levels make both those things look less than done deals.

Whoever goes in the Red Bull alongside Max Verstappen is not going to fare well in the comparison. But the role of the driver in that seat – if not contractually, then certainly in the expectation and needs of the team – is to adequately translate the speed of the car. So even if Verstappen’s special talent finds an extra few tenths beyond what a normal F1 driver would, the second car should be ahead of the others, there to pick up the pieces if ever Verstappen has a problem, there to be used as a strategic tool in Verstappen’s races, there to bang in the second place points in the constructors’ championship. The sort of job he was doing in the early parts of both this season and last. But that’s not the guy who was unable to get the car out of Q2 for so many races, who seemed incapable of keeping the car between the white lines at the two circuits – Austria and Qatar – where that’s the key skill and who was taking every opportunity to hit things in Suzuka.

Sergio Perez celebrates Azerbaijan GP victory in 2023

Baku win was the last time that Perez looked anything like a title contender

Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty via Red Bull

There’s no way of getting around it: his performances of late have been woeful. In Qatar even the publicly supportive Christian Horner seemed to be preparing the way for making a change before the end of Perez’s contract, saying to Sky F1, “The other teams are working as a pair. Mercedes, it’s very tight between their pair; Ferrari, it’s very tight between their pair; Oscar, what a great job he’s doing as a rookie, very tight with Lando. We really need Checo to get into that window, not this year so much but next year we need him to be firing on all cylinders.

“Lando is under contract, Oscar is under contract. We have a contract with [the] AlphaTauri [drivers] as well. We have a contract with Sergio. We’ve not seen the best of Sergio. We need to unpick what it is which is causing this slump in form.  We’re going to support him as much as we can to achieve that.”

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It’s not too difficult to read between those words the concern that if the chasing teams are closer to Red Bull next year, Perez’s current level of performance relative to Hamilton, Russell, Leclerc, Sainz, Norris and Piastri just won’t cut it. Furthermore, contracts are only the starting points for negotiation if a team wants out of its commitment to a driver or vice-versa. Daniel Ricciardo had a contract with McLaren running to the end of this year, after all, with no contractual options on the team’s side. Yet he’s not there.

Ironically, it could be Ricciardo who would be set to benefit if, say, Red Bull informs Perez it wishes to negotiate out of their contract but to do it nicely would allow Perez to announce his retirement. That way, publicly at least, he won’t have been dropped, he’d have simply taken the decision to stop after a long and honourable career. He’d have seen this season as his last opportunity to fight for the world championship – which he was doing for the first five races – but now can devote his time fully to his growing family.

It’s difficult to imagine Perez being much in demand elsewhere on the F1 grid on current form if Red Bull were to not continue with him. It’s difficult also to imagine Perez having the desire to run for a team towards the back of the grid after so long in F1. As he said earlier this year, “If I didn’t think I could win the world championship, I wouldn’t be here away so much from my family.” An honourable retirement would be a neat resolution surely?