'Perez is doing it' — Red Bull F1 driver says new contract is 'matter of time'


Sergio Perez's F1 seat looked in jeopardy at some points last year, but after an assured start to the 2024 season he looks increasingly likely to stay with the team. Former boss Otmar Szafnauer explains why Perez is Red Bull's best bet

Sergio Perez in 2024 Miami GP paddock

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Max Verstappen‘s team-mate: it’s one of F1‘s toughest jobs, but also arguably the prime vacancy for next season.

With Sergio Perez‘s contract expiring at the end of the year, drivers and their agents have been lobbying for a seat in F1’s best car by far.

Their efforts may have been entirely in vain though: the vacancy looks increasingly likely to disappear. This week, in Miami, Perez said that he believes it’s only a “matter of time” until he extends his deal with the team — an outcome that looked far-fetched at the start of the year.

His hopes of securing an extension at the beginning of the year seemed slim. Having won two of the first four races of the year, his form fell off a cliff after Verstappen outraced him to win in Miami — from ninth on the grid — 12 months ago.

That was followed by a qualifying error in Monaco, which was the first of five successive races where Perez failed to make it into Q3 as one of the fastest ten drivers, as he struggled with the car and seemed to lack confidence. Verstappen qualified on pole for each of those races.

Red Bull of Sergio Perez is lifted into the air after 2023 Monaco GP qualifying crash

Monaco crash began run of early qualifying exits for Perez last year

Bryn Lennon/F1 via Getty Images

So dire was his situation, that rumours began to circulate that he’d be replaced mid-season. A contract extension looked to be pure fantasy.

But, in the space of five grands prix in 2024, he’s finished on the podium every time that team-mate Verstappen has won, and was within a tenth of a second of claiming pole in Japan.

“The last few weekends have been good,” said Perez. Asked about a new deal with Red Bull, he replied: “Like everyone that hasn’t done a contract, that is not signed, until you have that in paper fully signed, then everything remains an option.

“Obviously the driver’s market is making things to go a lot earlier, with Lewis joining Ferrari early in the year. Everyone is looking for the best possible option they can get. But I believe it’s just a matter of time.

“Right now the priority is on the season, it’s on the races, it’s preparing the races with the team and the rest will take care of itself.”

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez give the thumbs up after 1-2 finish at the 2024 F1 Japanese Grand Prix

Another 1-2 finish for Verstappen and Perez in Japan after a tight qualifying session

Getty via Red Bull

Perez began the season in such assured form that by March, Motor Sport’s Mark Hughes was already suggesting that he was Red Bull’s best bet for the seat, particularly given the indifferent form of Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda in the sister RB cars.

Other voices have since joined the fray. “If I was at Red Bull, I’d replace Checo with Checo,” said Otmar Szafnauer, Perez’s team principal during his Force India days, and most recently team principal of Alpine.

“Let’s not forget the first year Max won [the championship], partly because of Checo. Don’t look just at the last race, look at all the other races that also counted to that win. That was when he had the nickname in Mexico as the Minister of Defence. Yeah, he’s had some lows. But I think this year, from what I can see, apart from a couple of races, where I think he should have finished a bit higher, I think he’s doing it.”

Even in the doldrums of mid-2023, Perez fought his way through the field to finish fourth after starting 11th in Canada; and was on the podium in Austria, having been 15th on the grid.

“Checo’s strength has always been racecraft,” says Szafnauer. “He’s never been a great qualifier, but always had really good racecraft. There’s not many times that I can count where he worked for me where you think, ‘Why did you do that in the race?’ There’s only one time I can remember, in Singapore, where he got frustrated and hit a Williams, but the rest of the time, he is very, very good at overtaking without making mistakes.”

Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez battle wheel to wheel in 2018 F1 Italian GP

Alonso vs Perez in 2018 midfield battle

Grand Prix Photo

Szafnauer, currently on gardening leave after his departure from Alpine, was speaking at an event to promote his new EventR itinerary app, which allows groups — from F1 teams to families — to coordinate travel plans. He also praised Perez’s ability to manage tyres when he was driving alongside Nico Hülkenberg at Force India.

“Hülkenberg would always get him over a lap but by the end of it, because Checo could manage his tyres, Checo would get him,” said Szafnauer. “We had Jun [Matsuzaki] there who’s one of the best tyre guys. And Jun would tell him, ‘In this corner, make sure you don’t put any lateral load in the tyre because it’ll wear quicker’, so the drivers would know ‘That corner, just longitudinal load. Wait till it’s straight before you get on the throttle’. And Checo could do it. You didn’t even have to tell him, he just had that sense of knowing what the tyre was doing.”

This season we’ve also seen Perez appear more relaxed and at ease with his situation within Red Bull. He’s not repeated his bombast at last year’s Australian Grand Prix, where he spoke about mounting a championship challenge, and seems content to accept the status quo. “Max is just better,” said Szafnauer.

Related article

Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko, whose disparaging remarks about Perez spilled over into outright insults last year, now speaks of a driver at peace with his position within the team.

“Pérez is showing stronger performances in this first part of the season than he did a year ago,” Marko wrote in a recent column on the Red Bull-owned Speedweek website. “Checo no longer goes into the race with the claim that he absolutely wants to beat Max. By this I also mean that in 2023 he almost desperately went his own way when it came to set-up if the speed wasn’t right. So he tried to get closer to Max in a technical way with a different set-up. He gave that up.

“Pérez is now taking roughly the same route as Verstappen when it comes to set-up. As a result, he loses less time and is significantly better, especially in the qualifying, than in 2023.”

That said, Marko, who plays a key role in driver selection alongside Horner, has also intimated that Perez’s upturn in form is down to the incentive of a new contract. “You can see he can do it,” said Marko after the Japanese GP. “But perhaps it also plays a role that next year’s contracts are at stake – this year much earlier than usual. That also seems to be very motivating.”

As Perez pointed out, everything remains up for grabs until there’s ink on a contract — particularly at Red Bull where management tensions, the departure of Adrian Newey and continued uncertainty over Max Verstappen’s future point to further turbulence ahead. But the Mexican is a born survivor, remaining in F1 after being unceremoniously dropped by McLaren and then replaced at Racing Point. Who would bet against him remaining at Red Bull in 2025?