But the extension of Perez’s contract raises the question of what are the prospects of Pierre Gasly, now in his fifth season with Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri and dropped after a few races with the senior team in 2019? Or even of Alex Albon, a driver still with Red Bull connections but who was also dropped after a try-out with the senior team?
They are both drivers of great ability but neither was able to perform to the required level at the senior team when given the opportunity. With a few exceptions, they played no part in the outcome of Verstappen’s races, were usually not close enough to be able to compromise the strategy of Verstappen’s competition. Initially, neither was Perez. But as an experienced old hand he was able to withstand the pressure which resulted and just worked away at improving.
But the biggest improvement in his performances came with the advent of the 2022 car. No longer was the Red Bull an aggressively pointy challenge of a car with so sharp a rotation that only Verstappen could live with the feeling of rear instability that brought. That was what had made it so difficult for Perez – and Albon and Gasly before him – to even get close to Verstappen. Last year Perez qualified an average of 0.377sec off Max. This year so far the difference is less than a tenth.
The fastest drivers always excel in cars which sit on that razor edge of responsiveness and instability. That doesn’t mean that’s the fastest way for a car to be. But it does mean that the gap between a good driver and a great one will be exaggerated in such a car. It’s perhaps fortunate for Perez that he was in situ when Red Bull came up with a more benign car. Had Gasly or Albon been compared to Verstappen in such a car it’s likely they would have fared rather better.