DRIVER PREDICTIONS: WHY SERGIO PEREZ’S 2021 WILL MAKE OR BREAK REDBULL’S PLANS

Red Bull has seemed to develop their team around their golden boy, Max Verstappen. Ever since Daniel Ricciardo left the team in 2018, Verstappen has been Red Bull’s main focus, proved by his 2023 contract extension, and the team and driver’s desperation to achieve World Championship glory, whilst 2021 is Red Bull’s best chance yet in the turbo-hybrid era. Honda’s last effort to win the championship, along with a fired-up Verstappen, is proving to be a worthy competitor to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes and looks neck-a-neck with the Brit, with the 2 going wheel-to-wheel, in every 2021 race thus far. 

Written by Danny Jones, edited by Janvi Unni

With this being the case, it is almost certain Verstappen will remain at Red Bull in 2022, and the new regulations mean that Verstappen has a strong chance of the championship, if Red Bull can develop a car good enough for him to do so. There is minor speculation, supported by McLaren CEO, Zak Brown, that a Mercedes move is on the cards for Verstappen, but if he does win the championship, or finished just behind Hamilton, it would remain logical to stay with Red Bull, as any existing performance differences may be nullified by the 2022 regulations, which would make a move a very risky option for Verstappen. However, Verstappen’s 2023 contract, championship chances, and Red Bull’s desire to work around him mean he’s almost certain for 2022. 

Red Bulls desire to build the team around Verstappen has left a gaping 2nd driver problem, ever since Ricciardo’s departure, where Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon have been unable to match the pace of Verstappen, which has left Red Bull losing race wins in the past, due to the lack of support Verstappen has from his teammates. This caused Red Bull, for the 1st time since 2008, to sign someone from outside their academy, in Sergio Perez, after his Racing Point contract was terminated with the signing of Sebastian Vettel.

Perez has proved his talents numerous times, particularly in the 2020 season with Racing Point, meaning Red Bull believes he is the one to help them toward a constructor’s title and is critical for their future development. Perez brings vital experience to Red Bull, something they rarely receive, due to their rapid promotions from their academy, and he would be crucial in upcoming years, especially to develop their 2022 car, and in supporting Verstappen for a championship push in 2021.

However, Perez’s 2021 efforts in his first 4 races, have left much to be desired. A Q2 elimination in Bahrain was somewhat embarrassing for the Mexican, whilst an engine failure forced him to start from the pit lane. However, an impressive recovery drive to 5th was notable. A fantastic qualifying lap in Imola meant that Verstappen was out-qualified for the 1st time in 2 years, but a spin and an overtake under the safety car, meant that ‘Checo’ finished outside the points. He was more impressive in Portugal and Spain, however, has, on the whole, been unable to match Verstappen, something which could have huge ramifications in the future, for him and the team.

This being said, it is critical that Perez picks up his performances to the level of Verstappen, or regularly challenges Bottas. As proved at the Spanish GP, Perez’s lack of pace has left Red Bull vulnerable to Mercedes in the strategy department, which could potentially cost Verstappen and Red Bull the title in 2021. It is crucial that Perez plays a similar support role, to the one that Valtteri Bottas has at Mercedes, for Red Bull to regularly challenge the Mercedes. However, Perez is no slouch and has shown glimpses of talent in a Red Bull thus far therefore it is critical that he does pick up the pace, something he certainly has the ability to do. Unless Perez is at the same level Gasly and Albon were, at the end of the 2021 season, his 1-year contract would likely be renewed, partially down to the experience, and potentially down to the embarrassment Red Bull could potentially face, if they removed 3 drivers in 3 years, due to performance.

If Perez does have a poor season, Red Bull would have limited options, in drafting Albon in from reserve duties, despite a year away from single-seater racing, or awkwardly re-promoting Gasly (something Helmut Marko has heavily objected against), which would seem a near impossibility, due to Red Bull’s lack of faith in the Frenchman, despite his very impressive performances in an AlphaTauri. This, therefore, means Perez is almost a certainty for the 2022 season if his performances are above the levels of Albon and Gasly.

Therefore, it seems as if Red Bull will trigger Perez’s contract extension, if he can perform at the appropriate level, to go alongside Verstappen for 2022. Red Bull’s re-ignited 2021 championship hopes mean that Perez and Verstappen may be the perfect duo for the team, and one which could finally regain their championship glory.

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