It can’t be easy being Sergio Perez at the moment. The 2023 British Grand Prix was a familiar recent tale for the Mexican. For the fifth weekend in a row, Checo failed to make Q3 despite being in a car that by all accounts, could be one of the greatest we’ve ever seen in F1.
After the weekend, Perez got the dreaded football-esque “Vote of Confidence” from his team as many media sites reported that Red Bull has no plans to replace him right now or promote third driver Daniel Ricciardo. But in a team that’s had a ruthless reputation when it comes to managing their drivers, is it time for Red Bull to move on from Checo?
The only thing at the moment that’s saving Checo from more widespread criticism is the fact that Red Bull has no challenger in the 2023 title. If Max Verstappen was a constructor, he’d be leading the Championship by 52 points and we’re not even halfway through the season.
Despite Perez only finishing on the podium once in the past five races, he’s still 19 points ahead of Fernando Alonso in third, as the battle of “Best of the Rest” has only heated up. McLaren’s rapid improvement with three Top 4 finishes in the last two weekends has them right in the picture with Mercedes, Ferrari and Aston Martin, with their relatively close performances having them all taking points off each other.
On the one hand, Perez’s struggles have solved one potential Red Bull problem – They don’t have to worry about team orders and politics when your second driver is nearly 100 points off Max. But no doubt it’ll raise another, and that’s wanting to maximise the performance of your second car, and that’s something Perez just isn’t doing.
We’ve seen it countless times in F1’s history, the field will catch up, and the margin of error for Red Bull will only decrease. And when the field does eventually close in, if Perez continues to struggle, it’ll turn into a weakness for the reigning Champions and that’s something Red Bull may need to address down the road.
It’s a startling contrast to where we were with Checo just two months ago. When he won the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix on merit from Max Verstappen, he was just six points behind Max in the standings after taking full advantage of the Dutchman dropping early points.
But it’s been the little things between the two teammates that have separated them as the season’s gone on. Perez needed to adapt his driving style beyond his street-circuit speciality was always going to be a massive hurdle to overcome in a calendar still dominated by conventional circuits.
And Perez admitted after Silverstone that anytime the car is outside of an optimal performance window, his pace craters:
“I have become a little bit more sensitive to the car in the last few races, especially on Saturday on low fuel. We have some ideas, but we operate in such a small window of detail that… it’s just that we need a strong Saturday. The positive thing is that the pace is there on Sundays, but we just have to sort out and have a clean weekend, because the pace is there.”
It perfectly highlights the frustrations of Perez. He’s clearly stronger on Sundays, and in a vacuum, his comebacks have been solid, finishing sixth or better in all of them bar Monaco. But he should never be having to dig himself of those positions in the first place, especially when his teammate is putting together arguably the greatest season F1 has ever seen.
Silverstone also provided one more moment we may look back on if Red Bull eventually moves on from Checo. When Perez set his final qualifying lap in Q1, the man right behind him on track was Alex Albon, who Red Bull dropped at the end of 2020 so they could bring Checo in.
Albon has flourished in his new home at Williams, picking right up where George Russell left off, taking a team that’s spent most of the last half-decade at the bottom of the standings and bringing them up the table. His P8 finish now puts Williams 7th overall after overtaking Haas, which could be priceless at season’s end.
An Albon return, based on his clear improvement since his original Red Bull run, could be enticing. Just one problem. By Dr Marko’s admission, Albon’s tied down until the end of 2025 and would likely take an expensive buyout and the embarrassment of flirting with the man you once deemed not good enough to drive your car.
Then there’s the complicated matter of their sister team, AlphaTauri. Red Bull has just sacked Nyck De Vries to bring back Daniel Ricciardo. Ricciardo’s had a rocky road since leaving Red Bull, flourishing at Renault but being embarrassed at McLaren by Lando Norris. It’s going to be difficult for Ricciardo to impress at AlphaTauri given they’re last in the Constructors’ Championship, but if he’s quickly able to match or even beat Yuki Tsunoda, there could be a possibility that Red Bull could bring back their 2016-2018 line-up.
Ultimately, it might be slightly unfair to compare Checo to Max Verstappen, the latter on the way to becoming one of the greatest F1 drivers ever. But in the here and now, with the Mexican haemorrhaging points every week, the patience of a Red Bull team that’s had its dominance stopped once before, might be wearing thin.
Should Red Bull keep the faith in Sergio Perez? Or is it time to move on? And if so, for whom? Let us know in the comments and if you liked the video, be sure to Subscribe!