Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturdays: Is Sergio Perez on the Hot Seat Again?

It seems like questions have surrounded Sergio Perez’s job security ever since the very beginning of his tenure at Red Bull Racing.

It’s hard to be the clear number two driver in Formula 1. The reality is that you’re there to finish second and only win if something out of your control happens to the leader. Your suggestions on how to improve the car are ignored if they run counter to what your teammate wants.

Then, if you do somehow start winning the battle on-track, then the political battle off-track becomes something new to navigate. Lewis Hamilton is a fantastic driver, but he’s also absolutely one of the very best politicians that F1 has seen. So was Alain Prost. Michael Schumacher was the master at it.

But if you’re so far behind your teammate, it’s only a matter of time before being added to the chopping block. That’s where Perez has been this season, especially after being told to let Max Verstappen by at the Miami Grand Prix. Perez has not been the same since.

Of the six Red Bull 1-2s since the season began, only two of them have occurred in the months since Miami. Perez has been far off the pace of Verstappen even on weekends where he didn’t mess up in some way. This weekend alone, Perez qualified a lowly ninth while Verstappen would have been the polesitter were it not for a track limits violation on his hot lap.

See also
Charles Leclerc Takes Pole at COTA After Max Verstappen Track Limits Violation

In the two weeks since F1’s last race in Qatar, there have been a number of pieces and reports out by different publications about Perez and Red Bull. It should be stressed before diving into them that Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, along with both Perez and Verstappen, have denied the validity of all of this. Perez has outright stated he will be at Red Bull in 2024.

Still, there is a lot of smoke on the horizon hanging atop Milton Keynes. Specifically, a power struggle between Horner and Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko. Marko has always been a very frank quote in the paddock, but he recently took on fire for some kind-of-but-definitely racist comments on Perez that he later had to apologize for.

There’s plenty of reason to imagine Marko is not doing well politically in the organization, especially with the death last year of Marko’s friend and Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz.

Marko also bungled the open seat at AlphaTauri, with his first choice Colton Herta transforming into a pumpkin in IndyCar this season. His second choice for the AT seat, Nyck de Vries, didn’t even last to the summer break before being released.

I digress, however. The talk specifically surrounding Perez is that Perez was supposedly told prior to Suzuka last month that he would be released following the season, and/or that he was given an ultimatum to finish second in points or risk release.

The rumor goes that Perez then couldn’t find a ride anywhere, leading to him planning a retirement announcement at his home race in Mexico at the end of this month.

This is an accurate rumor in that I can totally imagine Perez not able to find a seat for now in F1 next season, with the only open seat being a Williams ride where he would run head first into an entrenched Alex Albon.

See also
F1 Midweek: Physical Demands at Qatar Require Pause

The reality is that Red Bull has the best driver in the best car. If Red Bull does not have the clear cut best car next season, can Perez really be trusted at this point to ensure the constructors championship? With how overwhelming Verstappen has been with the Red Bull this year and how inconsistent Perez has been in comparison, the numbers say no.

But at the same time, why would there be so much trust thrown in to Daniel Ricciardo to potentially be inserted into the other Red Bull seat again? If we are to believe Ricciardo has picked up a gear since being released from McLaren last year, he hasn’t really gotten the chance to show it yet. That’s not really his fault given his injury, but the case against Ricciardo has more against it than the case for him once you remember how lost at sea he was at McLaren.

The other option if Ricciardo isn’t would be Yuki Tsunoda.

So that means Ricciardo would be the favorite to take that seat. At least until Ricciardo gets tired of the second driver role again and leaves. That would leave an AT seat open for Liam Lawson to easily slot into. But again, it would seem weird for AT to announce their lineup while at the same time that lineup could be in flux not even a month later.

Now that all parties have denied it, I will take their word and say the likelihood of Perez getting shown the door at Red Bull is very unlikely. Not because Perez can hack it at Red Bull, more because he’s their only viable option at this point. There’s just not many drivers who can match up with Verstappen in his current form anyway.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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