Sergio Perez failing to finish second in this year’s Drivers’ Championship could be the “ammunition” Red Bull need to replace him.
Perez has a slender 20-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship, despite Max Verstappen using the same RB19 to romp away to the title with a points tally of more than double anyone else, with the Mexican’s lead over the Mercedes driver shrinking due to a poor run of races.
There have been plenty of rumours about Perez’s future with Red Bull but, officially, he still has the backing of senior management to stay on in the seat for 2024 and the final year of his contract with Milton Keynes.
Craig Slater: Sergio Perez failing in championship gives Red Bull ammunition
One of the rumours about Perez is based on championship position, with Red Bull gunning for a 1-2 in the Drivers’ Championship for the first time in their history – a task that Verstappen’s form suggests should have been easily achieved.
But Perez’s struggles, particularly with Daniel Ricciardo returning to the Red Bull fold with AlphaTauri, means the possibility of the Mexican being demoted in a driver swap is a potential – particularly if he fails to secure the second-place.
While team boss Christian Horner has insisted there is no hard and fast ultimatum issued to Perez, Sky Sports News journalist Craig Slater believes a failure to secure the position could give Red Bull all the weapons they need to justify a demotion.
“It has become more of a thing this year, the one-two, because they didn’t do it last year,” Slater said on the Sky F1 podcast after the Mexican Grand Prix.
“But this year, it has been something and, if they wanted an excuse and if they are indeed lining up Ricciardo, or if they’re coming around to a way of thinking that Ricciardo was their preferred option in the car, it gives them the ammunition doesn’t it?
“To present it as a kind of reasonable action to take, if he doesn’t get that second spot. It’s not as if there has been a strong second force in F1 this year, there have been various different cars at various points leading the assault on trying to get close to Red Bull.”
Craig Slates questions Sergio Perez’s ‘driver DNA’ after Turn 1 attack
Slater also questioned Perez’s gung-ho approach to Turn 1 in Mexico, with an attempted move to snatch the lead of the race that resulted in contact with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and his retirement from his home race.
“Isn’t it fascinating… has he morphed as a driver into a different mentality?” he said.
“I always admired him greatly and was a particular fan of his because of his ability to leave it late in a Grand Prix, to harbour his resources in terms of having tyre life at the end of an event, especially one as occasionally chaotic as Mexico can be.
“It’s so uncharacteristic of him to do exactly what he did, that you do wonder about his headspace. Has he lost the essential Perez DNA? Is he very much not really thinking or playing to his strengths right now, because of the external pressures on him? That was a glaring example of it.”
With Red Bull’s nearest rivals Mercedes having had ebbs and flows in form throughout the year as Aston Martin, Ferrari, and McLaren have all traded the position of being the second-quickest car in F1, Slater said Hamilton eyeing up Perez’s second-place spot shows how good the seven-time World Champion has been this year.
“In terms of Lewis Hamilton, a very significant achievement indeed if he could come second,” he said.
“I always think of Jack Nicklaus in golf, who won the most Majors with 18, but he also had the most second places as well. For Lewis to get what would be his fourth second-place in F1, alongside seven championships… I know it’s not something he particularly cares about, but I think it would speak volumes again about just how good he is.”