Ranked: The five drivers fighting for Sergio Perez’s Red Bull seat

Thomas Maher
Lando Norris, Liam Lawson, and Daniel Ricciardo.

Lando Norris, Liam Lawson, and Daniel Ricciardo.

Sergio Perez’s contract with Red Bull comes to an end at the conclusion of the 2024 F1 season. Who are the drivers most likely to replace him?

The Mexican driver has one year left on his contract with Red Bull and, based on his current form, he is unlikely to be given a contract extension as his form has been called out by team boss Christian Horner and motorsport consultant Helmut Marko.

Let’s have a look at the likely candidates for Perez’s cockpit, if and when it becomes available – ranking them in order of likelihood…

1. Daniel Ricciardo

From the very first day that Ricciardo’s return to a Red Bull-owned F1 cockpit was confirmed, the chances of him returning to the seat he vacated at the conclusion of 2018 appear only to be increasing.

Having taken some time away from F1, and Red Bull bewildered by the driver they saw in their simulator, patience and diligent work with Ricciardo appears to have returned him to a level at which they were happy to throw him the keys to the Red Bull for the now-infamous Silverstone tyre test.

Impressing so comprehensively that Nyck de Vries was fired before Ricciardo had even pulled back into the garage at the end of the day, the Australian’s F1 career was rekindled by being given De Vries’ car for the remainder of 2023.

Completing just two races, both of which saw him put in solid, if unspectacular, drives to match Yuki Tsunoda, Ricciardo hit a snag by breaking his metacarpal in a practice crash at Zandvoort.

But Red Bull has been impressed enough by what they’ve seen already to give him a full-time drive for 2024. For now, that’s with AlphaTauri, but Red Bull have proven not to be afraid of making in-season changes when needed. All the signs are there that 2024 is set to be a much closer season at the top and, should Sergio Perez fail to hit the ground running next season, Red Bull will have little to lose by pulling him out of the car and sticking Ricciardo in.

After all, while Ricciardo may have left Red Bull five years ago to try ploughing his own furrow with Renault, he appears now to be far more willing to accept a supporting role – should he be even close to replicating what he was once able to do for Red Bull, he’s the ideal candidate.

At this point, it’s not even too far-fetched to say that the second Red Bull seat is Ricciardo’s to lose – such is the esteem he’s held in. All he has to do is prove competitive and match or beat Yuki Tsunoda, and it’s surely only a matter of time until he’s back alongside Verstappen.

If Perez’s 2023 struggles continue right until the end of this year, who is to say Red Bull won’t pull the plug and swap them even before next season begins?

2. Liam Lawson

Ricciardo’s fracturing of a bone at the Dutch Grand Prix has completely sparked Liam Lawson’s F1 career into life. Commendably for the Kiwi driver, his short-lived opportunity to impress the F1 world was one he grasped with both hands as he hauled himself into the running for a full-time AlphaTauri seat.

Qatar aside, Lawson has looked far more experienced than he really is, and his gutsy drive into the points in Singapore is a feat that is impossible to overlook when reviewing his handful of races in F1.

While Lawson badly wanted an F1 seat in 2024, his willingness to sign up with Red Bull as a reserve driver for their two teams suggests something is afoot for 2025. After all, given Williams still has a vacant cockpit, what assurances did Red Bull give him that convinced him sitting on the sidelines is the better option than fighting for a race seat?

Experience has shown that Red Bull are willing to take huge gambles on drivers being able to cope with massive pressure. Pierre Gasly, Daniil Kvyat, and Alex Albon all couldn’t cope with the expectations on their shoulders as they stepped into the Red Bull, in the same way that Max Verstappen was able to with immediate effect.

Lawson’s races with AlphaTauri, with no preparation or experience, have shown the type of mental strength and exceptional talent that Red Bull seeks in their drivers. If Ricciardo doesn’t quite hit the heights Red Bull expects once he finally does get some momentum going, who is to say that Lawson might not be given the nod over an underwhelming Perez next year?

3. Lando Norris

Having already approached Lando Norris twice before, failing on both occasions, the British driver would already be with Red Bull if the stars had aligned better for them.

But loyal to McLaren Norris has proven, including pen to paper on a long-term deal that has kept him frustratingly out of reach for Red Bull. It’s working out pretty well for Norris so far, given he’s found his feet in the sport with a team that genuinely appears to love him, although that loyalty was tested in early 2023 as the MCL60 proved a dud early on.

Red Bull haven’t tried to hide their admiration of Norris and both sides have openly flirted with each other – Christian Horner has made it clear the door is open once contracts aren’t in the way, while Norris has kept the pressure on McLaren by hinting he’d like to team up with Max Verstappen.

Contracts can always be broken in F1, as has been evidenced on numerous occasions, but Norris’ arrival at Red Bull is likely to be further down the line than at the conclusion of Perez’s contract. For now, there is simply no real need to break open the piggy bank to make a Norris switch happen, not while more easily accessed talents are in the queue.

Added to that is the fact that Norris’ arrival at Red Bull, alongside Verstappen, would likely not be quite as harmonious as a more relaxed and accepting Ricciardo/Verstappen partnership would be. Norris is chomping at the bit to be a winner and a World Champion, and Verstappen wouldn’t take kindly to his authority being challenged. A hugely desirable partnership it would be to observe, but Red Bull might have to wait a little while yet.

4. Yuki Tsunoda

Given that Tsunoda had to worry about being ousted in favour of Liam Lawson after just three races together and, if rumours are to be believed, needed Honda to bat for him just to retain his AlphaTauri seat, the Japanese driver needs some big, big performances to be considered for the senior squad.

There’s no doubt that Tsunoda has made some huge steps forward in his mindset since his angry rookie year, and he has become a much more trustworthy pair of hands behind the wheel of an F1 car.

But there doesn’t seem to be much excitement from Red Bull about Tsunoda, no evidence that he is considered as their future, or ready to step up in responsibility.

Added to that is that, while Tsunoda has had a decent season for AlphaTauri, Lawson came in and, despite his lack of experience, almost immediately proved a pace-match for Tsunoda.

Heading into his fourth season with the Red Bull junior team, it’s probably safe to assume at this point that, unless he somehow crushes Ricciardo in 2024, Red Bull probably won’t take the gamble.

5. A silly season shock?

With the rest of Red Bull’s affiliated drivers a little too young and inexperienced to jump straight into the senior team’s second cockpit, the potential of an external hire is also one Red Bull will closely examine.

Should Ricciardo fail to impress, Lawson and Tsunoda prove unready, and Norris remain out of reach, there are plenty of options coming onto the market at the end of 2024 – and it would all come down to what Red Bull wants in terms of team dynamic.

Both Ferrari drivers, Charles Leclerc, and Carlos Sainz, are available at the end of 2024 – would Red Bull be brave enough to try making a play for one and risk upsetting Verstappen?

Gasly and Esteban Ocon are both free agents for 2025 as well. Gasly’s unlikely, given Red Bull released him from AlphaTauri, while Ocon and Alpine show no signs of wanting to part ways just yet.

Would Alex Albon be willing to give up the good thing he’s got going with Williams in order to rejoin Red Bull? The team liked him and went to bat for him on the driver market. But, again, Red Bull has moved mountains to get drivers they really want – and they didn’t do that for Albon in 2022.

Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen are both available and could be an intriguing possibility for Red Bull. Both have reached the ends of their F1 careers, mentally, only to be given lifelines to rekindle them – such circumstances might just mean they would play more harmoniously alongside Verstappen than the likes of Norris or Leclerc. Hulkenberg’s greater consistency, and his age, might make him the more attractive proposition, if Red Bull just wants an able number two, and isn’t yet looking for a Max replacement.

Zhou Guanyu is another free agent but, with so many other options on the table, it’s hard to pinpoint a reason as to why Red Bull would seek him out over any of their other prospects.

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