Jacques Villeneuve: Sergio Perez started year strong, then became ‘invisible’

Jamie Woodhouse
Sergio Perez walks in the paddock. Hungary July 2022.

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez makes his way through the paddock. Hungary July 2022.

Jacques Villeneuve feels 2023 will be an “important” year for Sergio Perez after a 2022 season which he believes should have produced more.

It was Ferrari who started the 2022 campaign on top as they just about maintained their challenge during the first half of the season, but there was to be no stopping Red Bull and Max Verstappen from going on to become the dominant force, winning nine of the final 11 races.

Verstappen wrapped up his second successive Drivers title in Japan as Red Bull went for their first ever one-two finish in the Drivers’ Championship, but Perez fell just 1.3 seconds short as he ran out of laps to reel in Charles Leclerc in Abu Dhabi, meaning it was the Ferrari driver who finished as runner-up to Verstappen.

2022 was nonetheless a stronger campaign for Perez than his first with Red Bull, picking up two races wins, though 1997 World Champion Villeneuve feels that after a strong start and end to the season, Perez was “invisible” in between.

And with Daniel Ricciardo poised to return to Red Bull from 2023, seemingly as a reserve driver with a focus on the marketing side of things, while Red Bull have held a past interest in Lando Norris, Villeneuve sees 2023 as a significant season in the career of Perez.

“Perez was strong in the beginning of the season, then I found him invisible,” Villeneuve wrote in his column for Formule1.nl.

“In the last races, he rebounded and was competitive. But over the year as a whole, he could have done better.

“2023 will be important for him. Red Bull will have Daniel Ricciardo behind them soon, although he will also be used a lot for marketing and media activities. He is good for that. They are also talking to Lando Norris, although you shouldn’t put too much stock in that.”

But would either driver be better than Sergio Perez for Red Bull?

At this point, it is clear that Verstappen has established himself as the lead driver at Red Bull, the Sao Paulo team orders controversy and fallout from that only further affirming this.

So, Red Bull will not want a driver alongside Verstappen who is going to rock the boat, but this is exactly what one could envisage happening if either Ricciardo or Norris were Verstappen’s team-mate.

Ricciardo initially left Red Bull at the end of 2018 due to an increasingly strained relationship with Verstappen and Red Bull, feeling the team was gravitating towards the young Dutchman, and while he would leap at the chance to return to the Red Bull line-up after that failed McLaren stint, he has made it clear that he still has ambitions to chase.

So, with wins and titles still on his mind should the opportunity come, it is hard to see Ricciardo being the obliging team-mate to Verstappen that Perez has been, the Mexican on many occasions coming to the aid of Verstappen.

As for Norris, while he and Verstappen are friends off the track, he likely would not be willing to play the team game in Verstappen’s favour, the 23-year-old Brit often mentioned alongside Verstappen, Leclerc and George Russell as Formula 1’s billed stars of the future.

So, while Perez does need to maintain a closer level of performance to Verstappen next season, since both drivers claim to have made up and moved on from Brazil, it is unlikely that Red Bull would see a more harmonious pairing in either Ricciardo or Norris being put alongside Verstappen.

Read next: Christian Horner hits back at rivals and critics after dominant F1 2022 season