With Sergio Perez confirmed as a Red Bull driver for 2021, a tweet from the Mexican racer may just have hinted how that door opened.
Red Bull are known for a heavy reliance on their junior driver programme, headed by Dr Helmut Marko.
And over the years it has served Red Bull very well indeed, producing the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen who have all gone on to establish themselves as key figures in Formula 1.
Recently, though, the Red Bull pond has dried up somewhat. For 2019, the team were forced to recall Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat to the set-up to fill the seats at Toro Rosso, while their brightest prospect Pierre Gasly struggled to compete with Verstappen after making the step up to Red Bull that year.
Halfway through the 2019 season he was replaced by Albon, but after the London-born Thai failed to prove any sort of upgrade he was demoted to reserve driver for 2021.
At this stage, the talent pool was looking very dry. Consistently, the team had ruled out a Gasly return with the Frenchman remaining at AlphaTauri, while his 2021 team-mate Yuki Tsunoda, despite his potential, was not ready for a Red Bull seat in his first season of Formula 1.
So when Perez was announced as a Red Bull driver for 2021, as an ‘outsider’, it raised a few eyebrows regarding the health of Red Bull’s driver programme.
However, as it turns out, Perez can be considered somewhat of an extended family member for Red Bull.
After nearly 12 years we will work together again, mate. Thank You Christian Horner for this great opportunity.
Helmut Marko, I’m very happy and thankful for the confidence placed in me, I’m going to work very hard to help this team to bring one more Championship #givesyouwings👐 pic.twitter.com/j2cJarBLon
— Sergio Pérez (@SChecoPerez) December 19, 2020
Back in 2009, Perez signed with Arden for the GP2 season, the team owned and run by current Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Perez did not quite set the standings alight that year, finishing on the podium only twice, although he did end up two points ahead of his team-mate for the season, Edoardo Mortara.
While he would switch teams for the following season, it is clear Perez’s relationship with Horner remained very much intact – or could even be called a friendship since Perez referred to Horner as “mate” in the above tweet.
That may go some way to explaining why Red Bull chose Perez when they looked outside of their programme for 2021 – combined, of course, with the fact Perez finished inside the points at every race he contested for Racing Point in 2020, minus Bahrain and Abu Dhabi where it was the RP20 that failed on him.
Perez has signed an initial one-year deal with Red Bull and the pressure will be on from the start to produce a similar performance level to that of Verstappen, while it will also be interesting to see whether or not Perez will be willing to play the team game.