Why ‘underperforming’ Sergio Perez is in for a ‘really frustrating’ season second half

Thomas Maher
Red Bull's Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen on the podium at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku, April 2023.

Red Bull's Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen on the podium at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku, April 2023.

Sergio Perez may have to deal with an entirely different sort of pressure for the remainder of 2023, according to two prominent pundits.

Having fallen to over 50 points behind Max Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship over the past three Grands Prix after a series of weekends in which Perez has struggled to keep up with the Dutch driver, two prominent pundits believe the Mexican driver is in for a hugely frustrating remainder of the season.

Perez had been just six points behind Verstappen after the first four races of the season. But a beating in Miami was followed by qualifying mistakes in Monaco and Spain that resulted in just a single fourth-place finish for Perez.

With his championship run seemingly in tatters as the metronomic Verstappen reels off result after result, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has said the pressure is now off Sergio Perez as his aim is reset to finish in second in the championship, but Sky F1’s Natalie Pinkham disagreed.

Natalie Pinkham: The pressure isn’t off Sergio Perez

“The pressure may be off only in the sense that, ‘Oh, well, I’m out of this world championship,” she told Tom Clarkson on the F1 Nation podcast.

“Well, that’s not pressure off. That’s massive despondency, that is sucking the wind out of his sails.

“I think that makes the pressure ramp up in a different way. Because he has to prove that he’s worthy of the seat, albeit a second seat within Max’s team. I think it’s a very different feeling for him now, and it’s one that he will not be enjoying.”

Clarkson agreed with Pinkham, saying that he believed what Horner meant was that the pressure is no longer on Red Bull’s upper management, ie. himself!

“Because he’s no longer got to deal with two guys, ‘Who do we favour, who do we not favour?'” Clarkson said.

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“It is clear now that Max Verstappen is the one that is going to win the World Championship for them. So that political hot potato is out the window now and it’s not a management issue for Red Bull.

“I think Perez has underperformed and I think you only get to the top in elite sport, any sport but especially Formula 1, where you have to be competitive with yourself. It’s all about achieving at the highest level and Perez has been left wanting and that, as you say, creates pressure, especially when you have drivers like Lando Norris, who have flirted with Red Bull in the past.

“OK, he’s got a long-term contract with McLaren, but there are other worthy drivers out there of that second seat at Red Bull. We’ve seen, time and again in Formula 1, that driver contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on  – if two parties want to do a deal, it will happen.

“So Perez has got to keep performing in a sort of nothing role now – he’s got to keep performing to show that he’s worthy of the seat but, equally, he’s got to be the team player as well. It’s a really frustrating second half of the season for Perez coming up, I think.”

Natalie Pinkham on what makes Max Verstappen different to Sergio Perez

Pinkham said that the ingredients are in place for Perez to ensure he doesn’t have a bad time for the rest of the year, urging the Mexican to make the best of his situation.

“He’s still in the best car, he’s still got the opportunity to gather a handful more wins, which is great for his career tally,” he said.

“He’d rather be there than out of the sport, which was the alternative for him a couple of years ago.

“I understand that he will be frustrated because he probably felt at certain points, particularly after notching up a couple of wins at the start of the season, that he was in with a chance of winning the championship.

“But you have to be delivering every time, not just when things fall in your favour. It feels to me that’s exactly what Max Verstappen does.

“He pulls victory from the jaws of defeat, not the other way around. He is able to deliver when the chips are down and pull through, like all the greats – Lewis Hamilton is always at his best when the pressure is really on and his back is against the wall. I think that’s what separates the good from the great drivers.”

Pointing to the example of the Spanish Grand Prix last time out, where Perez wound up in fourth at the chequered flag, Clarkson suggested Verstappen could have achieved the impossible had he been faced with the same challenge of starting from 11th.

“You do find yourself wondering, had that been Verstappen starting 11th, how high would he have got?” he said.

“I would certainly reckon he would have gone on to the podium, and I think he probably would have won the race actually in that car.”