Sergio Perez Red Bull lifeline revealed as concerns over Carlos Sainz emerge

Jamie Woodhouse
Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez are reportedly fighting for the 2025 Red Bull seat

Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez are reportedly fighting for the 2025 Red Bull seat

While Sergio Perez is not always hitting the Red Bull criteria to retain his seat, a reluctance to sign Carlos Sainz and the lack of alternatives could save him, so says BBC F1 correspondent Andrew Benson.

Perez enjoyed a strong start to the F1 2024 campaign as he bids to secure a Red Bull contract extension, finishing P2 four times across the opening five races, but with Ferrari and especially McLaren seemingly closing in, Perez’s season took a hit at Imola.

Could lack of Red Bull alternatives keep Sergio Perez in his seat?

Fresh off his upset maiden F1 victory in Miami, Lando Norris validated the step forward achieved by McLaren with their upgraded MCL38 by harrying Red Bull’s Max Verstappen for the win at Imola, Verstappen this time coming out on top by just 0.7 seconds.

Perez meanwhile missed the Q3 cut on Saturday, before finishing P8 only on race day. That, according to Benson, does Perez few favours in his quest to land a new Red Bull deal.

Speaking on the Chequered Flag podcast, Benson began: “Charles Leclerc took third place, a bit of a lonely race for him, not able to challenge the two guys in front of him, but clear of the rest.

“But it just goes to show that he’s had such a strong season, very consistent in generally getting the best out of that car. Okay [Carlos] Sainz won the race in Australia.

“But I think while it speaks a lot for Leclerc’s season so far over seven races, it also speaks a lot for Sergio Perez, who’s the guy who he’s replaced in second place [in the Drivers’ Championship].

“Verstappen has won five out of seven races now. And Perez eighth, after starting 11th. Okay, it’s difficult to overtake at Imola, but that’s not good enough when you’re driving a Red Bull and it’s not going to do his hopes of staying in that team any good at all.”

British racer Alice Powell took a “blunt” approach in her assessment of Perez, saying Red Bull will soon get “fed up” if he cannot be the ideal rear-gunner to Verstappen.

“I’m going to be blunt, he’s not doing enough,” she said, “certainly over this weekend.

“He starts the seasons off pretty well, that seems the trend and then he sort of starts to have a little bit of a dip.

“We can all have off weekends, so maybe for him this is just one of those that’s a slight off weekend, we’ll obviously have to keep an eye on how he gets on in the next several races.

“But the pressure always seems to be on Perez and I think that comes up when anyone’s up against Max Verstappen. But Red Bull soon will get fed up and they will need someone that’s faster and going to be up close and backing Max.”

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However, Benson would claim in response that the availability of a suitable replacement for Perez may be what determines that he stays with Red Bull.

Sainz, who will leave Ferrari at the end of 2024 to be replaced by Lewis Hamilton, has been speculated as the prime candidate to take over from Perez, but Benson says Red Bull are reluctant to bring the Spaniard back into the fold, his relations with Verstappen having been somewhat frosty when they both made their F1 debuts with Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso in 2015.

“So it’s a simple equation for Perez,” said Benson. “Christian Horner made it perfectly clear at the end of last season that what they expected of him was to be better at qualifying, so that he was able to back Verstappen up more consistently than he’d managed last year.

“There’s a terrible statistic that Verstappen won 19 races last year and I think Perez was only behind him in second place in about four of them. Shocking, frankly, in a car that was that good.

“This season, so far, he’s been outqualified seven nil, and an average gap of 0.313 of a second. Now, when the gaps were as small as they are between Verstappen and the rest of the others, that’s not good enough for Red Bull.

“I’m not giving an opinion. Red Bull had said that’s not good enough. They haven’t said it quite so starkly recently, but that was the benchmark they set him before the start of this season.

“So if McLaren and Ferrari stay as competitive with Red Bull as they are at the moment, Perez isn’t going to get in that mix often enough for Red Bull and therefore you have to say that’s an existential threat to his position in the team.

“What might save him is who’s available to replace him. The obvious guy is Carlos Sainz, but there was quite a lot of tension between Sainz and Verstappen when they were team-mates at Toro Rosso back in the beginning of their careers.

“And I don’t sense that much keenness from Red Bull to get that partnership back together again.

“And then if you take Sainz out of the equation on that basis, there aren’t any top level-standard drivers available to put in that seat instead.”

Many regarded Daniel Ricciardo – racing with Red Bull’s second team RB – as the main threat to Perez, but the eight-time grand prix winner has struggled to impress so far in F1 2024, scoring just five points to team-mate Yuki Tsunoda’s 15.

And F1 commentator Ben Edwards claimed that Ricciardo is not doing enough to force his way into Red Bull’s thinking.

“Ricciardo’s qualifying performances against Yuki Tsunoda are very similar to Perez versus Verstappen really this year,” he said.

“Tsunoda did a very good job this weekend in particular and Ricciardo got into Q3 this time, that’s fair enough, but he’s not doing enough I’m afraid.

“I’ve been a big Ricciardo fan over the years, but he’s got to deliver. If you’re going to go to the top top team, if they want him, he’s going to have to show he’s got that extra bit of talent and I’m just not sure it’s happening for him at the moment.”

So, could Tsunoda be an option for Red Bull to replace Perez? According to Benson, it is “pretty clear” that Red Bull “don’t rate” him enough to hand out that promotion.

And as for Ricciardo, Benson feels he should be more concerned about being replaced by Red Bull reserve Liam Lawson, rather than him taking Perez’s seat.

“Red Bull don’t rate him that much,” said Benson regarding Tsunoda, “and that’s why their sort of baseline position is, ‘Okay, Tsunoda is where he is and therefore we need to see Ricciardo beating Tsunoda before we’ll consider putting him in our car, even consider it’.

“Although the qualifying stats head-to-head are quite similar, Ricciardo has beaten Tsunoda a few times this year, the margin is much smaller between Tsunoda and Ricciardo, but Tsunoda is still ahead, it’s less than a tenth on average, but Tsunoda is still ahead.

“And if you’re Daniel Ricciardo, it’s not going to get you a Red Bull seat. Tsunoda is not going to get a Red Bull seat. That’s pretty clear. So who is, is the question.

“I think the bigger question right now is whether Ricciardo can hang on to that seat for the rest of the year or whether Helmut Marko, the Red Bull motorsport advisor, has enough of Ricciardo and puts Lawson in the car instead at some point.”

Lawson impressed in the place of the injured Ricciardo across his five-race stint in 2023, though was overlooked for an F1 2024 seat in favour of the Ricciardo and Tsunoda pairing.

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