Sergio Perez is racing for his Red Bull career in 2024

17th January 2024
Ian Parkes

Sergio Perez faces arguably the most difficult season of his F1 career this year. In many respects, finishing second in the drivers' championship is a commendable achievement, even if the runner-up has fallen short of his primary target of being crowned champion.


It was a feat achieved by Perez last season, affording Red Bull a one-two in the drivers' standings for the first time in its 19 years in Formula 1. Unfortunately for Perez, he finished a staggering 290 points behind three-time champion team-mate Max Verstappen, with the gulf in points, as well as in class, applying a level of pressure on the Mexican's shoulders this year he will likely never have previously experienced.

Perez has been in tough situations before. After taking a step up in class and trying to prove himself at McLaren in 2013 in the wake of two solid seasons with Sauber, the 33-year-old fell considerably short of what was expected. It resulted in him being ditched after just one season, and he moved back down the pecking order to Force India/Racing Point where he spent the next seven years.


Although underpinned by considerable financial backing, Perez at least proved himself to be more than just a pay driver, helping the team to often punch above its weight, occasionally in the most trying of circumstances given its eventual demise under Vijay Mallya's ownership and takeover by Lawrence Stroll.

When faced with the end of his F1 career in 2020, Perez delivered the first win of his career in the penultimate race of that year that helped pave the way for his move to Red Bull where he has spent the past three seasons.


Like any team-mate to Verstappen, Perez has predominantly spent that time in the shadow of the Dutchman. Of course, he has had his moments, scoring five victories and 20 additional podiums. There is no doubt, though, and bearing in mind he is out of contract at the end of the year, there will be no new deal should there be a repeat of last season.

There is a queue of drivers eager to replace him, spearheaded by AlphaTauri duo Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda, the former of which has made no secret of his desire to return to Red Bull after spending five years with the team from 2014-2018, with the last three as team-mate to Verstappen.


Team principal Christian Horner rightly concedes he is in "a luxury position" as he is "not in any rush", and there are "loads of options".

He added: "It's Checo's seat to lose. He's the one that we're backing, he's our 2024 driver, and if he does a great job next year, there's no reason that we wouldn't extend him into 2025, but it'd be purely based on what he achieves over a large part of the season. But we have a lot of options that are in the wings, we have a lot of interest from outside of the team as well, so as long as the car is competitive, it puts you in a luxury position that you can just take your time to look at what all those options look like."


Horner readily concedes that being Verstappen's team-mate is "mentally, hugely tough", a position Perez seemingly encountered last year following a solid start when he and the 26-year-old split the first four races between them in terms of victories.

From the Miami Grand Prix, in which Verstappen beat polesitter Perez from ninth on the grid, the seeds of psychological damage were sown as the former ran away with his third world title, taking a record 19 victories en route.


"You've got to have a certain resolve and character to be prepared to go up against Max," said Horner, who then outlined the key area where Perez needs to improve this year. As the field converges, it is inevitable that you want your two cars as close together as you can achieve.

Now Checo, his race pace, and his racing were very strong on many occasions.
"His performance in qualifying is probably the area he needs to focus on. He's acutely aware that he's got to up his qualifying average so that he's not having to come from so far back. It's an element that's crucial for him."


From Perez's perspective, he knows his season last year fell apart from Miami, followed by a crash in qualifying for the next race in Monaco, sparking a run of five grands prix in which he failed to make it into Q3. It was not until the Qatar GP, however, that Perez hit rock bottom and recognised changes needed to be made, which allowed him a reasonable end to the campaign and a platform on which he feels he can build this year.

“I was really in such a hole that we got together after Qatar, and we understood a lot of things we were doing with the car,” said Perez. “It was such a bad weekend that I felt like ‘I cannot be this bad', that there was something else going on, so we took the time to understand what was going on with the car. I needed to understand a lot of things that we were doing and to go into a lot of detail. The problems we had made me understand a lot more about what I was doing with the setup, and which direction I needed to go when I got issues. It's something that is definitely going to make us stronger."


Whether Perez will be able to cope with the pressure he will initially face from Verstappen is another matter. Beyond that is the pressure he will also encounter from those eager to take over his seat.

"I'm aware of how strong mentally you have to be to be here (with Red Bull)," said Perez. "I have got stronger, and you learn from the bad days much more than the good days."


As to the threat from his rivals, Perez remarked: "There are a lot of drivers who just want to move up into a better seat. That's how this sport runs and operates. It's how the sport works. I will just focus on myself and on my team to be the best version I can be as a driver."

Even then, that best version of Perez may not be enough to spare him from the axe at the end of this year.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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