Will Perez’s own goal and Ricciardo’s revival make Red Bull think twice?

After appearing like he had finally turned a corner, Sergio Perez’s home F1 race quickly descended into a nightmare at a time he can ill-afford it. 
Will Perez’s own goal and Ricciardo’s revival make Red Bull think twice?

Perez’s world came crashing down around him - quite literally - when a risky attempt to take the lead of the Mexico City Grand Prix backfired and ended up in a heartbreaking retirement. 

Having made a fast start from fifth on the grid and picked up a strong tow, Perez looked to challenge around the outside of Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on the approach to the Turn 1 right-hander. 

But instead of swooping into a dream early lead, Perez collided with Leclerc, tipping him airborne and into the run off area. He was able to crawl back to the pits but the damage was done and his race was over, having lasted mere seconds. 

It was the F1 equivalent of scoring an own goal in football.

While the collision was a classic first-lap incident, it was a costly misjudgement from Perez, who admitted with hindsight he could have avoided the crash. 

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23 and Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 - crash at the start of the race. Formula
Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23 and Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing…

“I shouldn’t say that but in hindsight, I should back out and go home,” the Mexican told Sky.

“I just wanted to give it [my] all, [I] went totally for it. I’m very sad for the end result, to end the race on the first lap at your home grand prix is definitely really sad,” he continued. 

“On the other hand, I’m extremely proud of myself because I gave it my all. We left it all [on the table] the whole weekend. We had probably the best start of the year. We just went for it.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said he “can’t blame” Perez for trying the sort of ambitious move that hinted at a driver who is desperate to impress. 

It marked a devastating end to a weekend that had started with much promise for Perez, who looked to finally be returning to some much-needed form that would have helped silence some of the noise surrounding his future.

Instead, the wait for improved results continues and the pressure on Perez has only intensified as questions swirl over a 2024 drive that already has his name on it - by virtue of a contract (for what it's worth).

Perez’s bid to remain a Red Bull driver next season will not have been helped by the starring display of the main competitor vying to steal his seat. 

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing on the grid. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 20, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City,
Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing on the grid. Formula 1 World…

Ricciardo’s timely statement to Red Bull 

In sharp contrast to Perez, things couldn’t have gone much better for Daniel Ricciardo as he enjoyed his strongest performance of his AlphaTauri F1 comeback so far. 

Ricciardo grabbed headlines in qualifying by beating Perez to secure a superb fourth on the grid, which he converted into AlphaTauri’s best result of the season with a strong drive to seventh. 

The Australian ran comfortably inside the top five until an ill-timed red flag hampered him, though he was still able to take seventh, and was a lap short of snatching sixth from Mercedes’ George Russell

What made Ricciardo’s weekend even more impressive was that it was just his second race back from a lengthy injury lay-off with a broken hand that interrupted his shock F1 comeback almost before it had properly begun. 

Will Perez’s own goal and Ricciardo’s revival make Red Bull think twice?

The result in Mexico City has lifted AlphaTauri off the bottom of the constructors’ championship and up to eighth, ahead of both Alfa Romeo and Haas. It could prove to be worth millions to AlphaTauri come the end of the season.

And it may turn out to be priceless for Ricciardo, whose statement drive was quickly acknowledged by Horner, who heaped praise on the 34-year-old. 

"He fully endorsed the reason why we brought him back," Horner said. "I thought he was outstanding this weekend. Fighting a Mercedes with an Alpha Tauri. A great performance from him and he looked like the Daniel of old this weekend.”

Horner’s final comment was a reference to Ricciardo’s previous spell at Red Bull. Since Ricciardo left, the three drivers to occupy his former seat have not been able to get as close to Verstappen as he did. 

Being Verstappen’s teammate is a position that Ricciardo has made clear he wants back, and if he keeps on performing like this, his case will become hard to ignore. 

Red Bull standing by Perez… for now

The problem for Ricciardo is that publicly, at least, Red Bull are continuing to back Perez. 

After the race, Horner stressed Perez has Red Bull’s “full support” and reiterated that it remains the world champions’ “intention” to honour his contract for next term. 

“Sergio has an agreement with us for next year and our intention is for him to be in the car in 2024,” he said. “We will give him all the support he needs to ensure he finishes second in the championship.”

(L to R): Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal with Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing. Formula 1 World
(L to R): Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal with…

“There is no prerequisite that if he doesn’t finish second, he is out of the team. It is not as binary as that. You have to look at the circumstances,” Horner added.

“It was a tough moment for him in front of his home crowd and he was very emotional, but he wouldn’t be a racing driver if he didn’t go for the lead at his home race. It is a big loss for him in a car that was capable of being on the podium.

“He is a tough operator and that is why he is in the car, because mentally he has always been able to bounce back. He will brush himself down and turn it into motivation. He has the full support of the team.”

Even Helmut Marko, who has been notably critical of Perez’s inconsistent performances this season, showed a rare display of sympathy towards his driver. 

"How many times do I have to repeat this? Checo has a contract for 2024 and it will happen,” the Austrian firmly retorted when asked about the possibility of Perez being replaced.

“Until the first lap of the race, he drove a super weekend and I am convinced he would have been on the podium.”

But will the patience of Red Bull - a team with history of ruthlessly wielding the axe - run out if Perez cannot shake out of his slump, and Ricciardo continues to deliver in the final three rounds? 

Perez’s results, in a car that Verstappen has taken to a record-breaking 16 wins from 19 races this season, are fast becoming indefensible.

Will Perez’s own goal and Ricciardo’s revival make Red Bull think twice?

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