Why Red Bull can no longer ignore F1 winner Sergio Perez for 2021

Following his shock maiden F1 win in Bahrain, Red Bull can simply no longer ignore Sergio Perez as an option for a 2021 seat, writes Lewis Larkam.
Why Red Bull can no longer ignore F1 winner Sergio Perez for 2021

Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix was the clearest, most overwhelming piece of evidence yet for why Red Bull should sign Sergio Perez for the 2021 Formula 1 season. 

Perez has already demonstrated his abilities throughout an incredibly impressive 2020 campaign for Racing Point. Even had he not claimed a sensational maiden grand prix win in Bahrain, he would still more than deserve a place on the grid for next year. 

The Mexican has racked up an incredible 125 points to sit fourth in the championship heading into the season finale in Abu Dhabi and remarkably that is despite missing both Silverstone rounds when he contracted coronavirus. 

Perez’s form has been sublime across the last eight races in particular. He has picked up four top-five finishes, including a brilliant second place in Turkey. Perez was on course to make it back-to-back podiums last weekend until a cruel late engine failure robbed him, but he bounced back with a stunning fightback drive to seal his first win at the 190th attempt second time around in Bahrain. 

And Perez’s last-to-first performance in the Sakhir GP acted as further reinforcement as to why his lack of presence on the grid next year is an unfathomable prospect. F1’s king of the midfield has once again proved that if a team wants a competitive driver to maximise every opportunity, there are few better options out there. 

That is exactly why Red Bull can no longer competitively justify retaining the struggling Alex Albon over Perez as it continues to weigh up its options for 2021. 

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has repeatedly backed Albon and has said that the Milton Keynes squad will not decide whether to keep the British-Thai racer on for another year until after the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi next weekend. 

Albon has endured a difficult first full-campaign at Red Bull and faced intensifying speculation regarding his future having been comprehensively out-performed by teammate Max Verstappen. 

Why Red Bull can no longer ignore F1 winner Sergio Perez for 2021

The Sakhir GP was a perfect reflection of Albon’s 2020 season in a nutshell. After seemingly making a positive step forward with a (albeit fortuitous) podium last time out, Albon took two steps back again in the second race to be held in Bahrain. 

Albon was knocked out in Q2 as he only qualified 12th, before going to finish a drab and disappointing sixth place. In a race where Verstappen was eliminated on the opening lap and the usually flawless Mercedes made a calamitous pit-lane blunder, the second Red Bull car really should have been winning.

It was a performance that was simply not good enough, and sadly, that has been the case too many times this season. 

Given what Perez was able to achieve on Sunday, it would be hard to imagine Red Bull’s hierarchy not to seriously be considering a move for the out-of-contract Perez if they weren’t already. It has now become a no-brainer decision. 

Perez ticks all of the boxes Red Bull is looking for in a driver to back up Verstappen. Quick enough and consistent enough to produce the goods and pick up the pieces in Verstappen’s absence, while not providing a big enough threat to regularly beat the Dutchman. He would undoubtedly have managed better results than Albon has this year alongside Verstappen. 

While Red Bull remains Perez’s only option to stay on the grid next year, the incumbent Racing Point star said his victory in Bahrain “gives me a bit more peace with myself” knowing that whatever happens is ultimately out of his hands. 

Although he has indicated that he has some options already on the table for 2022, Perez admitted he feels it is a sad reflection of the current state of F1 if someone like him is unable to find a seat. 

"After today, I'm determined to be here," Perez said after Sunday’s race. 

"My best option is to keep going next year but if I have to stop it is not a disaster, I can come back in 2022.

"The regulations are going to change so much that, in a way, I don't think it will hurt that much the driving side, to get up to speed.

"I'm at peace with myself. I think Esteban [Ocon has] mentioned that drivers like him missing out on seats, it's just the way Formula 1 is.

"It can be really tough and not the best drivers are in Formula 1 unfortunately. So we keep pushing and we keep delivering and I think that's the best way to do it.”

Why Red Bull can no longer ignore F1 winner Sergio Perez for 2021

Perez was joined on the Sakhir podium by Renault’s Esteban Ocon, who scored an emotional and redemptive first podium of his F1 career with a brilliant drive to second. 

Ocon knows all too well what it is like to unfairly lose his place at Racing Point, having been dropped at the end of 2018 for Lance Stroll following his father Lawrence Stroll’s takeover of the Silverstone outfit, leaving the 24-year-old Frenchman facing a year on the sidelines of the sport. 

Two years on and history has repeated itself. Only this time it is Perez on the receiving end of an unceremonious booting - losing his seat to four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who will join Racing Point ahead of its rebrand to Aston Martin following his last race for Ferrari in Abu Dhabi. 

Ocon, who was Perez’s teammate between 2017 and 2018, said he was delighted for the Mexican’s success but stressed the current state of affairs in F1 cannot be normal if drivers of Perez’s calibre cannot find a drive. 

"I'm glad that Sergio is obviously getting the result, you know? To show everybody that he deserves to be in Formula 1,” Ocon added. 

”He's one of the top guys out there and he can't be left outside. It would not be normal. But sometimes the sport is like that, unfortunately, and you don't end up in the best situations.

"Obviously it's been a tough year but I was in good hands. I had a lot of people believing in me and supporting me, which has helped me to come back after a year out - and here we are. It is not easy to get going but after a bit of running, you get there.”

Even Racing Point bosses Stroll and Otmar Szafnauer, perhaps with a slight sense of regret over their driver line-up decision, were quick to point out that Perez deserves a seat on the grid for 2021.

If things do not work out then Perez can bow out of F1 - even if it is just for a sabbatical year - with his head held high and proud of his accomplished career to date, but it’s a position he shouldn’t have found himself in in the first place.

For a driver so often in the right place at the right time, it would be fitting for the stars to align for Perez for 2021 with a deserved return to the sharp end of the grid.

Why Red Bull can no longer ignore F1 winner Sergio Perez for 2021

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