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Will Perez's position at Red Bull come under pressure again due to this performance?

Will Perez's position at Red Bull come under pressure again due to this performance?

16 September - 08:46

Sergio Perez started 2023 well, but is starting to fall further and further behind Max Verstappen. How is this possible and should the Mexican be worried about his future at Red Bull Racing?

Perez to a top team

Perez is in his second year at Red Bull and seems to be somewhat in a slump. His first year in 2021 was mainly a learning year. He had to get used to the new car that was fully tuned to Verstappen, to his new team and to the ins and outs of a top team like Red Bull.

Still, Perez's performance in 2021 was somewhat disappointing. The Mexican finished ahead of his teammate only once in qualifying and never finished ahead of the Dutchman in the race when both crossed the finish line. The average difference in qualifying was also large: 0.433s. Only at AlphaTauri and Haas was the internal difference greater. In points, it also separated more than 200 points between the two teammates: 395.5 for Verstappen to 190 for Perez.

Yet Perez got a new contract early on because people at Red Bull know by now that Verstappen is not the easiest teammate. Alexander Albon, for instance, revealed about that time how extreme oversteer Verstappen can handle in the setup, which is almost impossible for any other driver to imitate. Red Bull had hopes that the experienced Perez would learn and could catch up with Verstappen.

For a while in early 2022, that seemed to be the case. With the new regulations for 2022 and the RB18 associated with them, the car had much more understeer. A characteristic that Perez seemed to cope with better, especially in qualifying, than Verstappen.

Verstappen under pressure

Of the first eight qualifying sessions, Perez, therefore, finished three times ahead of Verstappen. That was already twice more than in all of 2021. The average difference was also only minimal in Verstappen's favour: 0.051s. The difference was also small in the race, as the Mexican scored 129 points, putting him second in the championship behind Verstappen's 150 points.

Since then, however, things went wrong for Perez. Red Bull brought more and more updates to the car to make it faster and to make it faster the balance also leaned towards more and more oversteer. So the car fell more and more in Verstappen's direction and further and further away from Perez. We can see that difference in qualifying and races since then. Perez no longer finished ahead of the Dutchman in any qualifying.

The difference has only widened since the summer break. Since the summer, Verstappen won every race and finished every qualifying ahead of Perez with an average difference of no less than 0.811s. The smallest difference between the two was in the Netherlands, where the gap was 0.735s. As a result, the average difference between the two over the year has already risen to 0.313s.

Can Red Bull Racing get better?

Three-tenths difference between two teammates is actually too much of a good thing for a top team. At McLaren, Williams and Alfa Romeo, the difference between teammates is even greater, but at each team the driver in question is also under considerable pressure. Funnily enough, Perez has security with his contract through 2024, which he signed during his good period around the Monaco Grand Prix.

So far, Perez seems to have improved. He is even closer to everything in qualifying than in 2021 and in the race he frequently drives to the podium. In the standings, he is competing for second place, showing many similarities to Mark Webber in his time alongside Sebastian Vettel. The leader is clear, but number two also scores his points.

Perez is also a clear upgrade over Alexander Albon. The latter had an average qualifying gap of 0.597s in 2020 and never came close to Verstappen in races. Pierre Gasly may have been slightly faster, but under pressure, he was far too often caught out and the Frenchman caused the much internal turmoil by wanting to adjust the setup himself.

In that respect, Perez looks like the best thing for Red Bull Racing since Daniel Ricciardo. Verstappen can now unthreateningly claim the role of front-runner within his team, thus has the confidence to win the world title and the team is gaining more than enough points for the constructors' title. The only question is how will it fare when the competition gets closer?

Indeed, in the closing stages of this season, Perez is already increasingly falling out of favour as Mercedes' duo also compete for the podium spots. Perez will need to close that gap to Verstappen more in order to be further up the grid and help his team(mate) more. Whether the Mexican can make that move, however, is doubtful considering he has yet to succeed in a year and a half. However, a better option is not at hand.

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