Emilia Romagna GP Debrief: Is unlucky Perez about to get the drive he deserves?

01-11-2020 20:00 | Updated: 02-11-2020 00:04
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Emilia Romagna GP Debrief: Is unlucky Perez about to get the drive he deserves?

Sergio Perez has finished in the points in each of the last 17 races he’s started. That’s nearly an entire season of consistent points finishes in a midfield car. No crashes, no poor races, no mistakes in qualifying and getting stuck behind a slower car.

Just think about that for a moment. Yes, the Racing Point this year is arguably the third best car, but his teammate Lance Stroll and the four drivers at rivals Renault and McLaren have all had those poor races, when Perez hasn’t.

He probably should’ve taken a podium this weekend at Imola. Perez was briefly running third after Max Verstappen’s retirement, but pitted when the Safety Car was called out. Others stayed on track and with overtaking difficult, he ended up down in sixth, a disappointing finish despite starting 11th.

The mistake to pit the Mexican was particularly costly in the battle for P4 in the championship. He ended up losing ground to Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc, remaining sixth in the standings.

But don’t forget he’s still missed two races this season, when he sat out both events at Silverstone after testing positive for coronavirus. Hypothetically, if he had driven at those races and achieved his average finish of P6 this season, he’d have 16 more points, and would indeed be fourth in the championship.

Perez has spent his entire career in the midfield, ever since coming into F1 in Sauber with 2011. The following year he began to show his potential, taking three podium finishes and he was rewarded with a move to McLaren, replacing Lewis Hamilton.

The move was a brave one. Perez was a member of the Ferrari academy, but left to join McLaren. With Felipe Massa coming to the end of his Ferrari stay at the end of 2013, Perez’s move would become a strange one in hindsight.

He joined McLaren at exactly the wrong time and a difficult season saw him dropped. Ever since, he’s been racing for Force India/Racing Point, consistently at the sharp end of the midfield.

But that’s been his limit, the odd podium and some good points finishes, but he’s never been a candidate for a race win, let alone a title. Never since that year at McLaren has he ever had a chance to race for a top team, until now.

It’s well-known that Red Bull are looking to replace Alex Albon. The Thai driver has not lived up to expectations in 2020 and it’s thought that he will either be dropped down to Alpha Tauri, or let go from F1 entirely.

This is where Perez comes into the picture. Pierre Gasly will stay at Alpha Tauri in 2021, forcing Red Bull to look outside of their junior programme for someone to partner Verstappen. Perez is available, his seven year stay at Racing Point is over, with Sebastian Vettel joining the team that will become Aston Martin.

Nico Hulkenberg is also an option for the seat at Red Bull, but Perez has several benefits over the German. Red Bull want a driver who can compete for podium positions, to help the team keep up with Mercedes. Hulkenberg has famously never finished in the top three in F1, whereas Perez has done so eight times. Clearly Hulkenberg would have a better chance than ever to break his duck with Red Bull, but why wouldn’t they pick someone who has done it before?

Perez is also two and a half years younger than Hulkenberg. It’s probably not a huge issue for Red Bull, but if they require a more long-term driver rather than just someone to fill in for a year, Perez likely has a longer shelf life. To add to that, Perez has been racing full-time in 2020, despite Hulkenberg making three appearances for Racing Point when Perez and Stroll couldn’t race.

A year out of F1 can be damaging for the rhythm of a driver, although Hulkenberg has proved he can do this before, missing the 2011 season before returning for his first spell with Force India.

And then there is the direct comparison between the two. It’s often difficult to determine whether one driver is better than another, but in this scenario, we can compare the two drivers directly.

The pair were teammates at Force India between 2014 and 2016. Hulkenberg finished ahead in 2014, but Perez was better in the two more recent years, picking up a combined 179 points compared to Hulkenberg’s 130.

Neither driver has ever been promoted to a true race-winning team, but from these statistics, Perez has the better case.

There’s no doubt that Perez is one of the better drivers on the current F1 grid. Only six drivers racing in 2020 have more points in F1 than he does, and all six have raced for top teams and won multiple Grands Prix.

Perez has been unlucky with his F1 career moves. The McLaren gamble didn’t pay off and since joining Force India, there’s never really been an opportunity to join a big team. He wasn’t ready for a move to Ferrari or Red Bull in 2014, allowing Kimi Raikkonen and Ricciardo to join. Ferrari and Mercedes promoted Leclerc and Valtteri Bottas in 2019 and 2017 respectively, and Red Bull have believed in their academy products.

But he’s been building his reputation, proving his worth and now might just be the perfect time for him to make that long-awaited move to a big team.

Red Bull want someone reliable, quick and capable of getting good results. Perez ticks every single one of those boxes, and fully deserves his chance to prove himself at one of F1’s biggest names.

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