Sergio Pérez tests Red Bull F1's faith with another mistake, McLaren on the rise

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SILVERSTONE, UK — Beached in the gravel at Copse early in Q1 after spinning off the track during his out lap, Sergio Pérez sounded helpless.

His request for assistance to get back to the nearby tarmac and potentially rejoin the session proved futile. Without seven minutes of the session still to run, the mistake led to him being knocked out in Q1, meaning he will start tomorrow’s British Grand Prix in 19th.

And with pressure continuing to build on Pérez at Red Bull, the timing could not have been any worse.

McLaren’s surge through the first half of the Formula One season has transformed the competitive picture at the front of the field. Red Bull, for so long unchallenged at the very front of the pack, is now being pushed all the way for poles and wins. Team principal Christian Horner has always called 2023, when it won 21 out of 22 races, a “unicorn year.” It’s now a far-flung memory.

Max Verstappen’s domination, with 575 points won, was such last year that he could have won the constructors’ championship by himself. Pérez’s mid-season dip in performance and failure to win a race after round four in Azerbaijan did not have a material effect on the team’s year. He still ended up second in the drivers’ championship with 285 points, capping off the most successful season in Red Bull Racing’s history.

Now, the picture looks very different.

Pérez entered 2024 knowing he had to raise his game and looked to have done so. He scored four podiums in the first five races, hailing a new approach where he went down fewer rabbit holes with the car setup, and he seemed less focused on trying to replicate what Verstappen was doing across the garage.



How Pérez fell so far behind Verstappen: Knocked confidence and a matter of style

The performances prompted Red Bull to re-sign Pérez on a two-year deal announced after Monaco. He’s well-liked within the team and was delivering what he had to on track. It made sense.

But since Miami, Pérez’s performances haven’t been up to that early-year standard. He’s reached Q3 only twice in the last five races, retired in Monaco (due to a clash with Kevin Magnussen, arguably avoidable had he not dropped out in Q1) and Canada, and failed to finish higher than seventh in that time.

Perez’s downturn coincides with McLaren’s improved performance, with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri regularly bringing home big points hauls. The 115-point gap after Miami is down to 87 points, with Red Bull outscoring McLaren just once in that five-race period.

It has fueled momentum and hopes at McLaren that it could claw itself into the constructors’ fight, chiefly because it has two regular big scorers in Norris and Piastri to Red Bull’s one. Since Miami, Norris has scored 73 points, and Piastri has scored 71 points. Pérez’s haul is 15 points.

“It’s going to be dependent on Pérez, at the end of the day,” said Zak Brown, McLaren Racing’s CEO. “You’ve got to assume that Max is going to be first, second or third at every race (over) the balance of the year — probably more firsts than thirds. Sergio underperforming is what’s opening the window for us.”

Brown added, “I would be, which I’m sure they are, very concerned about the lack of performance.”

The situation is not lost on Red Bull, which has always supported Pérez through his difficult periods. Speaking to Sky Sports on Friday, Horner acknowledged it had been a “tough spell” for Pérez and hailed his resilience to bounce back. The hope had been that getting the contract signed and announced would help provide stability and stop the dip in form.

“It made absolute sense to sign Checo at that point in time,” Horner said. “But this is a business in which there are pressures to deliver.”

He added: “We need him up there supporting Max because there’s two McLarens now, there’s two Ferraris, there’s two Mercedes. And we desperately need there to be two Red Bulls.”

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Sergio Pérez spun out into the gravel during qualifying. (Peter Fox/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

The mistake at Silverstone on Saturday did nothing to help Pérez’s cause or efforts to turn things around. Sliding off the track on his out lap after switching to slicks, where conditions were greasy but should have been manageable at a lower speed, was a very clumsy error.

“I put my hand up because I f–ed up today,” Pérez said, explaining how a downshift in the greasy conditions entering Copse caused him to lose the rear. But he denied any pressure had contributed to the error.

“I’m fully committed to my career,” Pérez said. “I have a contract with the team, and I will turn things around. It’s not something that distracts me or anything like that.”

Pérez may have a contract, but Red Bull has shown in the past that it is not averse to making difficult, even brutal, driver decisions midway through a season. Verstappen got his chance just four races into the 2016 season, swapping seats with Daniil Kvyat at the sister Toro Rosso team, now RB. Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly made the same switch in 2019. Only last year, Nyck de Vries was dropped by AlphaTauri after Silverstone so that Daniel Ricciardo could make his return.

Red Bull’s driver contracts have always covered both its F1 teams, meaning there is scope for this kind of change and, as a result, added pressure on those in the senior team. What complicates the situation for Red Bull is that there isn’t a strong case for anyone to step into Pérez’s seat and be confident of the required uptick in results.

Ricciardo is facing pressure himself to stay on at RB after comments from Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko ahead of Austria. Red Bull always intended for Ricciardo to be a safety net upon returning to the grid last year to replace De Vries, making clear himself that getting back to Red Bull was the target. But the performances simply haven’t been there, finishing no higher than eighth on a Sunday. Ricciardo has looked more consistent in the last three races, but if he gets that chance back at Red Bull, his current performance level would feel more akin to being a like-for-like replacement for Pérez.

Yuki Tsunoda’s displays early this year prompted Red Bull to quickly arrange a renewal for him to stay at RB and announce it in Canada. Yet, as impressive as his speed may be, those at the top remain uncertain about how he would fare in the senior team.

Reserve driver Liam Lawson only has five races under his belt from last year when he deputized for the injured Ricciardo, but put in performances that made clear he’d be part of Red Bull’s future. He’s set to conduct a filming day for Red Bull next week at Silverstone and will take part in a long-planned tire test with RB at Imola in a few weeks, marking his latest chance to show what he can do in F1 machinery.

It has left Red Bull in a tricky position. The team badly needs a turnaround in performance from Pérez before the situation becomes unsustainable. The Mexican is under zero illusions about what must change. He’s been here plenty of times before.

But the longer this rut continues, the more McLaren, consistently scoring with two cars, will be able to close in on Red Bull. More pressure will only grow on Pérez and those at the top of Red Bull to consider taking action.

Today’s mistake will only crank that pressure up further.



In the toughest seat in F1, Sergio Pérez finds purpose outside the grid

Top photo: SIPA USA

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