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Formula 1

New Perez deal expected - but Red Bull desperately needs more

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
6 min read

Sergio Perez is expected to be re-signed by Red Bull for 2025, potentially before the Canadian Grand Prix, despite his form dipping just as the team is under increasing pressure from Formula 1 rivals.

Perez started 2024 brightly, finishing second to team-mate Max Verstappen in three of the first four races, and seemed to be meeting the standard set by team bosses before the season began.

That form made a strong case for renewal, even with outgoing Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz unexpectedly being on the market for 2025. It was no surprise that discussions began - with Red Bull favouring a one-year deal - and that Perez was optimistic of locking something down quickly.

Over the last three races, though, Perez’s form has tailed off unexpectedly and severely. That this has coincided with Red Bull’s toughest run of the season - and probably of this ruleset since 2022 - has to be factored in, but Perez has clearly struggled to replicate Verstappen’s ability to largely overcome challenging circumstances.

He was a low-key fifth in Miami (which became fourth thanks to a penalty for Sainz), an anonymous eighth at Imola having been eliminated in Q2, and failed to even make it out of Q1 in Monaco where he suffered a heavy opening lap crash after Kevin Magnussen’s attempted overtake on the run up the hill.

Perez’s wobble has featured a drop in qualifying form, a three-race absence from the podium, and an underwhelming return that’s let Red Bull be outscored by both Ferrari (by 20 points) and McLaren (seven points).

"This weekend’s been pretty brutal for him," team boss Christian Horner admitted.

"Obviously we need to make sure that we’ve got both cars up there scoring points because we cannot dismiss the threat of Ferrari and McLaren in both championships."

This period of Red Bull vulnerability may have been exaggerated by certain circumstances and track favourability, as life’s not been easy for Verstappen either.

Both drivers have found themselves on the back foot but Verstappen's still won a race and finished second and sixth in the others, whereas Perez has struggled more to recover. His average starting position has dropped from 3.6 in the first five grands prix to 10.3 in the last three. The Monaco DNF makes an average finishing position hard to account for but even generously assuming Perez could have got into the top 10, his average drops from 2.8 to 7.3.

Perez's discomfort was obvious in Monaco when he was fifth fastest in final practice, albeit 0.35s slower than Verstappen, but bemoaned the car being nowhere and a lot of work being needed for qualifying. Did that negative energy and lack of confidence transfer into an edgy, scruffy Q1, where Perez was, again 0.35s slower than Verstappen?

Around a short lap like Monaco that’s a chasm that almost a dozen cars can fit into and can be the difference between progression and elimination.When it was put to Horner that Ferrari and McLaren have two strong drivers, while Red Bull has one who is three tenths off, he replied: "I haven’t missed that."

It must be concerning for Perez to be struggling so much when previously street tracks have been his forte and Red Bull’s inherent weakness on these circuits has been what's allowed him to perform so well compared to Verstappen.

It was two years ago that Perez won in Monaco - controversially, after a qualifying incident that left the Verstappen camp so irate - and he had a new two-year contract announced immediately afterwards.

History may be repeating itself in terms of Monaco coinciding with Perez securing his Red Bull future, as the expectation among various parties - some connected directly to the team, some impacted by what it decides to do - is that Perez will be re-signed, and soon, although Horner only said that the Monaco weekend had not impacted Red Bull's decision with Perez, and "we’ll make a decision in the fullness of time".

It may be that a final contract has not yet been signed but so sure are some in the paddock that Red Bull's mind has all but been made up, that plans are being made on the belief that Perez’s Red Bull stay will be made official between now and the Canadian GP in two weekends’ time. Only this time, any renewal will come despite Perez's form, not because of it.

When Perez's dip happened last season it took a long time to rectify, and if any kind of repeat is on the cards Red Bull will pay a big price. Considering the Red Bull hierarchy was only semi-joking at times earlier this year that Perez’s good form was because it was contract renewal time, and there seems to be no obvious pressure to make a decision now, it would seem strange to make the commitment at this time.

That context means the competitive reasons to keep Perez are weaker now than they were a few weeks ago. Which suggests Red Bull bosses believe the arguments for replacing him are even worse.

Sainz continues to be a fantastic alternative but represents a tougher team-mate for Verstappen with known tensions from their Toro Rosso days that Red Bull has been wary of reviving. Red Bull would only finally dismiss Sainz if it is confident Verstappen is staying, after various comments from his father Jos and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff repeatedly hinting at a potential move away, and has decided that all the while Verstappen’s there, putting Sainz in isn’t an option.

Red Bull also has no interest in promoting Yuki Tsunoda, despite his excellent form in the second RB team. It has not got enough confidence in Daniel Ricciardo to be able to give him the seat he has been dreaming of at times. And reserve Liam Lawson is yet to earn an RB drive, let alone step straight into the senior team.

That leaves Perez, as the incumbent driver, benefiting from being the continuity option despite not being the best option.

Red Bull doesn’t necessarily need Perez to be that, it needs him to be ‘good enough’. That has always been the requirement for Verstappen’s team-mate.

He showed at the start of the season what he is capable of when Red Bull has a car advantage but there is still a big question mark over whether his contribution can be big enough and consistent enough when multiple cars from rival teams are in the mix. Perhaps a return to more conventional tracks and circumstances will bring the best out of Red Bull again and help Perez get back to that early-2024 level in the process.

"He was qualifying on the front row and finishing second and third and scoring very well," Horner said. "We just need to get him back into that position of confidence and not see a dip."

Red Bull needs both of its drivers to be on their best form this season to win both championships based on how McLaren and Ferrari are performing of late - unless Red Bull has something up its sleeve to re-establish the kind of car advantage we saw in 2023. But even then, Perez went missing at times, often when Verstappen was winning with ease.

More Red Bull victories, more Verstappen victories, are much more likely than not this season. A consistently convincing Perez support act cannot be so easily assumed, with or without a new deal.

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