The shortlist for the second Red Bull seat is down to three drivers: Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and Alex Albon. The Anglo-Thai driver currently stands as the weakest contender due to his see-sawing on-track performance, giving rise to further speculation regarding either Hulkenberg or Perez possibly taking his place at Milton-Keynes.
Following Pierre Gasly’s contract extension with Alpha Tauri, Red Bull is going to witness a sharp change of direction in the process of picking Max Verstappen’s 2021 teammate. In case Hulkenberg or Perez emerge victorious in the contention, it will be safe to say that Red Bull’s autarchic regime linked to its drivers’ programme will have been overthrown.
The necessity of looking around and finding the right alternative regardless of their background will relaunch Red Bull on the scene, making it an active player and potential threat in the drivers’ market. This transition may well be perceived as the first step towards ditching a full-on Verstappen-centered approach, providing the number two driver with better opportunities to race and score decent results.
If this becomes the new normality for Red Bull, it will inevitably turn into a completely different environment implying Max Verstappen’s exit in the next years. The Dutchman was locked down by Red Bull until the end of 2023, but the efficiency and the competitiveness of the 2022 project will be decisive for his future with the team. In that regard, Red Bull might be silently setting up an alternative system to eventually fill up the void caused by Verstappen’s eventual departure.
As for the actual choice, the 23-year-old and his father Jos would not mind teaming up with Nico Hulkenberg. The German’s attitude and versatility might match all the requirements for the role and would gladly grab the opportunity of leading the team after Verstappen’s potential farewell.
Perez also shines as a strong contender on the financial as well as on the sporting side. His proximity to the American market makes him an alluring opportunity for any F1 team and his career built as a reliable, loyal and consistent driver places him in a tremendously favourable spot. Moreover, Red Bull would embody the perfect chance to relaunch Perez as a top driver, after his brief and unsuccessful stint at McLaren sidelined him on the F1 scene.
His aggressive on-track character and his demands might become unsettling for Verstappen and his entourage, which explains why their preference lies on Hulkenberg. The final decision is however down to Red Bull and what matters the most is now being endowed with two drivers and not just one leader.