Sergio Perez’s opportunity to drive for Red Bull Racing certainly didn’t come out about easily. McLaren brutally got rid of him following a single season at the team and his chances of getting another drive at a top team looked highly unlikely. However, he never gave up.
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2013 – Axed by McLaren after only one year
It seemed like Checo had got a dream shot in a top team as he signed for McLaren-Mercedes for the 2013 season. The Woking-based team took a punt on the Mexican after he stood on the podium three times with Sauber in 2012.
However, 2013 was a nightmare for both the team and driver. McLaren were really strong in 2012, but the car was unexpectedly a long way off the pace the following year.
Perez, still quite young and raw to Formula 1 at the time, didn’t help himself with a series of incidents across the year.
- Crashing in the pit entry during Free Practice at Shanghai; he also binned it during practice sessions in Hungary and Japan.
- Crashed out of qualifying in Brazil.
- Controversial battles with Button in Bahrain and Raikkonen in Monaco.
While Checo did struggle at times and got unceremoniously dumped by McLaren, he still showed flashes of his future potential. He beat Jenson Button 10-9 in the qualifying head-to-head; he finished 24 points behind the Brit in the championship as they ended up P11 and P9 respectively.
Nonetheless, a very strong drive to 5th in the Indian Grand Prix was a sign of what was to come at his new team.
2014-2018 – Rebuilding his reputation at Force India/Racing Point
Perez signed with Force India following McLaren’s decision to get rid of him. It didn’t look too promising on the basis of results over the previous seasons, but the move for the Mexican proved to be a blessing in disguise as McLaren fell away at the start of the V6 era.
Grabbing unexpected podiums
Checo became the master of grabbing podium opportunities when they were up for grabs.
With both Force Indias battling with the likes of Ricciardo and Massa for 3rd in the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix, Perez came out on top thanks to two sweet moves on his teammate and the Brazilian.
Further podiums followed in Russia (2015), Monaco (2016) and Baku (2016 + 2018) as daring strategy calls, incidents involving front runners and excellent driving by the Mexican allowed him to finish 3rd on those four occasions. It looks his podium tally to eight.
Establishing superiority over Hulkenberg and Ocon on a Sunday
Over the course of his five seasons up against Hulkenberg and Ocon, Perez was beaten in the qualifying head-to-head in four of them. Nonetheless, his brilliance on a Sunday afternoon allowed him to overturn his Saturday struggles and regularly outperformed both of them.
After losing out to Hulkenberg by 37 points in 2014, Checo responded in 2015 and 2016 and beat the German by 20 and 29 points respectively. Overall, he outscored him by 12 points.
As well as doing better than Hulkenberg at taking opportunities to end up on the rostrum, his race pace and tyre management were regularly greater.
The story with Esteban Ocon was very similar. While a series of controversial clashes between the pair across the 2017 and 2018 is the defining memory of their rivalry for most people, Perez’s race pace advantage stood out once again.
Ocon beat him a whopping 16-5 in qualifying in 2018, but Checo managed to turn it around on Sundays to finish 13 points ahead.
By the end of 2018, it was already clear that Perez’s race pace and tyre management meant he was one of the strongest drivers on the grid when it came to race day.
2019-2020 – Too good for Stroll and a special season
2019 was a difficult year with an underdeveloped car after the financial problems of 2018. In fact, Perez taking legal proceedings to put the team into administration played a big role in saving the jobs of the employees. Within a month a consortium led by Lawrence Stroll bought the team.
2019 saw him beat Stroll 18-3 in qualifying and by 31 points in the overall standings. Eight points-scoring finishes in the last nine races showed his class and what a crucial asset he was for the team in difficult times.
This year was the one where he could finally show his full capabilities in a really quick car, though.
Perez had thirteen points finishes from his fifteen starts in 2020; only reliability problems in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi denied him a 100% record.
After missing out on podiums at the Red Bull Ring and Imola because of bad strategies, Turkey was the first race of 2020 where he eventually stood on the rostrum thanks to incredible tyre management on the intermediate tyre. His reward was a superb 2nd place.
His greatest moment in F1 came earlier this month with that stunning victory at the Sakhir Grand Prix. Yes, he needed Mercedes to trip over themselves, but to charge through from the back following the incident on lap one and overtake a number of his main midfield rivals made it a special drive.
It was just reward for his loyalty to Racing Point and many exceptional performances over the years. Despite getting dumped by the team for Sebastian Vettel, he gave his all until the end.
4th in the Drivers’ Championship, a maiden win and 50 points ahead of his teammate represented an outstanding year.
How will he fare at Red Bull Racing?
Perez’s unexpected exit from Racing Point has ironically opened up the best chance he’s had in his career so far. Were Red Bull right to sign the Mexican? The answer is quite simply yes. He did a far better job than Albon this year
Checo could have easily let his head drop when McLaren kicked him out after a single season with them. However, he regrouped and did an incredible job in his time at Force India/Racing Point.
Great speed, terrific racecraft, exceptional tyre management with the Pirellis and brilliant consistency over the last few years has earned him this opportunity. 21 point-scoring finishes out of his last 24 starts is testament to his racecraft and consistency; all three of the races where he didn’t log points were down to different failures on the car.
In many ways, this is a free shot for Checo. He’s already a Grand Prix winner and has 10 podiums to his name in the sport. Not many drivers in the history of Formula 1 can say they’ve achieved so much.
You would expect Max Verstappen to assert his dominance in qualifying as the Dutchman’s is quite possibly the fastest driver on the grid at the moment.
However, it would be very foolish to write off Perez on a Sunday. Don’t forget, he’s not been beaten by a teammate in the championship since 2014, even if Verstappen is on a different level to Hulkenberg, Ocon and Stroll.
If the order and speed is similar in 2021 like it was this year, Red Bull will be expecting the Mexican to get stuck into Bottas next year and to attack Mercedes with both cars on weekends where they’re close on pace.
Perez has shown at Sauber and Racing Point that he’s good enough on a Sunday; his new team will want him to do that in 2021 as well.
Will he avoid the curse of the second Red Bull seat? Time will tell. Whatever the outcome, it promises to be one of the most interesting stories of next season.
His story is a great one and Checo’s resilience to fight back from the tough year at McLaren to end up in a Red Bull eight years later is testament to him, his character and ability.
Estoy feliz de compartir esto con todos ustedes, en 2021 correremos con Red Bull Racing.— Sergio Pérez (@SChecoPerez) December 18, 2020
I’m very happy to share this with all of you, we will drive for @redbullracing in 2021 #GivesYouWings pic.twitter.com/vFsEbL5D0C