Red Bull has finally announced the unveiling date for their new 2021 car – on February 23rd the Milton Keynes-based team will reveal their RB16B and, at the same time, they’ll present their brand-new drivers' line-up. With the fourth line up change in four consecutive seasons, Red Bull has opted to look outside their driver development program and sign the more experienced Sergio Perez.
The Mexican Checo Perez will be the first non-Red Bull junior to join the team since Mark Webber was signed to side with David Coulthard, in 2007. Every F1 team has their own development program, Red Bull's driver development system is perhaps the most ambitious in the world. Indeed, since Sebastian Vettel replaced Coulthard after the ladder retired from F1 at the end of 2008, Red Bull has only signed drivers that have been part of their network and that have been promoted from its Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri sister squad.
However, the English-based team is not renowned for its patience with newly-signed drivers. After the 32-year-old Daniel Ricciardo left Red Bull at the end of the 2018 season, the squad has quickly switched between Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, without giving the young drivers a real chance to adjust to the car and try closing the gap to Max Verstappen.
The Dutchman seems to be the only fixed point of the entire story – while his talent is apparent, Red Bull has been struggling to find a teammate capable of keeping up with him, either because the car is said to be particularly hard to drive, or because of the unsurmountable pressure the second driver needs to face.
After demoting the Thai-British driver Alex Albon to reserve and test driver for the 2021 season, it was Perez's experience, according to Horner, the deciding factor.
“It was a tremendously difficult decision, and one that we were fortunate to have time to be able to fully consider - the whole season in fact,” Horner told Motorsport.com in an exclusive interview.
The 2020 driver’s market was full of unexpected turns – the divorce between Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari started a domino effect. With the four-time World Champion joining the newly re-branded Aston Martin F1 team, leaving Sergio Perez without a seat, Red Bull couldn’t miss the opportunity – especially considering the incredible drives of the Mexican.
“And it's highly unusual for a driver of Sergio's quality and ability to be on the market.
“So, we just felt that we would be better placed putting in a more experienced driver alongside Max as we head into 2021.
“And, of course, he just brings a whole host of experience - of the podiums that he's achieved - and results that he's achieved in cars that have, until last year, been far from competitive.
Hola Checo! 😍 @SChecoPerez meets the Team on his first visit to the factory 🎥 Watch in full 👇— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) February 8, 2021
For the Team Principle, choosing a driver that is outside their development program was not a hazard – rather, it was a fully considered and grown-up decision.
“I've known Sergio a long time - he drove for my team in GP2 years ago [Arden International, in 2009], and I've always followed his career with interest.
“I think it was a mature choice to break out of our established routine and give Sergio a chance," Horner said.
"Especially in the latter part of the season. In 2020, Perez had his most successful season ever. He managed to win in the last race and eventually finished fourth in the championship. He has ten years of F1 experience, which is going to be valuable," Horner concluded.
Perez’s appointment will bring ten years’ worth of experience to the team – and, hopefully, he’ll be able to better deal with the expectations and the stress that other younger drivers succumbed to.