Not once in his FORMULA 1 career had Sergio Perez broken into the top-five where it concerns the Driver Standings, which is precisely where 2020 changed it all. At the completion of seventeen awe-inspiring, endlessly-thrilling FORMULA 1 Grands Prix contests, as one looked at the top five there was this name that most regard but none had hitherto been able to see drawing level with the best.
Whilst he may not have made it to the top three as, well business as usual dictated a Hamilton, Bottas, and Verstappen show, Sergio Perez landed himself on P4.
Not too bad for a driver who, let’s face facts, a little over a fortnight ago, had literally no place to go in FORMULA 1.
So the news that the soon-to-be 31 mild-mannered Mexican speed gun has been signed by Red Bull brings a massive sigh of relief and not just to the former Racing Point driver. But do not confuse, relief to legions of his fans who see in their ‘Checo’ an embodiment of the idea that the underdog too has his day.
Perhaps that is why one of the key things to look out for in the upcoming FORMULA 1 season- and this is life in the fast lane, a season ends only for the next to begin shortly after a quarter- is how might Sergio Perez fare in a Red Bull.
And while there’s little doubt about Perez’s experience and capacity to battle- he jumped from a P10 in 2019 straight to a P4 on the driver’s charts a year later- there’s the inevitable question he’ll have to face:
How will Sergio Perez square up against Max Verstappen?
Or should one say- just turn the tables and the question is right back at a driver who’s often loosely depicted as Mad Max?
But first up, a fact.
Max has been, up to this point, the blue-eyed boy or should one say the navy blue- given the car body colour- at the Red Bull stable.
Until 2019, with the possible exceptions being Albon’s fantastic efforts that culminated in two podiums, Max has been the go-to man at the stable.
Not much, unless we fans, observers, self-proclaimed FORMULA 1 experts are very much mistaken moves without Max Verstappen’s involvement in the decision making.
The team’s dynamics have been centred around the famous youngly force from The Netherlands. There’s little sense to create a layer of doubt too. Let’s not forget it was Max who clinched the Red Bull stable their maiden home win in 2019 by winning at the Spielberg-bound Austrian GP.
Who can forget the colossal battle that shaped in the final few laps between the only other man who seems to have developed a penchant for tackling Max’s marauding charge: Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc?
Max, as a matter of fact, also won the Mexican Grand Prix in 2017 only to defend his status as the modern-age conqueror of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
The only other driver to have won twice at Mexico is the very driver Verstappen, by his own admission, would love to beat hands down some day: seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton (2016, 2019).
And while he’s as brilliant as he is fierce, just the way he’s temperamental as he’s undaunted, it’s his no-holds-barred attitude that’s endeared Max to as many fans as bashers.
This is something that Sergio Perez would take note of.
It’s Max’s ability to push when few expect whilst also subject himself to self-capitulation.
Remember how pushing hard on the old compounds at Imola at the 2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix resulted in a retirement?
Having twice come closer to passing Bottas and in the process, pushing a bit too hard, Max, instead of practicing restraint conked off with a tyre-puncture on lap 50. Only thirteen laps were left to play for.
In the very same Grand Prix, Perez, who’d begun eleventh on the grid, finished with a respectable and hard-fought sixth.
So come 2021 while we could expect fireworks at Red Bull- as after a relatively subdued driver pairing of the calm-minded Albon and the fiery Verstappen- the Milton Keynes-outfit has anointed a rather interesting pairing.
This being an experienced man who drives like a maverick and a force who functions akin to a bull-run.
One wonders what can this chemistry lead Red Bull to?
To his credit, Perez shall function as a sorted man now that’s there’s no more confusion about where he might head- home or to a Grand Prix venue in 2021.
But make no error of judgement.
There could be a certain difficulty in adjusting at Red Bull too. Even as at Racing Point he was purely an experienced employee despite being older than Stroll, at Horner‘s outfit, whilst he brings unquestionable experience (191 race starts, 4 fastest laps, 10 podiums), he’ll have to perform from day 1.
Max will push him hard and shall, under no circumstances, play second-fiddle unless the powers that be in Horner and Marko decide to press him under the thumb.
But what purpose will that serve? Encourage both drivers and see the team move in the ‘right direction,’ as they say.
However, in reality, will managing an ebullient Max vis-a-vis a more experienced Perez be all that easy? Thankfully, none of us have to play judge or the adjudicator.
That said, here’s what’s pretty understandable.
Sergio Perez always needed a team that can give him a fairly stable machine to pack a punch and whilst the 2020 Racing Point (RP 20) was quick undoubtedly, the 2021 Red Bull machine could well be even quicker.
There’s this unbridled optimism too in that Honda- that’ll contest for one last time in the top annals of racing- would like to bow out with a bang.
So how about giving two brilliant drivers a car that can repeatedly push the most challenging irritant: Mercedes?
There’s some similarity too in Perez’ appointment at Red Bull if you think about it.
Even Mark Webber- who, in 2007 was 31- was nearly the same age as Perez (who’d be 31 come January) when he first jumped inside a Red Bull.
Where race craft is concerned, we know Perez doesn’t call it quits and gets the job done.
Remember in a season where it was, once again, Hammertime brilliance, it were forces like Perez who stood up and engineered priceless moments.
Who can ever forget the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix?
Surely not having a single win from no fewer than 190 GPs wasn’t the most exciting stat. But then nor was the fact that a driver who eventually won an enthralling contest had fallen to the rear of the field as early as the opening lap.
On to 2021, Checo. Go ahead, make your day!