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F1 season review: Sergio Perez sinks his own Titanic

The Mexican endured a torrid season, while his teammate broke multiple records

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In a season to forget, securing second place in the standings will be a relief to Sergio Perez. 

Sergio Perez battles Kevin Magnussen in Japan (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Sergio Perez battles Kevin Magnussen in Japan (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)

Perez sailed on his own Titanic in 2023. Arriving in Bahrain, it quickly became clear that his RB19 would be unbeatable. While rivals looked on in envy, Perez found himself in F1’s best seat. It seemed the perfect scenario, the equivalent of the great ship leaving the port, with the lucky few onboard dumbfounded at their luck.

However, what should have been a dream season in one of F1’s all-time best cars became a nightmare. While teammate Max Verstappen dominated the sport, breaking record after record, Perez clung on for dear life after sinking his own ship and watching his season slip away from underneath him.

Despite a strong start, Perez’s season became a disaster in slow motion. Accidents, poor performance, and penalty points galore defined his season. He salvaged P2 in the standings by the end of the season, but losing it became a real possibility during the closing races of 2023.

The winter break will provide Perez with a much-needed recovery from this year. Driving against a ruthless and in-form Verstappen has taken its toll, with questions raised over his seat’s security for 2024. The season, however, had started with hope and belief.

False sense of security
Sergio Perez celebrates winning in Baku, his second and final victory of 2023 (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Sergio Perez celebrates winning in Baku, his second and final victory of 2023 (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)

Perez knew 2023 would be his best chance yet at taking the title after testing. Qualifying within a tenth of a second of Verstappen to take P2 at the season opener in Bahrain showed promise. Finishing 11 seconds behind the Dutchman showed the height of the mountain that Perez needed to climb. But the Mexican cut a relaxed figure after the race, believing he could match and beat Verstappen.

Saudi Arabia became emphatic proof of Perez’s intentions. Capitalising on a driveshaft failure for Verstappen in qualifying to take pole position, Perez comfortably converted this into a convincing victory.

While luck had played its part, Perez had grabbed his (red) bull by the horns to open his victory account for 2023. Although intra-team, it seemed like F1 had a battle for the title on its hands.

Unfortunately, Perez threw away any chance of back-to-back victories when F1 rocked up in Australia. Locking up at turn three in qualifying, he slid into the gravel and beached his Red Bull. Starting from the pit lane, he recovered to P5 while Verstappen took victory.

Consistency is critical when looking to put together a championship fight. This crash was the first blip in Perez’s season; bouncing back in Baku would be essential to save his season.

Baku became the strongest race in Perez’s season. Winning the sprint race on Saturday set him up perfectly for the Grand Prix win on Sunday. Victory was fought the hard way in a race-long duel with Verstappen. Perez pushed and defended hard, employing every tactic to keep his teammate behind him. A true statement of intent, he hoped to continue this form for the rest of the season.

However, an iceberg waited in the shadows, and Perez was on a collision course.

Miami – the mortal wound
Sergio Perez struggled to match the pace of his teammate in Miami (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Sergio Perez struggled to match the pace of his teammate in Miami (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)

F1’s first hype race of the season started well for Perez, raising further hope of a sustained championship challenge. While Verstappen threw away his laps and ended up P9, Perez stormed to pole position.

This was a pole position on merit, an example of delivering under pressure, a crucial trait when fighting for a world championship. Critics, at least for now, had been silenced.

However, hopes Perez could challenge Verstappen in 2023 had all but evaporated by the end of the Miami Grand Prix. While the Mexican enjoyed a good start and pulled away, Verstappen took P2 by lap 15 and started to close down Perez rapidly despite being on hard compound tyres.

Perez pitted first and pushed hard on his new tyres but could not catch his teammate. Perez retook the lead on lap 45 when Verstappen finally stopped, but was demoted to P2 just three laps later. A dejected Perez took to the podium, knowing he had been firmly beaten on track. His confidence took a hit, and this became the first of many low points during 2023.

Miami is known as the race where Perez’s season fell apart. The Mexican never truly recovered from this race.

The ship begins to sink
Sergio Perez crashes out of qualifying in Monaco (Image Credit:
Sergio Perez crashes out of qualifying in Monaco (Image Credit:

The next round revealed how badly his ship was wounded, beginning to sink fast. Pushing too hard into Saint Devote in Monte Carlo, Perez hit the barrier and qualified in Monaco’s least desirable grid spot: last place. He lacked pace in the race and finished P16, two laps down. A year on from his flawless win the principality, Perez had floundered.

Another qualifying disaster in Spain saw him line up P11 on the grid while Verstappen took another pole position. P4 was salvaged, but by now, his championship hopes had started to wane.

In a disastrous run, Perez failed to reach Q3 for five successive races. Visiting the podium only once during this period, his pace had fallen off a cliff. The Mexican looked crestfallen throughout his run of bad luck and poor performance.

He reached Q3 in Hungary but only managed P9 in qualifying. He valiantly fought through the field during the race and secured P3. His teammate won by nearly forty seconds, but this was a good foundation to build on when F1 returned after the summer break. Consistency improved, and Perez took two podiums in four races.

But misfortune never seemed far away, and the Mexican endured another slump in qualifying performance. At its worst, the gap to Verstappen in qualifying was 1.4 seconds, seen in Zandvoort. Singapore, Japan and Qatar were disastrous, securing just three points across all three rounds.

Japan in particular showcased his difficulties, retiring twice from the same race and incurring multiple time penalties for collisions and Safety Car infringements.

The consequence of his bad run created a new problem to deal with. The relentless consistency of Lewis Hamilton had brought the seven-time world champion within striking distance of Perez’s second place in the standings. Although able to rebuff this, only one more podium followed for the rest of the season.

What caused Perez’s season to collapse?
Sergio Perez in conversation with Christian Horner ahead of qualifying at Monza (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Sergio Perez in conversation with Christian Horner ahead of qualifying at Monza (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)

Perez’s ship sank dramatically in Miami, just one race after he had dominated the entire weekend in Baku. Winning the sprint race, then the Grand Prix, became his season’s high point.

But Red Bull is a ruthlessly efficient environment, and a wounded Verstappen is equally or even more dangerous than an in-form one. Verstappen shook off his qualifying issues in Miami and outclassed Perez on race day. From this point on, his season fell apart.

Red Bull publicly backed its driver through his challenging run until qualifying in Austria. Having had both his Q2 laps deleted for exceeding track limits, Christian Horner voiced his displeasure, stating to the media Perez needed “to stay in the white lines”.

Helmut Marko attracted criticism and controversy when he suggested Perez’s “South American heritage” meant he lacked focus. Neither of these statements indicate a supportive environment, despite Marko and Perez attempting to show unity in the media.

Perez has also taken responsibility, admitting that he did not quickly adapt to the RB19’s upgrades during the year. The pressure of partnering Verstappen and a run of poor form left Perez in a steep decline, his ship sinking lower and lower the more he tried to stay afloat. He racked up seven penalty points in 2023, the most of any driver on the grid.

His do-or-die move at the first corner of his Mexico home race highlighted his season. Needing to fight back after a run of poor performances and public rebuttals, he pushed too hard too soon and ruined a chance of a good result.

With Daniel Ricciardo waiting in the wings to take the seat he vacated in 2018, Perez will need a much stronger season to remain at Red Bull. Christian Horner says it is his seat to lose. 2024 is crunch time for Perez. He needs consistency, or he will likely lose his seat.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10 

Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images 

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