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In trying to win the battle, Sergio Perez might just lose the war

Despite being under contract with Red Bull for 2024, at the Mexico City Grand Prix Sergio Perez cut the figure of a driver who knew they had one final opportunity to win their home race

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Sergio Perez appears to have his priorities all wrong. This was none more evident than during the Mexico City Grand Prix – his home race in F1.

Perez F1 Mexico Red Bull Ricciardo
Sergio Perez misjudged his move around the outside of Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen at the start of the Mexico City Grand Prix. (Image Credit: @F1 on X)

After the first corner incident he induced ended his Sunday prematurely, Perez performed his broadcast media duties whilst the rest of the F1 field – save for Kevin Magnussen – waited for the red flag period to end.

Speaking to Rachel Brookes of Sky Sports F1, the 33-year-old provided a fascinating insight into his frame of mind. It was particularly revealing given the situation he currently finds himself in, whether he or Red Bull are willing to admit it. And herein lies the problem for Perez.

“I had a tremendous start. Like you said, the gap was there,” he began.

“And if I’m being honest, since I was starting the race, I would be really disappointed to be on the podium today knowing I had the chance to go for the lead and I didn’t took it. So, I just went for it.”

It was an all-or-nothing approach, and it didn’t pay off. In response to Perez, Brookes invoked Ayrton Senna and his belief that if there’s a gap, you go for it.

“Especially at your home grand prix, and especially being two times in a row in the podium. Yeah, I just wanted to give it all and I went totally for it,” Perez replied.

“I’m very sad with the end result because on the first lap to end the race of your home grand prix, it’s definitely really sad. But on the other side, I am extremely proud of myself because I gave it all.”

A precarious position

The Mexican driver is coming under increasing pressure. His performances haven’t been good enough and Red Bull are right to expect more from him. He’s had periods of poor form before during his Red Bull tenure, but Perez has seldom been up to the level required since qualifying for the Miami Grand Prix, all the way back in early May.

It’s almost hard to believe he’s the same driver whose victory in Saudi Arabia launched a thousand think pieces. I too tried to weigh up whether Perez could challenge Max Verstappen for supremacy this season.

Red Bull don’t need, nor do they likely want, a partner for Verstappen who will go toe-to-toe with him or risk it all for a race win when a strong result is already on the table. But the team aren’t getting the return on investment they mandate, even when Perez isn’t taking unnecessary chances.

Since before the summer break, the security of his contract-guaranteed Red Bull seat has come under question. Ever since Nyck de Vries was fired by AlphaTauri and replaced by Daniel Ricciardo, the likelihood of Perez being able to hold on for 2024 has diminished considerably. The speculation has barely relented since. And that is entirely of Perez’s own doing.

As impressive as Yuki Tsunoda has been at points this season, he’s not ready to step up yet. Liam Lawson did a fantastic job in his five-race slate as cover for the injured Daniel Ricciardo, but he’s some way from being ready for the senior team. So, it falls to the experienced Australian to lead the pursuit of the highly-coveted second Red Bull seat.

One step forward, two steps back

Despite qualifying P5 in Mexico, Perez was just +0.160 of a second off teammate Verstappen in P3 – a far better performance than has been seen from him of late, or he’s been given credit for.

The problem, however, was that it was Ricciardo in the AlphaTauri that split the pair, in P4. Not a good look for Perez, and further evidence that the Honeybadger has still got it.

This was then compounded by the mistake that led to his retirement at turn one. Over-zealous, needlessly opportunistic, and really quite unrealistic.

It was a risk he didn’t need to take and it was a poorly executed one at that – there was much more space to find around the outside. The Stewards were right to declare it a racing incident, but Perez should have consolidated his superb start and settled into the race from there. Taking a podium having started P5 would have done him wonders at Red Bull.

But Perez wanted it too much; his desire to win his home grand prix clouded his judgement. Going for broke in that manner was tantamount to the tail wagging the dog. It was shortsighted and I can’t help but feel it might end up costing him in the long run. If it hasn’t done so already.

By contrast, Ricciardo drove a measured and controlled race, fending off those behind to only drop back to P7. In doing so, he secured a critical haul of points for AlphaTauri, lifting the team from the foot of the constructors’ table to P8. That alone could be worth millions of dollars.

Writing on the wall

I’m not going to dignify the Fernando Alonso to Red Bull rumour with more attention than this sentence within – for now, at least. But could plans for Ricciardo to assume his old seat already be in place?

The way Perez approached the first corner, and how he interviewed after his exit from the race, gives the impression of a driver consigned to his fate, who had one last shot at winning the Mexico City Grand Prix in race-winning machinery.

He might not be headed for retirement, but he didn’t sound like a man who’d have the very same opportunity this time next year.

After the Qatar Grand Prix, I pointed out the change in tone from Red Bull towards Perez. However, it seems to have shifted back to the well-trodden path of supporting him publically, regardless of what might be being said behind closed doors.

Christian Horner defended Perez’s move around the outside of turn one. Might it be that there’s nothing to gain from putting another nail in a coffin that’s already nailed shut?

Red Bull still insist that Perez will be racing for them in 2024, and we have to take them at their word until told otherwise.

But what remains interesting, is that we’re seeing the gradual softening of Red Bull’s language towards the situation.

As first, it was very much “Sergio will be driving for us in 2024” – or words to that effect. Then it became that he was “under contract” for next season. Now, it’s their “intention” for Perez to be in the car.

Slowly, but surely, Red Bull are baking in room to manoeuvre whilst retaining plausible deniability. The word “intention” only comes out when there’s good reason to question the veracity of that claim.

But either way, if Perez is to arrest his current slide and shore up his position within the team, he might be better served opting for guaranteed solid over potentially spectacular, because in his pursuit of winning the battle, he’s weakened himself for the ensuing war.

Featured Image Credit: @SChecoPerez on X

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