Sergio Perez Is in a Good Place

formula 1 testing in bahrain day one
Sergio Perez Is in a Good PlaceMark Thompson - Getty Images

Sergio Perez had to fight to get here. Years in the midfield, including a one-season stint at McLaren that should have been his chance to fight for wins but quickly soured, seemingly left Perez on the wrong side of Formula 1's balance of power for the rest of his career. All that changed when he won at Bahrain with Racing Point near the end of the 2020 season, securing a lucrative role as Red Bull's second driver. Now, Perez factors into the fight for the win on a weekly basis.

This is the nineteenth installment of our driver-by-driver preview of the 2023 Formula 1 season. This weekend, we will be covering Red Bull. You can find the rest of our previews here.

Perez has a strange role, though. His job is unequivocally to back up Max Verstappen in his pursuit of wins and championships, to strike when Verstappen is unable, and to keep Red Bull in the fight for constructor's titles. It may not be a dream gig, but Perez has certainly lived up to expectations through two years.

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Perez came to F1 with relatively little fanfare. His first few seasons in cars were unspectacular and he did not put up a meaningful season result in international competition until he finished second in the 2010 GP2 Series. That got him to Sauber for 2011, beginning one of the strangest careers in the sport.

Perez had highlight races for two years at Sauber. That led him to an unexpected call-up to McLaren, as a direct replacement for Lewis Hamilton. Unfortunately for him, this was the year McLaren fell from glory; he actually finished one spot lower than he did the year prior with Sauber and was pushed out of the ride for Kevin Magnussen.

He instead landed at Force India, then a consistently strong mid-pack team. He stayed there, as a great driver on a strong mid-pack team, for five years before it was sold to Canadian businessman Lawrence Stroll. That led the team to great heights in a surprisingly excellent 2020 as Racing Point, but it led Perez into a situation where his once-stable ride disappeared overnight when the team signed Sebastian Vettel for 2021.

Fortunately for him, his landing spot was an even better program. Perez, for the second time in his career, landed at a contender he had never been affiliated with before entirely off the power of his finishes in races for a mid-pack team. He has since won three more times with Red Bull.

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Anadolu Agency - Getty Images


Unlike 2021, Max Verstappen's road to the 2022 world driver's championship was smooth by May. That left Perez an open road to fight for wins of his own on occasion. Perez was able to earn two, including a career highlight victory at Monaco after Ferrari erroneously called Charles Leclerc into the pit lane too early. With Red Bull already so clear of Mercedes and Ferrari in the constructor's championship, Perez was not needed in any late-season strategizing. He sailed to a respectable third in the season standings, signing an extension with the team through 2024 along the way.

formula 1 testing in bahrain day three
Mark Thompson - Getty Images


If 2023 is as easy for Red Bull as 2022 turned out to be by mid-season, Perez will have another year of smooth sailing. This is an unlikely result. Both Mercedes and Ferrari are once again convinced that they will be able to win titles this year, and both are throwing everything at a fully-leveraged shot to win the championships Red Bull is defending. It is much more likely that at least one of the two, or another outside party, is able to put up a weekly fight than it is that Red Bull once again sails away with both titles.

That means Perez needs to stay ready for a fight. If Verstappen is leading, it is his job to finish second and hold off the other contenders. If Verstappen fades mid-race, it is his job to go out and beat those other teams to the win. If Red Bull is behind at a given track, it is his job to score respectable points and potentially cede a spot to Verstappen late. He may be asked to steal fastest laps with final runs or to pit off-strategy to cover the team's bases in a race where tire wear comes into play. These are the jobs of a second driver. Fortunately for Perez, he is a second driver at the team that has dominated the only season run in this new ground effects rule set to date.

formula 1 testing in bahrain day two
Clive Mason - Getty Images


From the job description, a successful season for Perez is one in which both Verstappen and Red Bull win their respective championships. He would be more than happy to win a title of his own like Nico Rosberg did in 2016, by staying within reach of his teammate early and fighting to win on his own after the team separates itself late, but those opportunities are few and far between for established second drivers. A realistic good year is one in which he again wins multiple races, again scores a healthy handful of podiums, and maybe gets another contract extension to stay in this role past 2024.

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