Perez offers timely reminder of his talents

Perez offers timely reminder of his talents

Evening all, and welcome to Monday. While it is not unusual for Monday to a be a slow and steady affair, today feels particularly tiresome. That might have something to do with the fact that we had our first post-COVID gathering at our place yesterday. What was meant to be a simple burger, chips and a few beers turned into a full-blown party involving board games and alcohol-fuelled charades. At one point I was on sliding around on the floor pretending to be the Little Mermaid (although I am told it was closer to a seal). Today, more than most, I am grateful for the fact that I work from home.

Before Sunday afternoon’s descent into hedonistic debauchery, I managed to catch the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi. It wasn’t a particularly eventful race. While it was nice to see someone other than Lewis Hamilton on the top step of the podium for a change, the circumstances leading to Valtteri Bottas’ victory did not exactly provide nail-biting drama. I am not going to discuss the validity or not of Hamilton’s 10-second penalty – handed out for his apparently illegal practice starts – because, as a fan and not a freak, I am not an expert on the fine-print of Formula One’s rulebook. It happened, the result is what it is, and I am perfectly happy to accept that the stewards followed the letter of the law.

Instead, I want to talk about Sergio Perez. After a poor getaway in Sochi, the Racing Point driver patiently worked his way back through the field and, after passing Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo brilliantly in Turn 4, finished in an impressive fourth place. It was yet another sterling performance from the Mexican and his best result since appearing on the podium in Baku in 2018. It was also a timely reminder of his considerable talents; as it stands Perez, one of the grid’s most experienced and consistent performers, does not have a drive for next season and will be out of Formula One. With a number of teams yet to confirm their 2021 driver lineup, the 30-year-old must surely be at the top of candidate lists up and down the paddock.

It has been a turbulent year for Perez so far. In August, he was forced to watch the pair of races at Silverstone from his hotel room in self-isolation after contracting coronavirus. Then, a few weeks after his return to the grid he was told by team boss Lawrence Stroll that his contract with Racing Point would be terminated at the end of 2020. Despite having signed to remain with the team until the end of 2021 at the earliest, Perez will be replaced at the Silverstone-based constructor by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Since moving to Mexico City in 2015, for obvious reasons I have started following Perez’ career with particular interest. But my Mexican bias not withstanding, I have to say I don’t understand Racing Point’s decision to replace him. With 188 Grand Prix, 8 podiums and 637 points to his name, Perez has considerable experience and pedigree. After an inconsistent start to his Formula One career, during which he was unceremoniously dumped after just one season by McLaren, he looks to have found his home at Racing Point. Since joining the team in 2014, he has finished in the top 10 in the driver’s championship every year, including career-best seventh-place finishes in 2016 and 2017. He is still relatively young for a Formula One driver and is improving all the time, recording nine consecutive points finishes across two seasons from Sochi in 2019 until Budapest this year.

As with all Formula One drivers, his record is perhaps best demonstrated when compared to that of his teammate. Since 2015, Perez has scored more points than his colleague in every year. In 2016 he beat Nico Hulkenberg, a highly-regarded driver in his own right, by 29 points. And in 2017 he trumped Esteban Ocon, one of the bright young stars of the sport, by 13 points. This term he is trailing current teammate Lance Stroll – son of boss Lawrence – by just one point despite having missed two of the races so far. Indeed in the two races we’ve had since the news broke that Perez would be leaving the team, the Mexican has finished in fifth and fourth positions while Stroll has crashed out of both. This despite the fact that Stroll has had a significant upgrade on his car that is yet to be provided for Perez. If Racing Point were deciding their driver lineup on performance alone, there would be no contest.

YearPerez pointsPerez’ teammateTeammate’s points
2020 (so far)56 Stroll57
Perez has consistently out-performed his teammates over the years

I can, however, understand a father supporting his son’s career, and in fairness Stroll the driver has improved markedly this year. What I can’t fathom is the choice of Vettel over Perez. I know that the German won four consecutive world championships, but he was also driving by far and away the best car for each of those years. And, more importantly, Vettel has failed to reproduce that kind of form since the last of his titles in 2013. He was comfortably beaten by Ricciardo in 2014 and again by Charles Leclerc last year. He has made so many mistakes in the past three of four years it would take a dozen posts to cover them all.

Moreover, it’s not as if Vettel has shown signs of a return to form this season. Languishing in 13th place with just 17 points – 40 fewer than teammate Leclerc – the German has looked tired, unmotivated and a shadow of his former self. At 33 years old, why do Racing Point think that he will suddenly find the speed and consistency that has been lacking for seven years? At what point will his former achievements cease to be relevant? To my mind, the team has plumped for an ageing driver whose talents are on the wane over a consistent and improving performer who is just about to come into his prime.

So where might Perez go? Well, he is being linked with both Alfa Romeo and Haas. But while the Mexican would walk into either team, his talents deserve better than to be at the back of the grid. One option further up the field could be Red Bull. Alex Albon has struggled this year and Perez would provide the perfect consistent points-scoring foil for Max Verstappen’s maverick brilliance. However, the Austrian team have a strict modus operandi and it would be very unusual for them to sign a driver in his 30s from outside their internal development program.

In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of months. Perez is far too good to be relegated to a back-marker or even out of Formula One altogether, but with the politics that tends to govern the sport these days, nothing would surprise me.

Right, I think I’ll leave it there for today. I’m off to sleep for as long as humanly possible. Thanks as always for the support – I’ll be back on Wednesday with some more words for y’all.

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