Red Bull options to axe Sergio Perez for 2025, Daniel Ricciardo, Yuki Tsunoda, Liam Lawson

Sportem
Sportem
17 Min Read

Christian Horner has talked a good game on Sergio Pérez over the last 18 months, even as the Mexican’s form has wavered and dipped.

This week his mask slipped.

After Pérez’s third scoreless grand prix in five rounds, in which time he’s returned a minuscule 15 points, Horner saw fit to finally put the Mexican on notice.

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“He knows it’s unsustainable to not be scoring points,” he said.

“We have to be scoring points in that car, and he knows that. He knows his role and his target.

“Of course he’s under pressure — that’s normal in Formula 1 — and when you’re underdelivering, that pressure only mounts.

“He’s aware of that. He knows that.”

It’s the first time Horner has suggested Pérez has specific targets to meet, appearing to validate the belief that even Pérez’s new two-year deal starting in 2025 is linked to his results this season.

It’s also opened a new front in an increasingly chaotic driver market.

PIT TALK PODCAST: After a sixth consecutive poor weekend performance, Red Bull Racing is readying the nuclear option to replace Sergio Perez at the midseason break. Who could be in line to replace him at the title-winning team?

WHY NOW?

The most direct public criticism of Pérez this year has been triggered by a stunningly poor run of form.

A Fox Sports analysis of Pérez’s key performance indicators ahead of the British Grand Prix revealed him to be the worst performing teammate in Formula 1 by almost every metric.

Pérez’s Silverstone disaster made those numbers only more severe relative to teammate Max Verstappen.

Sergio Pérez season averages, British Grand Prix

Qualifying result: 8.3 average (▼ 1.0)

Qualifying differential: 6.4 places behind Verstappen (▼ 0.8) (rank: 20th)

Time differential: 0.486 seconds behind Verstappen (rank: 20th)

Race result: 5.8 average (▼ 1.2)

Race differential: 4.2 places behind Verstappen (▼ 1.3) (rank: 20th, ▼ 1)

Points: 137 points behind Verstappen (outscored 2.16:1; rank: 18th, ▼ 1)

Only Kevin Magnussen and the scoreless Logan Sargeant are being outscored by their teammates at a higher rate than Pérez. Neither is expected to be on the grid in 2025.

That statistic is particularly galling for Red Bull Racing given the precarious status of its constructors championship defence.

Last year Verstappen scored enough points to win the teams title all on his own. Pérez was easily carried through his form slump.

This year, however, McLaren, Mercedes and perhaps even Ferrari are serious threats. All three teams have won races, and over the last five rounds the top four teams have been within 0.315 seconds of each other in the battle for pole.

In the last six rounds Pérez has been heavily outscored by all his fellow top-eight drivers. In fact his slump has been so bad that even Haas driver Nico Hülkenberg has outscored him over that time.

Constructors championship, last six rounds

1. McLaren: 171 points

2. Mercedes: 157 points

3. Red Bull Racing: 134 points

4. Ferrari: 115 points

The above shows McLaren is outscoring Red Bull Racing by 6.2 points per race.

Red Bull Racing leads McLaren by 78 points in the constructors standings.

If McLaren continues outscoring RBR at the same rate, it will gain 74 points on the lead by the end of the season.

When you consider McLaren has failed to capitalise on chances to win races in this period, it’s even tighter than it looks. Arguably McLaren is favourite on current form to claim the championship.

Continuing to carry Pérez is therefore no longer sustainable.

The nuclear option is now under active consideration, with a growing belief that only an immediate and substantial turnaround in form in the two races before the mid-season break can save him from the axe.

But even then, how could you trust such a bounce to be sustainable given Pérez has an established pattern of mid-year underperformance?

So the only question for Red Bull Racing — and it’s a tricky one — is: who should replace him?

Norris sent painful reminder by Hamilton | 00:35

YUKI TSUNODA: THE OBVIOUS CANDIDATE

Were this 2018, when Daniel Ricciardo walked out of the team, Yuki Tsunoda would surely be having his measurements taken for his Red Bull Racing overalls.

The Japanese ace has come of age in 2024. Gone is the inconsistency and banished are the attitude issues that coloured his early years.

This year’s there’s been only one blip in an otherwise flawless campaign — his silly post-race dive-bomb on Ricciardo following an episode of team orders.

But the subsequent criticism appears to have been the last piece in the puzzle. Ever since he’s been in sparkling form.

That would’ve been more than enough for Red Bull Racing once upon a time, when it used to throw drivers in the deep end to see if they’d swim.

Not anymore, however.

His early years seem to have seared into minds at Red Bull Racing such that Tsunoda has never appeared as a serious candidate for the other seat.

That said, perhaps the unusual circumstances of this season will be what earn him his break.

Tsunoda could surely do no worse than Pérez. In fact even now, in a markedly slower car, he’s outqualified Pérez 4-2 over the last six weekends.

Surely it might as well back the driver it’s supported all these years to have a go at fulfilling his potential.

Lewis tears up after Silverstone triumph | 02:15

DANIEL RICCIARDO: A SAFE PAIR OF HANDS

But with few expecting an about-face on Tsunoda, Daniel Ricciardo becomes the obvious choice.

He was placed in Faenza specifically as an insurance policy for another Pérez form slump. While he hasn’t performed at a level that makes the switch compelling — notwithstanding recent improvements — like Tsunoda, he’s still done better than Pérez anyway, having likewise outqualified the Mexican 4-2 in the last six rounds.

And there must be some element of this opportunity that tantalises Red Bull Racing. The team knows he has race-winning speed in there somewhere — after all, he’s back in F1 because the team glimpsed it first-hand both in the simulator and on track in a tyre test this time last year — and to unlock it would mean a long-term answer to the line-up conundrum it’s had ever since he left at the end of 2018.

Ricciardo believes he can get there. He’s long claimed, dating back to his McLaren struggles, that he doesn’t miss when he has a winning car. He regularly says that he’s more competitive in a car that’s capable of greater things than minor points, as self-evident as that sounds.

Of course any Formula 1 driver would say the same, but there’s something to be said for the fact that even during his years of struggle, it’s almost always been him, not his teammates, who have claimed the biggest results.

He won McLaren’s only race of his two years at Woking on that famous day in Italy in 2021.

Even at the following race in Russia, at which teammate Lando Norris took pole and almost victory, Ricciardo finished a competitive fourth, his next-best full grand prix result in orange.

The same is true at RB. Its highest finish last year was his seventh in Mexico City, having qualified an impressive fourth on a weekend the car was in its sweet spot.

This year he qualified and finished a remarkable fourth in the Miami sprint. His fifth on the grid in Canada is the team’s best grand prix qualifying result, and it could’ve turned into more than eighth without the jump start penalty due to a clutch problem.

What could he do with the race-winning RB20?

Ricciardo has some clear advantages over Tsunoda too.

He knows Red Bull Racing intimately from his five years with the team in 2014–18. He’s raced alongside Verstappen. Except for some dark days with a difficult McLaren, there have been no real question marks around his mental fortitude in the heat of competition.

With Ricciardo the team would know what it’s getting. He’d be the safest set of hands and the surest bet.

Music legend denies Brundle… TWICE | 01:04

LIAM LAWSON: THE DESERVING ROOKIE

Hype around a possible Lawson straight promotion was recently boosted with the revelation the Kiwi is set for a 200-kilometre aero test — dressed up as a filming day — at Silverstone this week.

He’ll also reportedly test a 2022 car in Imola later this month.

These are similar circumstances to those that got Ricciardo the nod this time last year.

There’s speculation some impressive showings could see him swap directly into Pérez’s seat.

If Red Bull Racing is unconvinced about Tsunoda and unsold on Ricciardo’s comeback, then subbing in the most senior driver in its academy — and one who did so well in his five-race cameo last season — sounds worth a gamble, particularly if he were guaranteed 2025 to really get his feet under the desk.

But as much as it would be refreshing to see the Red Bull program return to its days of aggressive driver management, it should pause before rushing Lawson into the seat.

It wouldn’t be the first time it based a contract on a small sample size of races and got burnt.

Pierre Gasly had one reasonable season at Toro Rosso before getting his RBR chance in 2019. He lasted six months.

Alex Albon replaced him after just 12 races at Toro Rosso. He lasted slightly longer and was axed the following season.

De Vries got the nod at AlphaTauri last year based on a single stand-in performance at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix. He was canned after 10 grands prix.

Lawson was impressive in his five races, but is that really enough to go straight to the front?

Consider too the context. He’ll be replacing Pérez halfway through the year explicitly to save Red Bull Racing’s constructors championship defence at a time the team no longer has a definitive pace advantage, and he’ll have to race some of the sport’s most highly rated competitors to do it.

Even if he has the potential to succeed, asking him to do so immediately risks burning him before his career really gets going.

Lawson to RB, however, would make more sense — if one of Ricciardo or Tsunoda moved to Milton Keynes.

Under pressure Perez crashes out | 01:12

WHAT’S THE LONG-TERM PLAY?

Perhaps the bigger question is: what does Red Bull Racing need to get out of any line-up change?

Pérez seems almost certain to lose his seat, whether in the middle of the season or at the end of the year — ironically before his new two-year contract even starts. Only a truly spectacular return to form could possibly save him.

Red Bull often talks up how all four of its drivers are fundamentally on the same contract, allowing them to be switched around at will.

Perhaps the decision should be seen as two questions.

First: who’s best placed to save the constructors championship?

Second: who’s the best long-term bet at Red Bull Racing?

Switching Ricciardo to the senior team for the last 10 rounds of the year might best satisfy the first question. He’d most likely do enough to save the title.

Then if he were to perform strongly, he’d stay in 2025. If were to look lacklustre, he’d be flicked.

Meanwhile, his seat at RB could be taken by Lawson, who’d make his long-awaited full-time debut and get a nice run-up to 2025.

He’d also safeguard against Ricciardo underperforming in the last 10 races of this season. If he were to struggle, Lawson could then make a smoother transition to the senior team in 2025, having completed half a season of grand prix racing.

That in turn would make space potentially for Isack Hadjar, the Red Bull junior currently leading the Formula 2 championship and who took over Pérez’s car for FP1 in Silverstone.

If he wins the F2 title, he won’t be allowed to compete in the series again. The 19-year-old’s timing might end up being perfect.

Alternatively, Pérez, could see out the rest of the year at RB, where he might even recover some confidence and help the team continue its upwards trajectory this year. That might also allow Red Bull to save some face for having re-signed him far too hastily this season.

Lawson could then replace him — or Ricciardo, depending on who ends up as the weakest link at the end of the year — in 2025, with Hadjar either recontesting F2 or moving to Super Formula in Japan for an interim year.

There are of course wildcards in the mix, with Red Bull Racing no obliged to fish from its own pond.

Carlos Sainz comes to mind. The Spaniard is continuing to delay a decision on his future in the hope of snagging an unexpected frontrunning seat. Tension between him and Verstappen — or, more accurately, Carlos Sainz Sr and Jos Verstappen — could prove too unpalatable, however, particularly given the volatile relationship with the Dutch camp this year.

It’s less easy to imagine free agents like Esteban Ocon or Valtteri Bottas getting tapped on the shoulder.

There’s no obvious solution to Red Bull Racing’s dilemma, but it’s clear something will have to change sooner rather than later.

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