Christian Horner explains decision to hire Sergio Perez for Red Bull as Max Verstappen and Mercedes F1 drivers speak on 2021 battle.
Though a poorly kept secret, the announcement that Perez would be filling Red Bull’s second seat in F1 2021 – alongside Max Verstappen – dominated headlines, after a silly season defined by this very storyline finally came to a head.
The story’s firm grasp on the news cycle was such that it commanded conversation at the FIA’s prize giving Gala, where the best-performing of the grid’s 20 drivers were presented with their various accolades, along with other champions.
Among those to discuss the matter were Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the former of whom says he provided input in the team’s decision to let go of Albon. Verstappen, though, confessed that his voice had little impact on the outcome.
“Of course we spoke about it and I just gave my honest opinion,” said Verstappen. “I think it was quite clear that throughout the whole year it was sometimes quite tricky for Alex – he’s a great guy, honestly, and I’m happy that he’s part of the team.
“But at the end of the day obviously it’s Helmut [Marko] and Christian [Horner] and Dietrich [Mateschitz] making the decisions. Of course I knew a bit before but at the end of the day, that doesn’t matter,” Verstappen said.
Though not indicating for whom he advocated, the Dutchman recognizsd his erstwhile teammate’s underperformance as potentially costly, and suggested that Perez may be able to be more consistently in contention than Albon has in the past.
A second car that is close to the first, he says, is particularly advantageous as it allows a team to ‘cover off’ strategies by F1 rivals. He only feels that Red Bull had the benefit of this in Abu Dhabi, when Albon was able to apply pressure to Mercedes from the rear.
“It’s more that we’ll have a second car which is capable of being up there as well the whole race and trying to put a bit of pressure [on],” continued Verstappen. “In Abu Dhabi I think at the end Alex was quite close. Most of the time Mercedes are trying to go for an extra [pit] stop or whatever and then I’m in more difficulties.
“It is because most of the year when we were quite competitive like this, I was the only car trying to beat them and trying to do something different. But they can always do the right strategy with one of them because they can obviously cover me with one car. So it was always a bit difficult to fight them,” he said, before expressing that he has high hopes for Perez, whose arrival, he had joked, would mean more tequila for the team.
“I hope that Checo will be the one first of all, of course, to push the whole team forward,” said Verstappen. “But also keep me on my toes, which is always nice, to have a team mate pushing you, it’s exciting. Then hopefully we can, with a bit more of a competitive car from the start, make it just a bit more interesting and difficult for [Mercedes] to make decisions.”
Mercedes driver Hamilton, too, warned that Perez’s arrival in the Milton Keynes F1 team increases the threat that they pose for precisely this reason. Though he did not specifically take note of any one season, the Brit likens it to when he was at McLaren in 2008, and his teammate Heikki Kovalainen was unable to match his performances.
It made for a dynamic similar to that seen at Red Bull in the past two seasons, he says. “With all due respect to Alex, in the races that we’ve had, it’s been me and Valtteri against Max,” said Hamilton. “I’ve been in the position that Max is in, particularly when I was at McLaren [in 2008], where I was the the lead car and the second car wasn’t in the fight.
“So when we were fighting against Ferrari, they could really move around with the strategy and make it a lot harder for us. So I think, naturally, this makes Red Bull stronger, particularly with the way Sergio’s performing. I think Sergio has driven incredibly well this year and truly deserved a drive.
“So I was so, so, so happy to hear that he’s been taken on by one of the top teams and given this opportunity. I think it’s going to be an exciting battle to watch him up against Max, and that’s going to make it much harder for us as a team. We’re going to have to really step up our game because that’s going to be a battle we’ve not seen for some time in terms of having the two drivers there fighting against us.
“But we relish that as a team. That’s what we work towards, we love the challenge and it’s going to make it that much more exciting,” Hamilton said, enthusiastic to take on the challenges of a two-pronged attack. Also of Mercedes, Bottas congratulated Perez, who faced retirement mere weeks ago.
“Definitely really happy for Sergio, I think he deserves a seat it in F1,” the Finn began. “And now he’s in one of the top teams. So that’s good news. And I have a feeling the competition with Red Bull will be maybe a bit tougher, but it’s only speculating at this point. So I guess we’ll see as we go for next year. But yeah, it should be interesting.”
The Mexican had long been tied to a Red Bull seat, but with each race public expectation shifted. A win in the Sakhir Grand Prix, though, is understood to have been one example of late-season form that motivated Red Bull to sign him.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner cites this form, and says that a “complete set of data” that the team had collected over the season reflected poorly on Albon. Such data was another motivator in the decision made by the team. He also notes, as was announced on Friday, that the Thau will remain with Red Bull, but in a reserve driver role.
In fact, Horner made it clear that Albon will be key driver for all of their tests, whether on-track for the tyres and or the simulator work towards 2022. They have yet to decide whether the Thai can make it back into the team. The Brit also revealed that he informed him about their decision on Friday itself, which was obvious disappointment for him.
“The decision has been an incredibly hard one,” said Horner to media including Motorsport Network, BBC, AMuS, Racefans.net, F1 and few more. “I think all of us wanted to see Alex succeed. What we said was that we would give Alex the season, and not make any decisions before, to have a complete set of data.
“But when you look at the data, and you look at the ratio between the two drivers, it was a decision that was obviously very much driven by that. It was just impossible to ignore Sergio’s performance in the Racing Point over the course of the year, and particularly, in the second half the season.
“So [it was] a very, very difficult decision, made even harder by the fact that Alex is a such a lovely guy. But he remains an important part of the team, and very much part of the team for 2021, focusing primarily on 2022 development. And, of course, he’ll be very focused in terms of making himself a contender to be back in 2022.”
With Yuki Tsunoda taking up AlphaTauri seat alongside Pierre Gasly, it became difficult for Red Bull to have a competitive seat for Albon. Elaborating more on the decision, Horner made it clear that Sebastian Vettel was not their choice, and that Nico Hulkenberg was thought about but with Perez being a free agent, it became hard to ignore him.
“No, here was no other,” said Horner, when asked about their choice and if Vettel was one of them. “There was a brief discussion with Nico Hulkenberg. But it’s really accelerated over the last month, I would say. It’s remarkable and, I mean, circumstances are a little crazy, aren’t they? Nico Hulkenberg is another capable driver that should really have a seat in F1.
“But it was our good fortune that Perez didn’t have a seat and that allowed us the time, without him having any other options that he could pursue as a race seat, to fulfil the season with Alex before making a decision,” summed up Horner.
Looking at the future, it is well known that Perez has had issues with teammates in the past, most notably with Esteban Ocon at Force India/Racing Point in 2017 and 2018. But Horner remains confident that the two will maintain a strong relationship. He adds that the Mexican is not entering the team overconfident.
“I think both parties are very realistic,” said Horner. “I think he knows the quality of Max. He’s a seasoned racer now. He has a huge amount of experience and I think he knows what he’s going up against in the quality of Max. He’s been in immense form in the last couple of years, so I don’t think he underestimates that challenge in any shape or form.
“I think we want our drivers racing close to each other, but up the sharp end. It’s clear our objective isn’t between the two drivers, it’s trying to close the gap to Mercedes. I think Perez raced for several seasons with Nico Hulkenberg and I don’t remember there being any issues between those two.
“Also, there was no candidate on the junior program that was suitable. So we decided to go outside of the program for the first time since 2007. It was impossible to ignore Sergio’s performance this year. I think he’s driven a great campaign. He’s been truly impressive, particularly in the second half of the season, and he’s earned the seat.
“We want to field the strongest team we can to take the fight to Mercedes, and you’ve got to do that with both cars. I think Perez has got the necessary amount of experience, brings a wealth of knowledge to the team as well, and I think will be a good teammate for Max next year,” summed up Horner.
After nearly 12 years we will work together again, mate. Thank You Christian Horner for this great opportunity.
Helmut Marko, I’m very happy and thankful for the confidence placed in me, I’m going to work very hard to help this team to bring one more Championship #givesyouwings👐 pic.twitter.com/j2cJarBLon
— Sergio Pérez (@SChecoPerez) December 19, 2020
Very happy for Checo. @SChecoPerez me alegro por ti cabron! 😂😉
— Carlos Sainz (@Carlossainz55) December 18, 2020
@SChecoPerez happy for you man, deservingly staying in F1.
— George Russell (@GeorgeRussell63) December 18, 2020
👏🏽Well done Redbull! https://t.co/t1tHAgf47J
— Jenson Button (@JensonButton) December 18, 2020
— Mario Andretti (@MarioAndretti) December 18, 2020
Going to be interesting, very pleased @SChecoPerez remains on the grid, he should be experienced/fast enough to handle the pressure of Mighty Max. Happy too @alex_albon is still very much in the game for the future, he’s better than he’s looked this year, as was Gasly last year. https://t.co/0WCCAA0LnZ
— Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1) December 18, 2020
— Giedo van der Garde (@GvanderGarde) December 18, 2020
Here’s news on Sergio Perez joining Red Bull
Here’s how the FIA Gala went