Amid much anticipation, Red Bull Racing announced on Friday that Sergio Perez will be replacing Alex Albon at the Milton Keynes-based team next season.
This came off the back of Albon having a lacklustre season in which, despite having the second-fastest car on the grid, he often ended up battling in the midfield and didn’t finish a single grand prix ahead of Verstappen (not counting the races which the Dutch ace retired from.)
As for Perez, 2020 was his strongest season in Formula One, with him making the most of having the third-fastest car and managing to finish fourth in the Drivers’ Standings despite him missing the two grand prix at Silverstone after contracting COVID-19 and retiring from several races due to mechanical failures on his RP20.
In their Friday announcement, Red Bull only said that Perez would be joining them for 2021 while Albon will become their reserve and test driver, so it’s unclear how long the Mexican will be at the team.
It’s likely that, at this point, even Red Bull don’t know how long they will retain Perez.
The contract he signed earlier this week is almost certainly a one-year deal, as this gives Red Bull a chance to see how he stacks up against Max Verstappen but still gives them the freedom to bring in another driver at the end of 2021.
After all, it’s unlikely that Red Bull has completely turned its back on its driver development programme – and Christian Horner and Dr Helmut Marko may feel that Albon or Pierre Gasly deserve another shot in 2022, though I wouldn’t bet on this.
Yuki Tsunoda, who will drive for Scuderia AlphaTauri next year, could be fast-tracked to Red Bull after a single season in Formula One if he impresses, though the team will be careful to avoid promoting him too soon, as they did with Albon and Gasly.
Of course, if Sergio Perez performs well next year – by either consistently finishing just behind Verstappen or even outperforming him – then there won’t be much reason to replace him, so it is possible that he could partner Verstappen for several years.
Alternatively, if he doesn’t perform well and Red Bull feel the other drivers in their talent pool aren’t ready to partner Verstappen, they could always look for another driver with F1 experience.
However, if Perez fails at Red Bull in a similar fashion to Gasly and Albon, it suggests that the team’s recent difficulty in finding a strong second driver is ultimately down to the Red Bull way of doing things, not the drivers they’ve signed and axed in quick succession.