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Formula 1

Perez doubt and Mercedes' Sainz hint throw F1 2025 curveballs

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
7 min read

Two curveballs have been thrown in Formula 1’s most erratic driver market in recent memory, as speculation over Sergio Perez’s Red Bull future has intensified and Carlos Sainz has been reminded he still has a top 2025 option after all.

An unusually unpredictable silly season seemed to have calmed down recently with Sainz the bottleneck in the final few decisions to set the 2025 grid.

But following last week’s emergence that Sainz was seriously considering the Alpine team again, not just Williams or Audi-owned Sauber, another option is back on the table: Mercedes.

Furthermore, what had boiled down to a choice of ‘Daniel Ricciardo or Liam Lawson?’ for Red Bull’s second team is now under scrutiny again as a doubt about Perez’s recent form has sparked further suggestion he could be dropped despite recently signing a new contract.

And that means topics that had died down a long time ago, publicly at least, have now been reignited.


The long-shot prospect of Perez getting dropped by Red Bull was raised by The Race last week, following comments from Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko about the need for RB to get back to serving a purpose as a training ground for Red Bull Racing as it did in its Toro Rosso days.

Sources close to Red Bull have indicated that the one-plus-one deal Perez has inevitably includes multiple clauses. And, given Red Bull has shown many times it is willing to drop drivers mid-season, most drivers under contract there could be seen to be on rolling one-race contracts in reality. Only Max Verstappen has true job security.

That demands a level of performance that Perez has not lived up to recently. But it would be wrong to say ‘since his new contract was announced’, after the Monaco Grand Prix, for his slump was already two races old by then.

As of Miami, which was not a stunning race by Perez but was the last time he finished in the top five, Perez was second in the championship, 33 points behind Verstappen.

Five races later and, in this run, Perez has a best result of seventh and has qualified in the top 10 just once. He’s scored just 14 points, fallen to fifth in the championship, and is 119 points adrift of his team-mate.

Fortunately for Red Bull, Ferrari - its closest championship rival - has stuttered in form. But Verstappen has been fighting single-handedly at the front and Red Bull has been quite comprehensively outscored by McLaren and Mercedes during Perez’s slump. That has rammed home the point that Red Bull does not have a car advantage that can carry an underperforming second driver.

This was already being alluded to last week in Austria, as it started to emerge that Perez was not as secure as his new deal would make it seem.

That it has now been stated much more emphatically by reputed German publication Auto Motor und Sport - and the implication there is that Marko has been speaking about it more openly - suggests that Red Bull is at least turning up the pressure.

Perez has at least responded by outpacing Verstappen and showing well in Friday practice at Silverstone despite missing FP1, although that will be irrelevant if a better qualifying performance does not follow on Saturday.


If Perez gets dropped, it potentially solves the other Red Bull driver problem that had emerged - how to choose between Ricciardo and Lawson for the final available seat.

That’s because it seems Ricciardo could put himself in pole position to get the promotion to Red Bull Racing after all, despite the door seemingly closing after a poor start to 2024, with Lawson then replacing him at RB.

Tsunoda is, quite clearly, not thought of highly enough by the Red Bull hierarchy. A reason has never been given for this despite impressing so much for RB over the last 12 months or so, with the kind of performance that would usually merit a promotion.

That points to off-track factors, and in Tsunoda’s case there are - justified or not - question marks about his attitude, approach and how he would handle being Verstappen’s team-mate.

This leaves the door open for Ricciardo to position himself as Perez’s successor. The problem there is that his overall season form so far does not really justify it.

“I've had a few little highs but as a whole it hasn't been what was probably expected and what I want from myself,” Ricciardo admitted last weekend.

“When you're not kicking arse, of course you're going to receive a little bit of harsh criticism. But at some times, it's probably blown [out of proportion].

“I don't think the gap has ever been, or rarely has it been, half a second or something to Yuki. Also he's been getting a lot of praise, so I'm not getting my arse kicked by someone that's not very fast. Everyone acknowledges he's got very good one-lap pace.”

But recently, Ricciardo has been stronger.

Since a particularly worrying three-race opening spell, Ricciardo and Tsunoda are evenly split in terms of who was the outright fastest driver each weekend. Tsunoda’s converted that into better qualifying and race results overall but Ricciardo has fared better than some might think. He has beaten Tsunoda in each of the last three races, and scored points twice in that run while Tsunoda hasn’t scored at all.

Marko said that by the summer break, Red Bull will have a better idea of its situation. That implies it will have a more complete sample set of not only how much Perez is struggling but whether Ricciardo has demonstrably established himself as a legitimate alternative.


If Red Bull really is rethinking its driver plan for 2025 then the obvious candidate would be out-of-contract Sainz, who has been hesitant to decide between underwhelming options: Alpine, Williams and Sauber/Audi.

But Red Bull does not want to pair Sainz with Verstappen. The two were team-mates at Toro Rosso as F1 rookies and as is widely known, the presence of their fathers created significant tension within the team. Red Bull has no interest in reprising that now.

So Sainz is a no-go. But there is a possible door open to a top team after all.

Technically, Mercedes never closed it on Sainz in the first place. It just seemed to be leaning towards its protege Kimi Antonelli - if it didn’t succeed in somehow tempting Verstappen away from Red Bull, given that is such a long-running saga in itself.

It was the Sainz camp that seemed to dismiss Mercedes as an option given the circumstances. Sainz wanted to decide much sooner than Mercedes, given it could afford to wait until the very end of the year to judge Antonelli properly.

But whether it is the fact he has mediocre options, or that Mercedes is now more likely to offer a short-term deal that can keep Sainz in play a little longer at the sharp end of the grid, it seems that Sainz has a good option in play again.

Antonelli’s instant F1 graduation is not nailed on, and a difficult rookie Formula 2 season for the 17-year-old is still throwing up challenges. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has dangled the carrot at Silverstone, where he was asked about Antonelli in the context of comments he made to Spanish media stating Sainz was still an option.

“He has a lot of pressure,” Wolff said of Antonelli. “He’s been talked about a lot.

“His junior formula and go-karting track record is one of a kind. And it’s clear that the pressure ramps up. But it’s like his father says, he needs to be thrown in the cold water and needs to swim. They are very clear about that.

“The driver market at the moment is quite a dynamic, interesting thing. Because some of the drivers have more options and some of the teams have more options.

“So, it’s interesting. And it’s like Bernie [Ecclestone, ex-F1 boss] said: last week I had an opinion, this week I have a different one.”

Sainz, who has admitted the situation around his future has been a drain on energy and focus outside of race weekends, has only reiterated this weekend that he is taking as much time as he can, “because it involves the outcome of the next few years of my life, so I think it's valid for me to give myself the time”.

Were Mercedes to sign Sainz, unlikely as it seems given Wolff could have just being diplomatic towards a driver and family he respects, it would mean a different path for Antonelli - either a second year in F2, or an apprenticeship at Williams (which has courted Sainz itself for so long).

Team boss James Vowles is still not ruling out replacing second driver Logan Sargeant before the end of 2024, let alone for 2025, saying “we’re continually evaluating it” and “we are open minded to things”.

In an answer about Williams’s own junior Franco Colapinto, who drove for the team in FP1 at Silverstone, Vowles also referenced young drivers being “burned” if they’re thrown into a car too soon-– something repeatedly referenced as a risk for Antonelli if he goes straight into a top team.

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