Red Bull’s stated “intention” of keeping Sergio Perez in 2024 leaves some wiggle room that is familiar in the context of recent Formula 1 driver decisions.
There would be no "intention" of anything if Red Bull was completely set on what to do. It would just be the reality. And though it is clear that Perez has a contract for next year, and Red Bull’s plan is to keep him - plans can change.
Heck, Daniel Ricciardo became a Red Bull/AlphaTauri driver this year after reaching a mutual agreement to prematurely end his 2023 McLaren contract, which he and McLaren spent a lot of 2022 saying would be honoured. Now Ricciardo is being widely framed as a rival to Perez's seat for 2024 let alone 2025.
Contracts can be honoured in different ways - Red Bull has shown that plenty of times itself. Either it moves a driver between its teams or the driver gets axed and presumably just paid off. Perez is just the latest to have a contract that is a clear indication of what should happen but is not actually a guarantee that it will.
When Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner speaks, he is presumably doing so from a position of authority, and his language is specific and intentional.
Horner has been explicit that Perez would not be dropped for, specifically, failing to finish second in the championship. He has been a fraction less convincing regarding Perez’s future being 100% set in stone.
After Perez crashed at the first corner of the Mexican Grand Prix, Horner was asked – for the second weekend in a row – if he will lose his drive if he doesn't beat Lewis Hamilton to finish second in the championship.
Horner replied: “It’s not as binary as that. You’ve got to look at the circumstances and so on and we’ve made a- Checo has an agreement with us for next year and that’s our intention, for him to be in the car in 2024.
“We’ll give him all the support we can to ensure that he finishes second but there’s no prerequisite that if he doesn’t finish second, you’re out.”
It is all quite clear. But the key language is that it is Red Bull’s intention for him to be in the car. A week previous in Austin Horner did intimate Perez’s place was certain but again the specific phrasing opens the door for interpretation. Is he 100% sure of being at the next year: “Yeah, he’s got our full commitment and full support. We desperately want Checo to succeed.”
Was that a ‘yes, he can be 100% sure of his place’? Or is the ‘Yeah’ at the start undermined by the following sentiment that Red Bull is backing him and wants it to work. Because it’s definitely in Red Bull’s interest for it to work as it’s the path of least resistance. But that doesn’t mean it will, and if it doesn’t, then Red Bull will be inclined to take action.
And there is a lesson here from Perez’s predecessors. Weeks before dropping Pierre Gasly, Red Bull said it had no intention of dropping Gasly. When Albon was replaced by Perez at the end of 2020, it was preceded by Red Bull stressing how much it wanted things to work.
There is a trend here – Red Bull stands by its drivers until it doesn’t. It doesn’t make anything that gets said in support of Perez a lie, but it is a little naive to just take it entirely at face value and not to read between the lines.
To be clear, none of this is to say Red Bull should take action, or that Perez deserves to be dropped. While there have been extended spells of form unworthy of a Red Bull, the task of being Verstappen’s team-mate is unenviable, it’s not easy to tame a car that is developed to Verstappen’s extremely high level of ability, and Perez has still had bigger peaks than anybody since Ricciardo did.
Plus, had Perez merely played the percentages at the start of the Mexican GP instead of risking everything to win the race at the first corner, he would almost certainly have had a strong run to the podium. He would probably have finished second.
This after being barely a tenth slower than Verstappen in qualifying. It is unfair on Perez to just ignore that – the first corner clash completely changes the focus of his weekend but it cannot eradicate all the details, which include a very obvious silver lining.
It’s worth pointing out that Perez gave Red Bull every chance to stick the boot in and the team opted not to. Now, that might have been some sensible discretion on its part – best not stir up a hornets’ nest while still at Checo’s home race! – but it did seem quite sincere.
“You can’t blame him, at his home race, trying to take the lead of the grand prix,” Horner said.
“It’s a tough moment for him. It’s in front of his home crowd and he was very emotional.
“I just said to him, ‘the next race is next week. You’re going for the lead in your home race, you wouldn’t be a racing driver if you weren’t going for it’.”
Despite some believing that Red Bull does not care whether Perez succeeds or fails, it does. He has had, and retains, the team’s support. Red Bull really wants him to finish second in the drivers’ championship because that one-two has always eluded it.
How much Red Bull has hammered home the value it ascribes that result might be considered unnecessary or helpful pressure. But it does just reflect the reality and, again, Perez has the team’s backing.
“He’s got three races to convert that second place,” said Horner. “There are 20 points between him and Lewis.
“He’s had some misfortune, he’s had some issues but we still believe he can do it between now and the end of the year.”
You can give Red Bull the benefit of the doubt when Horner says that finishing second is not a condition of his 2024 drive. But if Perez fails to do so, it would clearly be an argument against keeping him. Especially on top of the other struggles.
That’s why we’re in this position to begin with, where a drive that’s ostensibly secure for 2024 doesn’t feel so safe.
Perhaps the best way to frame the situation is this: Red Bull has signalled its intent but remains a little non-committal.
Perez’s place is not guaranteed, even beyond the cliché that nothing is guaranteed in F1, because Red Bull’s demands and its history mean that its "intention" is just that – a target, a plan, but not a total assurance.