- Sergio Perez stands fourth in the Formula 1 driver standings through 17 races
- Perez is a Red Bull Racing teammate of Max Verstappen, the season points leader
- Red Bull might need Perez to sacrifice a victory in the Mexican Grand Prix to help Verstappen
Moving to Red Bull Racing last offseason was no small matter for Formula 1 driver Sergio Perez. Coming off his first victory and most successful season since joining F1 in 2011, he took a significant step forward in equipment and expertise. But he also clearly took a complementary role to Max Verstappen.
Perez, 31, accepted the tradeoff and joined Red Bull from Racing Point, for whom he had recently won the Sakhir Grand Prix to become Mexico’s first Formula 1 race winner in half a century.
Perez won again this season, capturing the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on a day in which the racing gods delivered a one-two punch to the protagonists in the season’s No. 1 drama. First, Verstappen sliced a tire and crashed out while holding a commanding lead with six laps to go. On the restart of a race that he was going to finish no worse than second, Lewis Hamilton inadvertently activated his brake balance-shifting system and drove off the course, taking him out of the points for the day.
With the season winding down, prospects for another Perez victory are slim, and it has nothing to do with performance. Perez is running fourth in the World Drivers’ Championship standings to Verstappen, Hamilton, and Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate.
However, Verstappen is on the verge of ending Hamilton’s four-year reign as the Formula 1 champion, taking a 287.5-275.5 lead into the Mexican Grand Prix on Sunday. To finish the job, Verstappen needs to maximize points. It’s conceivable then that Red Bull’s brain trust could instruct Perez to surrender position to his teammate should he be leading Verstappen late in upcoming races.
Considering that Perez is a native of Guadalajara, asking him to do so this weekend in Mexico City would be particularly disheartening. Perez called the situation “complicated,” according to Motorsport:
“We should see what circumstances we have in the race. At the end of the day, we are drivers working as a team, and the main focus is on the team.
“It’s the big picture. We will have to look at the circumstances. And that’s the beauty of racing. That decisions are made in the moment, in seconds, even though they are very complicated issues.”Sergio Perez
But asking Perez to make such a sacrifice while competing at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in his homeland qualifies as incredibly awkward.
“I would be proud to be able to achieve one of my dreams since my childhood and win,” Perez conceded. “This is a real opportunity that depends on me and my team, whereas other years it depended on other factors. So, there is a very real chance, and my motivation is 100 percent.”
Sebastian Vettel, a Formula 1 driver since 2007 who is frequently outspoken, has his own history with handling team instructions. In Malaysia in 2013, Vettel disregarded orders not to race teammate Mark Webber for the lead late in the race. Vettel disregarded the instruction, made a daring pass, and won the race. It was the first of 13 triumphs that season that earned Vettel his fourth straight World Drivers’ Championship.
“Even if maybe the situation is logically very easy to explain, I still think it’s bad and I would be in favor of not having any team orders ever,” Vettel said, according to RacingFans.net. “I think it’s just (that) nobody likes it.”
He added: “If ‘Checo’ happens to be ahead, then Checo should stay ahead.”
One of the problems there, of course, is that Bottas has been the consummate teammate to Hamilton since joining Mercedes in 2017. Though he has won 10 races in that time, Bottas has backed down several times to assist Hamilton and would do so again now that he’s out of the hunt for the series championship.
“If there will be an opportunity in a reasonable way to help Lewis in the fight, obviously, as his teammate, I’ll do it,” Bottas said. “So, I think that’s the mindset and approach, really.”
Unfortunately for Perez, it wouldn’t be nearly as cut and dried this weekend.