There was unquestionably a feel-good, almost fairytale quality to the story of Sergio Perez’s 2020 campaign.
Finally, after spending much of the year wondering if he had an F1 future at all, Perez scored his first win in astonishing circumstances, and was rewarded soon after with a chance to join no less a team than Red Bull for the 2021 F1 season.
It came as a surprise to some that Red Bull took so long over their decision to replace the under-performing Alexander Albon with Perez. While the Racing Point driver undoubtedly had a better season, it was also one of missed opportunities, as he admitted.
Although he had a fair amount of misfortune, he suffered at his own hand on occasions as well. A hasty tangle with Albon in the Styrian Grand Prix broke his front wing, costing him a potential fourth place.
From then on the missed points piled up. A poor start in Hungary left him seventh, and he missed the next two races after catching Covid-19. He was immediately back on it in Spain, finishing fourth on the road, but relegated behind team mate Lance Stroll by a five-second time penalty for ignoring blue flags.
The next two races yielded just a point each, though on both occasions he was out of luck with his strategy – the timing of the race suspension at Monza, and a tactical error by Racing Point at Spa, who kept him on a set of soft tyres when the Safety Car was deployed early in the race.
This faltering start to the season left Perez outside the top 10 despite having the third-quickest car at his disposal. He put that right in the second half of the championship and ended the year fourth in the standings, with only the Mercedes drivers and future team mate Max Verstappen ahead of him.
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Top-five finishes at Mugello, Sochi and the Nurburgring propelled Perez up the standings, though a podium finish continued to elude a driver who had seldom let such opportunities slip in previous years. He recovered to seventh at Algarve after Verstappen knocked him into a spin on the first lap, and was left to ponder another doubtful Racing Point strategy call at Imola, where the team brought him in for an extra pit stop during a late Safety Car period, potentially costing him a rostrum finish.
While Stroll caught the eye at Istanbul by claiming pole position and leading, Perez was the more impressive of Racing Point’s two drivers that weekend. It was Perez who sussed the time was right for intermediate tyres in qualifying, and he would surely have taken pole had Antonio Giovinazzi not blundered into his path. While Stroll eventually dropped out of contention, apparently with front wing damage, Perez finally delivered his first podium finish of the season.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||11/15|
|Beat team mate in race||5/9|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||327/693|
This was one of few occasions all season that Stroll out-qualified Perez. But while the latter usually came out on top, qualifying remains one of the less strong areas of his game. There were times he qualified some way below Racing Point’s apparent potential. He also lost more places than anyone at the start on average, though those first-lap incidents in the Portuguese and Sakhir rounds skew this metric.
Going into the final three races of the year Perez reflected he’d had a season of missed opportunities. So it continued, as power unit failures struck as he neared another podium finish in the Bahrain Grand Prix, and again in Abu Dhabi.
But in between the two he conjured up the season’s most sensational win, recovering from being knocked into a spin on the first lap to climb through the field and profit from the Mercedes drivers’ misfortunes. Perez’s fate was still unknown at the time, but after a season like this, it would have been an injustice to see him sidelined for 2021.
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2020 F1 season review
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #1: Lewis Hamilton
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #2: Max Verstappen
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #3: Charles Leclerc
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #4: Carlos Sainz Jnr
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #5: Daniel Ricciardo