Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Sakhir, Bahrain, 2022

Red Bull’s five-year Verstappen deal was a no-brainer, but who should partner him?

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Max Verstappen has been a force to be reckoned with since the day he stepped into a Formula 1 car at just 17 years old in 2014. Bursting onto the scene, unafraid to have his voice heard, the young Dutchman was turning heads, and occasionally spinning cars, as he began his career at Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso.

Formula 1’s youngest ever competitor received immediate paddock attention and was promptly promoted to the top team shortly after his first race. An impressive debut for Red Bull at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix saw him become the sport’s youngest race winner after at the age of 18 years and 228 days. A star was born.

Red Bull, specifically motorsport advisor Helmut Marko and team principal Christian Horner, recognised Verstappen’s potential and had no intention of letting him go. Their faith was repaid last year with their first world championship title since 2013.

Now, as Red Bull enter a new era following Honda’s departure from the sport, the team have locked Verstappen into a deal which keeps him at the team until 2028. The new five-year contract is reported to be worth up to £42 million (€50m) per season.

Team mate Sergio Perez served as the perfect wingman at times last year, notably in that title-deciding race in Abu Dhabi. There has long been a question mark surrounding a long-term team mate for Verstappen. Is Perez, who last year became the fourth driver in four years partner Verstappen, the answer?

Red Bull cast-offs have become a talking point in their quest to find the ideal partner for Verstappen. In the past, the team’s bosses have opted to promote within. With Perez they bucked that trend, seeking a more experienced driver. He arguably has one of the toughest jobs in F1, yet over the course of last year he arguably made a better fist of it than his predecessors.

Verstappen was promoted from Toro Rosso five races into 2016 alongside Daniel Ricciardo at the time, replacing Daniil Kvyat, who was demoted back down to the junior team. A clear indication of what direction Red Bull were planning to go in.

First to rock the boat was Ricciardo, just two years after Verstappen joined. His 2018 departure to Renault shocked the F1 world when it was revealed by RaceFans as the summer break began.

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Rumours of a bumpy relationship between the two started had long circulated within the paddock, even before the pair collided in Azerbaijan. Ricciardo left the team with seven grand prix wins under his belt, calling it was “by far the toughest decision” of his life.

Pierre Gasly, Red Bull, Hungaroring, 2019
Gasly lasted just 12 races alongside Verstappen
The team called up Pierre Gasly from Toro Rosso in his place, but that relationship turned sour almost immediately.

“Red Bull was my first chance to drive for a top team and prove to everyone what I could do in one of the best cars in the world,” Gasly later recalled. “So after a really good year with Toro Rosso in 2018, I got the call from Helmut Marko to let me know they wanted me at Red Bull.

“I wish I could tell you it was exactly what I thought it would be — what I wanted it to be. But it wasn’t. It just wasn’t.

“From the moment I made my first mistake in a car, I felt like people there slowly began to turn on me. I’d had a crash in winter testing and from that moment on the season never really got going.”

It was a very public dressing down. The young Frenchmen felt he was ‘eaten’ up by the media and claimed ‘nobody’ stuck up for him at the team. “For whatever reason, I was never going to be a fit in that seat — it was just never going to work.”

The fall out saw Gasly demoted back down to Toro Rosso midway through the 2019 season, with Alexander Albon next to try his luck. The British driver had longer in the cockpit than Gasly, staying with the team for a season and a half, but was seldom closer to Verstappen’s pace, and was dropped to make way for Perez.

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Perez has since impressed the team, and helped Red Bull put up a triumphant fight against Mercedes as the two locked horns. Winning in Baku, and providing important ammunition against their main title rival, Red Bull soon moved to end any speculation over the future of their line up by extending Perez’s deal by a year.

Perez arrived at Red Bull from Racing Point
That deal now stands in stark contrast to the lengthy contract Perez’s team mate has just signed. Verstappen will have just celebrated his 30th birthday when it’s time to talk money again.

Perez knows how cutthroat motorsport can be: His three-year deal to drive for Racing Point was cut back to a single season in 2020 (after he’d helped trigger the team’s takeover of Force India). Ironically, that opened up the opportunity to join Red Bull in the first place.

Will the harmony which existed between Verstappen and Perez shift in their second year together? Does the radical change in regulations offer Perez an opportunity to out-perform Red Bull’s number one driver?

Having been dropped into an unfamiliar car with minimal testing at the beginning of last year, Perez admitted he was still getting used to the RB16B as the season ended.

Now he feels he has a chance to close the gap to a team mate many drivers have struggled to measure up against. “All of us on the grid are starting from zero this season so it is set to be an exciting year,” he said.

With Verstappen locked into Red Bull for the long term, Perez has the chance to prove he deserves to stay in the second seat alongside him. Is he going to be a dutiful number two or will the upcoming season see a Lewis Hamilton/Nico Rosberg-style rivalry between the pair? We all remember how that one ended.

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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16 comments on “Red Bull’s five-year Verstappen deal was a no-brainer, but who should partner him?”

  1. Perez is exactly what Red Bull need at the moment – a useful number two who will never have the pace to directly challenge Verstappen, but will be there to pick up the pieces on an off day or occasionally frustrate Max’s rivals. Certainly in the first half of last season he was perhaps no closer than Gasly or Albon had been, but as the year went on he got closer to the front and made some crucial cameos in the Hamilton/Verstappen title fight, not least his brilliant defensive drive in Abu Dhabi on tyres well beyond the end of their predicted usable life.

    If the new regulations deliver a closer fight among the top teams – for example if Ferrari and McLaren start regularly competing for wins – then it may be that Perez is no longer what Red Bull need, instead preferring a driver more on Ricciardo’s level who can consistently fight at the front and maximise the team’s constructors’ points haul. But it is hard to see anyone in the Red Bull fold who is capable of fulfilling that role, save possibly for Gasly who has likely been burned by his first experience at the team. The best hope for Red Bull is that one of their juniors (Lawson or Vips perhaps) proves to be good enough at the top level to slot into that role themselves. But that is probably two or three years away at least.

    1. Perez is painfully slow. It was all fine when Bottas was in that 2nd Mercedes seat. The underperforming driver and super fast star lineup worked fine for Red Bull and the Mercs last season. But this season.. Mercedes has two drivers who can take the fight to Max. If Ferrari has a competitive car, then again, they have two drivers who are capable of challenging Max.

      If the field is really tight among the top three teams this year, there’s no way Max will win a WDC or Red Bull win a WCC with Perez as a teammate. He’ll be consistently finishing P7, or maybe P8 (behind Lando). I guess Perez’s future all depends on the competitive of the Red Bull car this season. If they are hands down the fastest car, Perez will stick around for maybe one more season. If Mercedes or Ferrari seem like they might have the edge, Perez will lose his drive at the end of 2022.

      1. Slow, but needs one less pit stop

  2. Admittedly, I hope Gasly gets another chance in the senior team & he’s pretty much the only viable option for next year besides keeping Perez unless Tsunoda improves massively. The longer-term future is another matter.

  3. Finding another Barrichello won’t be easy

    1. His name is Valtteri Bottas.

    2. A bottas is a better choice. Serious challenge during quali but never a threat to the number one driver.

      1. Depends, they have their own strengths and weakness, him and perez, like you said bottas is better in quali and perez has better racecraft, so it depends on circumstances.

  4. Perez is currently matching points with Verstappen, so maybe lets wait a bit.

    Red Bull need an all time great driver, if they want to fight Mercedes..

    What are chances of finding two of those?

    And what are chances of them not ruining eachothers performance?

    Last we had two similarly good drivers in Mercedes, there were fireworks.. McLaren losta championship over two top drivers bickering.

    Maybe Perez is just fine.

    As long as Verstapen performs on WDC level.

  5. RocketTankski
    11th March 2022, 13:36

    Hey!, stranger things have happened! And I can’t see him staying at Alpine for long. He could say it’s part of El Plan.

  6. The most mentally strong driver they can find.

    Anyone going into that seat knows two rather depressing facts – that they’re in the team as the de facto (if not contractual) #2. Second, and probably the worst thing, they know that even if they do the best lap, or best race, of their life, Verstappen could still beat them.

    There are plenty of drivers capable of driving an F1 car quickly, but (personal view) once the mental side kicks in it can take away so much of a driver’s performance. Bottas (to some extent), Gasly, Vandoorne, Massa, Albon, Kovalainen (going back to 2009)… all undoubtedly talented but none of them could really hack finding themselves in the role of #2 to an established, elite superstar. And Perez was awful last year as well, so maybe he can’t manage it either.

    So the ideal team-mate from a Red Bull perspective is someone with the mental strength to deal with knowing they’ll never be as quick as Verstappen, who’ll slot in nicely and play the team role, while maintaining a high enough level of performance. Kind of like Bottas did from time to time at Mercedes, or an early Barrichello at Ferrari. No idea who, from the current field, fits that bill, but I doubt they drive for Alpha Tauri.

    1. Nico Hülkenberg fits the bill imho

      but I think at Red Bull they’re looking for exciting young talent, also marketing-wise…
      btw if you’re young and get to learn from Verstappen in the same team, while nobody expects you to outperform him ever, there’s no better scholarship!

  7. I think it is just simply too early to know how to answer the question posed in the title of this article. Let’s see how he does in this wholly new car. Let’s see how they all do. Let’s see how the season shakes out.

    I think for now it is safe to say RBR aren’t thinking of questions such as the title poses, and for now are happy with Checo overall in terms of his work ethic and how he gets along on the team. I think they’re really fond of him and look forward to seeing how the season comes together and much of that will depend on where they are car-wise and what the competition is doing. I’m certainly not going to compare too much to last year as that was his first on the team and in that car. Much more level playing field for him now, and I’m sure he’s stoked.

  8. He doesn’t need a second driver. His ego can drive the other car. ;)

    1. Noframingplease (@)
      11th March 2022, 16:38

      Based on what is his ego so big. I see a 7 times worldchampion with real narcissistic behavior, but when little max has an opinion it is suddenly ‘ego’.

  9. The young Frenchmen felt he was ‘eaten’ up by the media and claimed ‘nobody’ stuck up for him at the team. “For whatever reason, I was never going to be a fit in that seat — it was just never going to work.”

    Which kinda strange. Isn’t Marko’s job to coach the driver and make sure they are in the right state of mind to drive as fast as they can?
    It looks like RB wanted Gasly to fail, based on his comments. Which are backed by Horner’s comment in Drive to Survive (something along the lines of “nobody stood for him when we wondered whether we should stick with him” with a smile on his face).

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