Perez deserves his new deal but Red Bull’s junior driver logjam is growing

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After being out-qualified by one of the Mercedes in Spain 10 days ago, Sergio Perez complained he’d missed out on useful running because reserve driver Juri Vips had taken over his car during first practice.

But he no longer has to worry about any of Red Bull’s young hopefuls taking over his drive in the medium term. The team confirmed today Perez will remain with them until at least the end of 2024.

This had been an open secret since Sunday, when following his victory in the Monaco Grand Prix Perez greeted team principal Christian Horner with the words: “I probably signed too early.”

The vote of confidence in Perez is huge and entirely deserved. It took a while for him to get to grips with his first Red Bull, the RB17B, which was moulded to meet Max Verstappen’s requirements long before Perez arrived.

But he got to grips with it and delivered excellent results in the latter stages of the campaign which helped Verstappen seal the drivers’ championship. Not only his celebrated defence against Lewis Hamilton in the Abu Dhabi decider, but his spirited tussle with the seven-times champion in Turkey.

Horner called Perez a perfect team player
This year’s car was drawn on a blank piece of paper and Perez has been a closer match for his team mate. In Saudi Arabia he even took a surprise pole position – the first of his career after well over 200 attempts – and was robbed of a potential win by the timing of the Safety Car.

He could have won in Spain, too, after Verstappen pitched his car into a gravel trap early in proceedings. Perez took a diplomatic line as Red Bull twice ordered him to wave Verstappen by and, despite having told him he would be repaid for his obedience, refused to let him by his team mate as Perez lost time behind him mid-race.

Publicly, Perez was firm but gracious in his objections, telling his team the tactics were “very unfair” but handling the matter behind closed doors.

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However that was resolved, Red Bull finally have a satisfactory answer to the question posed after Daniel Ricciardo walked out in 2018, of who best to pair with the white-hot talent of Verstappen. Perez is quick – not Verstappen-quick, but few are – solid in his race craft, mature and likeable.

Gasly is eager for a return to a top team
Plus, as Horner put it, “as a team player, I don’t think there’s anybody better in the pit lane.”

It’s a remarkable turn of events for a driver whose career looked in serious jeopardy less than two years ago. He inked a three-year deal with Racing Point (now Aston Martin) which should have kept him at the team until the end of this year, but the team cut it short by two years in 2020 in order to bring Sebastian Vettel in.

At that point, Perez’s last chance to stay in F1 was with Red Bull. The team’s efforts to replace Ricciardo had already led them to Pierre Gasly, who was jettisoned after half a season. By mid-2020 his replacement, Alexander Albon, was plainly struggling. At the end of the year Red Bull released Albon and gave Perez the gig.

This was a significant decision, as it was the moment Red Bull ended years of exclusively promoting drivers from their junior team to the Red Bull squad. Perez’s predecessors Albon, Gasly, Verstappen (though his apprenticeship was brief), Daniil Kvyat, Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel had all arrived through Red Bull’s junior ranks and its Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) F1 junior team.

Now Perez is locked into that seat for the foreseeable. With Verstappen signed up until at least 2028, Red Bull’s roster of junior drivers can forget about getting a shot at the top team before 2025.

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It’s a sizeable roster, too. It includes Gasly, who since leaving Red Bull has become a race winner, single-handedly scored enough points to put AlphaTauri sixth in the championship last year and is driving a fine if cruelly under-rewarded season so far.

This is only 60% of Red Bull’s F2 contingent
Albon’s return to racing with Williams this year has had high points, too. AlphaTauri’s most recent recruit, Yuki Tsunoda, had a tough first season but is making clear progress this year.

Red Bull has no fewer than five junior drivers looking to jump from Formula 2 into the top flight. In order of points they are long-standing Indian hopeful Jehan Daruvala (third in the standings), occasional tester Vips (fith), DTM runner-up Liam Lawson (eighth), Formula 3 champion Dennis Hauger (12th) and his fellow F3 graduate Ayumu Iwasa (13th).

That F2 quintet doesn’t even account for half of Red Bull’s junior contingent outside F1. But however bright those talents prove, F1 is already saturated with Red Bull-linked drivers, and the opportunity for them to move up in the near future further diminished today.

A key question now is what will happen to Gasly. Would Red Bull rather have their best long-term prospect in his seat, gathering experience for a potential 2025 graduation? Will AlphaTauri continue to hold an attraction for him now the prospect of returning to Red Bull has become even more remote? Pick the right team and F1 life after Red Bull is possible, as Carlos Sainz Jnr has shown.

Perez’s new deal has clear implications for anyone hoping to drive a Red Bull-livered F1 car in the near future. Red Bull’s top junior talents are going to have to demonstrate more than just speed, they’ll need to be patient too.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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32 comments on “Perez deserves his new deal but Red Bull’s junior driver logjam is growing”

  1. F1’s current structure is particularly problematic for young drivers. The trajectory of new drivers debuting each year has been on a downward trend since the sport’s inception. It’s is at a level now which is as low as it could possible be with the cycle of drivers coming to the end of their career.

    As we have a franchised model in F1 we pretty much will no longer ever see small teams enter F1. Obviously the trends of new teams entering F1 has followed the trend of drivers… but now it’s jit zero.

    But these small teams which used to come in, by their very nature, had a high turn over of drivers coming and going. While they often did become pay-driver affairs, they still gave drivers like who are considered as ‘real talents’ (though we need to recongise the blurring of real talent / pay drivers. it’s not black and white) Ricciardo, Bianchi (just a couple that spring to mind) etc.. their debuts in the sport. They agve them a chance to build their brand and competence.

    Another key here, is F1 teams are moving to a ‘profit’ model. Drivers are aware that their value will be beyond their sporting performance. There is a branding aspect here that will play a key role in the length of driver’s careers. I don’t think we’ll see teams wanting to experiment with new drivers particularly.

    So the logjam will only get worse.

    1. Correct, F2 drivers should be having a chance once each 2 year and only the champion’s who has to battle for 1 seat. Otherwise you have way to many drivers and only 20 seats who are mostly locked for several years. So nr.2 drivers (in F2) bad luck try next year.

      1. What you think is the solution is part of the problem. If only champions of F2 get a chance of an F1 seat, then you are doing two things.

        1. Making positions 2-20 worthless
        2. Making position 1 VERY expensive.

        This is similar to what happened with the Super Licence. The FIA, in some attempt to introduce some meritocracy, actually decreased supply of opportunity. F1 itself teaches us you can’t use absolute results to judge a driver. Remember, Max Verstappen didn’t win F3 Euroseries, nor did F2.

        Also, we shouldn’t be in a posiiton where teams are forced to accept new drivers. If a team has two drivers they are every happy with how are you going to force a driver to lose their job to force in an F2 champion? It’s unreasonable.

        F1 has always been a very strange sporting prospect. But because the regulations were open enough that you had a flow of new teams, and thus new drivers, it was reasonable. That’s where the solution lies, but maybe the sport has evolved beyond that.

  2. I think Gasly will take Ricciardos seat from next year

    1. @broke1984 My view too.
      I see him as a viable replacement option should Mclaren terminate Ricciardo’s existing 3-year deal.

    2. I was thinking maybe Gasly to Mercedes when Hamilton retires. I originally thought he would go to Alpine, but Alonso needs to move on for that to happen.

      1. Alonso needs to move on for that to happen.

        Images of Alonso driving around Monaco, 3 seconds behind the pace but refusing to go anywhere, spring to mind.

        1. While being instructed by his team to do as such…

    3. @broke1984 I can see that working.

    4. There is a good chance Richard leaves McLaren next year (or they don’t use the option for a other year) But then who is taking the spot? Maybe you see Alonso returning to McLaren and Gasly to Alpine.

  3. Whatever little repromotion chance & hope Gasly might’ve still had is effectively over now.

    Therefore, He should start targeting Ricciardo’s Mclaren drive, as continuing at AT for one more season only to leave RB after next season at the latest would be somewhat pointless.

  4. I don’t see a logjam as that would imply that there are a bunch of championship-level Red Bull junior talent just waiting to get their chance, while I see precisely zero.

    1. Exactly. It is a fallacy to think that being part of the RB junior program is somehow a guarantee of getting a F1 seat.

      1. If you want an F1 drive then the RB Junior Program is the worst place to be.

        1. Gasly

          all came through RedBull in some form or fashion. You get 1 or 2 new seats every year in F1. The odds of making, through any kind of driver program, are incredibly slim. But no one has done more to bring drivers into the sport than RedBull.

    2. The current RB roster is not that impressive indeed. In F2 currently it’s all about Drugovich pulling out something special and Pourchaire being pleasant to watch.

  5. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    31st May 2022, 19:06

    Pick the right team and F1 life after Red Bull is possible, as Carlos Sainz Jnr has shown.

    Whilst true, the big question is which team? Almsot every team has their own pool of juniors with high potential. There are simply too few buyable spots like we used too have (HRT etc.), meaning someone like Gasly might not ant to stay at AT, but has nowhere else to go that is much of an improvement.
    Ferrari is full, Mercedes too and would rather pick one of their own than Gasly, McLaren has some room (alongside Norris) but also has their own prospects (O’Ward if he gets enough SL points) but is barely any better as they’ve shown in the last few years. Every not-mentioned team is hardly an upgrade, although maybe this season they seem better than before (Alfa).

    Sure, it’s a Red Bull-logjam, but also an F1-logjam, but that has been the case for years now. So many talents had to look elsewhere because there wasn’t any room in F1. Which is why I don’t quite get the refusal of teams to allow Andretti on the grid. Yeah, sure, he has his eyes set on an American driver, but that still leaves 1 spot open doesn’t it?

    1. Which is why I don’t quite get the refusal of teams to allow Andretti on the grid.

      F1 and the teams don’t have an excessive need to make sure there’s routes in for young drivers.

    2. but also an F1-logjam, but that has been the case for years now. So many talents had to look elsewhere because there wasn’t any room in F1

      It’s OK for middling talent to not take a lap through F1 on their way to sports cars.

      If anything, we have a dearth of championship-level talent coming through the ranks. (which isn’t an acute problem if Max, Charles, and maybe joined by Lando and George, can stay at the top of F1 for another decade+)

  6. I don’t think there are less room for young drivers than it used to be. Since decades, there are only 20-22 seats (2010-12 was an exception), and most of the established drivers spend at least 10 years in F1 (and sometimes much more). Assuming that rookies are carefully-selected and will also become established drivers, there should be only about 2 available new seats per year.

    1. I did a graph on this. The trend has been downwards over time and it is at its worse now for new drivers making their debuts than it has ever been.

      Long term stability of driver lineups is certainly a factor, but so is a lack of new teams/seats.

  7. As well as my comment about Gasly taking Ricciardos seat there will also be Latifis seat available, I’m not sure where Ricc would go, I can’t see him leaving the grid as of yet so my prediction is this. Gas to McLaren, Vettel retires and Ricc goes to Aston Martin, RedBull take an F2 driver and DeVries to Williams alongside Albon who RedBull release.

    1. Why would anyone at this moment in time contract Daniel Ricciardo to drive their Formula 1 car?

      How is Pierre Gasly the best available choice for McLaren?

      Who is supposed to pay for Alex Albon’s seat if he had no ties to Red Bull?

    2. Albon is not part of the Red Bull Racing team as he explained on his episode of Beyond the Grid podcast, he ended his contract with then before joining Williams. He is a full time Williams driver with no official links to the Red Bull team, he is however sponsered by the Red Bull brand and he hinted that after Williams he will join Red Bull Racing in again in some capacity.

  8. Alpha tauri, and torro rosso, have a long history of sacking drivers who have been delivering good results.

    Sebatian Buemi, algesuari, Jean-Eric Vergne were all turning in reasonable results in F1 before being turfed out.

    Red bull management can be utterly ruthless when they need to. If RB’s engine programe becomes more independent of Honda, Yuki will be in trouble. Gasly needs another podium to maintain his profile as a potential winner. Albon is in a pay seat with not much opportunity to shine.

    With the Perez signing, I think All three are now on notice

    1. I’ve always thought JEV was the one and that RB did a mistake with keeping RIC.
      But we’ll never know in the end :P

  9. In order of points they are long-standing Indian hopeful Jehan Daruvala (third in the standings), occasional tester Vips (fith), DTM runner-up Liam Lawson (eighth), Formula 3 champion Dennis Hauger (12th) and his fellow F3 graduate Ayumu Iwasa (13th).

    If a single sentence doesn’t tell me that none of them are truly ready for F1 yet, then its the fact that I’ve watched F2 all season and have seen how up and down they’ve all been with my own eyes. One of them needs to win F2 to convince me that they are deserving of a step up first.

    1. @eurobrun Lawson has been really disappointing this year. No pace either over one lap or a race distance. Vips has tremendous one-lap pace but poor pitstops and costly mistakes keep affecting him. Hauger has also had horrendous luck, but pacewise has been somewhat underwhelmingt too. Iwasa is obviously not ready. Daruvala is doing about as well as I expected him to, he’s not F1 material anyway.

    2. None of the RedBull line up, nor RedBull graduates who race within F1 won GP2 or F2 other than Gasly iirc. Some didn’t even race it. Winning F2 isn’t the be all and end all. You have to look at the general picture (respective teams and luck are a factor that determines absolute result). The Super Licence has made it more troublesome to be honest for young drivers.

  10. As talented as their current crop of young drivers are, I don’t see any of them being the answer for the team long term. I had high hopes for Daruvala, Hauger and Vips. But Daruvala isn’t running away with things in F2 the way you would expect with his experience and the overall low(er) quality of the field, Vips is making mistakes all over the place and Hauger hasn’t hit the F2 scene with a bang in the way I expected. As such, Perez is the perfect solution for Red Bull at the moment.

  11. There may be a logjam, but can you realistically expect teams to promote a new driver every two years or so? Then an average driver would have to retire at the age of 25 or less. There’s no need to give chance to every junior, there’s a reason why this is F1 and why there are lower and different categories. Someone’s gotta compete in DTM, endurance racing, Indy, GP racing and whatever else is there. On the other hand, of course we need more teams in F1, but thank guys like Toto Wolff and their financial interest for never seeing that happen, not in the near future. F1 needs restructuring and more teams, top teams can’t be driving schools, but shall strive to keep the best drivers as long as they are in their prime years (and as we can see, that could mean until they are 38-40 years old).

  12. Simple fact is RB will put the 4 best drivers in the 2 teams

    If they deem a junior better than Yuki then they will drop him (Honda permitting) and of Pier Gets a better offer then he’ll be off leaving a vacant seat

    I’m sure RB juniors careers are benefiting from their program whether they make it to F1 or not, but if they want their shot at glory, then it’s up to them to make it happen… like Max did (I.e drive it like you stole it🤣)

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