Sergio Perez to replace Alexander Albon at Red Bull in 2021

Racing Point’s Sergio Perez officially revealed to the world yesterday morning that he has signed for Red Bull Racing, replacing Alexander Albon to partner Max Verstappen for the 2021 season.

The Mexican signed a one-year contract with Red Bull after being replaced by Sebastian Vettel, who signed for the Racing Point team during its transformation into Aston Martin for the 2021 season.

Perez’s switch to Red Bull was not a shock as many were speculating the move in the days approaching the announcement; though there was a lot of controversy regarding where the one-time race winner would go after being replaced at Racing Point.

Many feared he would suffer the same fate as Nico Hülkenberg, who was out of contract for the 2020 season, and remains out of contract going into 2021.

Red Bull’s decision to sign the 30-year old has been one of many driver transfers that nobody would have expected at the start of 2020.

Meanwhile, the man he is replacing – Albon – has been demoted to the test driver role, helping to develop the Red Bull package going into the upcoming regulation changes.

“Alex remains an important part of our Team as Test and Reserve Driver with a key focus on 2022 development.” – Christian Horner, regarding Albon being replaced by Perez. 

The Thai driver was not given the same opportunity as Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly once had in being demoted back to Alpha Tauri (previously known as Toro Rosso), as the Red Bull sister team had opted to keep Gasly, as well as sign Formula 2 star, Yuki Tsunoda, who finished third in the F2 series, just one point shy of the runner-up status.

 

Why did Red Bull choose Perez over Albon?

The decision for Red Bull to pick a 30-year old driver that is not a part of the ‘Young Driver’s Programme’ may seem like a bizarre decision to a lot of people, especially when drivers such as Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Verstappen, Carlos Sainz, Gasly and Albon himself developed their skills in this programme, giving them a better chance at a Red Bull drive than somebody outside of the programme.

But, the Mexican’s performance this year has been a lot stronger than that of Albon’s, despite the fact he was in an inferior car.

The 2020 Racing Point car was quickly titled the ‘Pink Mercedes’ after fans noticed that the car looked very similar in design to that of the 2019 Mercedes W10.

Racing Point claimed that the car was ‘inspired’ by the W10, and not a blatant copy; however, the FIA launched an investigation into the brake ducts after Renault filed a complaint that they looked identical to Mercedes’ 2019 design.

“The chance to race for a championship contending team is something I have been hoping for since I joined F1.” – Sergio Perez.

The team would lose 15 points and receive a fine of over £350,000, but still finish fourth in the constructor’s championship, just 7 points behind the rapidly improving McLaren team. Red Bull’s car was a lot faster than the RP20 car, though performance between the pair of drivers were very similar, with the pink-themed team out-scoring the Red Bulls on numerous occasions.

Both, Perez and Albon, scored 2 podiums during the course of the season, though Perez was robbed of a third at the Bahrain Grand Prix after a devastating engine failure with just a handful of laps to go.

Albon took third place at the Tuscan Grand Prix in September, also inheriting Perez’s third place at the Bahrain Grand Prix; though, Perez took second place at the Turkish Grand Prix, and won the race in an action packed Sakhir Grand Prix to take Racing Point’s first victory in its history.

This, combined with a handful of mistakes by Albon this year, sealed the fate for the 24-year old; who now finds himself going from the ‘next big talent’ to not having a drive next year. 

 

What’s next for Albon?

Being dropped from Red Bull Racing is a huge blow for Albon and his Formula One career; you only have to look at how Gasly’s mental health was affected following his demotion from Red Bull to Toro Rosso during the summer break of the 2019 Formula One season, which affected his performance massively.

Although, playing the reserve role for the Milton Keynes-based team may help Albon develop more skills at setting Formula One cars up the way he likes them to be – a skill that he seemed to struggle with in the 2020 season, as illustrated by his post-race team radio messages.

Furthermore, the 2022 regulations are just around the corner, meaning we could see the number 23 driver return in time for the next generation of F1 cars.

Whether this would be at the Red Bull team, the Alpha Tauri team, or potentially outside of the Red Bull driver programme and into a car such as the Renault, McLaren or Mercedes, Albon definitely has the talent to stay in Formula One.

“I can’t lie guys, it hurts. I gave it everything out there, but it wasn’t quite enough. I want to say a huge thank you to all of you that supported me throughout this year, especially my Thai fans. With all the different opinions out there, I always had you guys to push me through it.
I’m not giving up, I’ve poured my life into this and I won’t let it stop here. I have more to give and my focus is getting back for 2022 and to wave the Thai flag again!” – Alex Albon.

Fan reactions

Naturally, many Formula One fans were split by the decision that Red Bull made for their 2021 driver line-up. A lot of fans were thrilled that Sergio Perez remains in Formula One, but in a competitive car for arguably the first time in his career.

On the other hand, other fans are disappointed by Red Bull’s approach in removing Albon from the sport entirely, which can affect performance upon return – as was the case with Esteban Ocon and his return to Renault this year.

In the perspective of rising star; his temporary departure from the sport came at an unfortunate time where there is simply not enough space on the grid for him to find a seat.

If a spot were to theoretically open up (such as Lewis Hamilton retiring) and a driver such as Max Verstappen or George Russell were to take the Mercedes seat; there would still be an opportunity for the young driver to retain an F1 drive – though this seems highly unlikely based on the current context of the Formula One grid.

How Sergio Perez performs in the Red Bull car next year in comparison to Max Verstappen will be a fascinating sight; as we have seen many drivers at Red Bull suffer a loss of performance due to Red Bull’s supposed bias towards the ‘young star’, Max Verstappen.

Verstappen’s ex-teammate, Ricciardo, was not happy in his final year for the Austrian-owned team, while Gasly and Albon struggled to record good results. Could we see a similar fate for the widely praised ‘Checo’ Perez?

All questions will be answered when Formula One returns to Australia in March…

[Header Image: Red Bull Content Pool]

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