Sergio Perez has been warned he needs a “software update” in order to stay in front of Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull by former driver turned commentator David Coulthard.
Perez is contracted alongside two-time World Champion Max Verstappen, with Ricciardo taking the reserve role at his former team after being forced out of his seat at McLaren by fellow Australian Oscar Piastri, but with only two wins last year, Perez is in the hot seat entering 2023.
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The Mexican triumphed on the streets of Monaco and Singapore, but missed out on second place in the World Drivers’ Championship last year to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, after Verstappen (having already won the World Championship) refused to allow him through at the penultimate race of the year in Sao Paulo.
The man dubbed the ‘perfect teammate’ for the selflessness and defence in the famous final race of the 2021 season ordinarily would be safe with his contract set to conclude in 2024, but with increasing tensions between him and Verstappen as Red Bull’s golden child, Perez could find himself watching from the pit wall.
Relations between the two were frosty after the incident in Brazil, where Verstappen cryptically said on team radio that he “had (his) reasons” for not allowing Perez through.
Perez, speaking at the time, said it showed “who he (Verstappen) really is.”
In the midst of the saga, Verstappen’s mother Sophie Kumpen accused Perez of being unfaithful to his partner in a quickly-deleted Instagram comment, referencing videos surfacing after the 32-year-old’s victory in Monaco that featured him dancing with multiple women who were not his wife.
With Red Bull’s prior history of changing team makeup on a whim, Coulthard says Perez’s F1 destiny is “in his own hands”.
“He has access to the data of the world champion.
“If he does, then the world championship is there for him to put his hand on.
“If he doesn’t, then he will be another driver that won a few grands prix.”
Red Bull historically have not been averse to swapping teammates around their two-team set up – Verstappen himself joined the team from junior team Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) in 2016 before the Spanish Grand Prix, replacing Russian Daniil Kvyat.
Ricciardo departed the Milton Keynes outfit in 2019, after which the revolving door of teammates for Verstappen continued – Frenchman Pierre Gasly was promoted from Toro Rosso, only to be demoted before season’s end in favour of Thai driver Alexander Albon, who himself lost his place in at the end of 2020 for Sergio Perez.
Ricciardo’s move to Red Bull as a reserve, rejecting race seat offers at smaller teams Williams and Haas, has been roundly criticised across the F1 paddock.
Journalist Will Buxton said: “I’d argue he stands to gain nothing.”
Former World Champion Jenson Button also criticised the move, saying he was taking a huge gamble on a “team where he thinks he can get a seat for 2024, otherwise it’s game over because you get forgotten after a year in F1.”
Despite Ricciardo’s projected A$36 million in earnings next year off the back of his McLaren payout and Red Bull deal, his manager insists “none of this is about ego or unachievable demands.”
“This is about a man who was dealt a bad hand, now finding the right next opportunity.”