Sergio Perez bounced back to form with fourth at the São Paulo
Grand Prix. The Mexican driver was unlucky to finish ninth in
qualifying as a combination of a freak storm and yellow flags after
an off for McLaren’s Oscar Piastri at Junção masked his true
performance. But a spirited fight through the top 10 looked like it
would pay off with a return to the podium after Perez overtook
Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso on the penultimate lap, only for the
Spaniard to reverse the positions on the final tour. Whilst Perez
was ultimately denied silverware, was this the drive that saved his
Red Bull career? Perez’s struggles this year Perez’s struggles
across the season have been well-documented. A championship battle
with teammate Max Verstappen looked on the cards after two
victories and a win in the Azerbaijan Sprint across the first four
rounds, yet the wheels quickly fell off his wagon. Verstappen’s win
in Miami from ninth on the grid, where Perez started from pole,
felt like a turning point in terms of confidence and those trembles
were only intensified with a crash in Monaco Grand Prix Q1. From
there, Perez went five rounds without a Q3 appearance in a car that
was clearly the dominant force of the field. Since the summer
break, a rare glimpse of optimism with second at the Italian Grand
Prix dissipated with incidents and mistakes in Singapore, Japan and
Qatar. The United States Grand Prix was on the whole more solid,
yet nothing inspiring as he finished fourth – only after a
disqualification for Lewis Hamilton. But a home return at the
Mexico City Grand Prix saw Perez back on pace with teammate
Verstappen and, whilst only qualifying fifth, there were to be no
complaints over his performance. Any work that was done to repair
confidence through Friday and Saturday at the Autodromo Hermanos
Rodriguez was instantly thrown out the window when Perez swung into
Turn 1 alongside Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc – the
resultant contact leaving him out of the race. That really summed
up his season: a strong start quickly turning sour. Criticism from
Horner and Marko Scrutiny around Perez’s position with Red Bull has
been rife, no doubt unaided by the Milton Keynes-based outfit’s
history of drivers being swapped in and out of the second seat
alongside Verstappen. To make matters worse for him, the screw has
been turned by Team Principal Christian Horner and Motorsport
Advisor Helmut Marko on numerous occasions. After picking up
penalties in Qatar, Horner explained: “We have to talk to Checo
after the race about why he had such a hard time with track limits.
“It was a tough race and a tough weekend for him. Luckily, Lewis
didn’t score any points, and Fernando didn’t score much either. “So
he’s still second [in the standings]. He desperately needs to find
his form again.” Criticism directed towards Perez saw Hamilton take
aim at the treatment dished out, whilst Marko was forced into an
apology over xenophobic remarks when discussing why his driver was
struggling for form. The Austrian has suggested Perez lacked focus
because of his South American ethnicity, even though Mexico is in
Central America – so wrong in more ways than one. Criticism has
cooled in recent races but, with Daniel Ricciardo’s double return
piling on the pressure even more, scrutiny remains. I am absolutely
confident and clear that Checo will be our driver next year.
Christian Horner – Red Bull Team Principal Horner reassurance over
next season Whilst the criticism and urge for improvement has been
free-flowing, Horner and Marko have continuously reassured Perez
that his seat is confirmed next season. A contract exists through
to the end of next season and, at least publically, the team
insists it will be honoured. In Brazil, Horner insisted he was
“absolutely confident and clear” that Perez will be alongside
Verstappen next term. Whilst we must take this as gospel, it
doesn’t take too much to remember that Alex Albon was in the same
position – with the same reassurances – entering the climax of the
2020 season before he was replaced by Perez. Rumours suggest that
retaining second in the Drivers’ standings over Hamilton is not
necessarily enough to determine whether he will stay, rather his
level of performance comparative to Verstappen race to race. Sergio
Perez 2023 F1 results Why Brazil performance matters With that in
mind, it was imperative that Perez bounced back in Brazil. In fact,
after the heartache of Mexico, it would have been easy to crumble
under the pressure. But instead he was fast out of the blocks on
Friday, was solid in the sole practice session and was on pace with
Verstappen before circumstances played against him in qualifying.
An admittedly poor start in the Sprint left Perez burning up his
tyres fighting the two Mercedes, though he did decisively return to
third by the end of the 24-lap event. The race was a triumphant
return for Perez as he rose through the top 10 – his final gap to
Verstappen and Norris ahead skewed rather by his battles within a
DRS train behind Hamilton in the early stages. His command over the
brake pedal on Sunday was akin to his teammate’s as he scythed his
way past both the Silver Arrows. The final-stint-long battle with
Alonso was scintillating and, whilst ultimately missing out on the
podium, it proved Perez could race with the best – and cleanly at
that. He was beaming after the race. It felt like a statement drive
and one that could be the stamp of approval on his retention for
next year.

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