Will Vettel replace Perez at Aston Martin?
Will Checo be forced out of Racing Point? Where would he go?
Over the last week, the rumours regarding Sergio Perez' future at Racing Point have massively increased. The reports, which originated in Germany, claim that Sebastian Vettel is set to replace the Mexican driver at what will be Aston Martin in 2021. Some reports are suggesting that this announcement could come as soon as August 2nd, with only a few details left to iron out before it is announced to the world.
As with most things in Formula 1, we can't take this rumours too seriously until it is officially announced. However, let's discuss why the team might make this decision and what knock-on effects it would have.
Why does this move make sense?
You might be asking yourself, why would the team get rid of Perez instead of Lance Stroll? I think this is a valid question if you look at the performance of the pair, but then you notice who owns the team: Lawrence Stroll. I think this is pretty common knowledge at this point, but for those who don't know, Stroll was the leader of the consortium that rescued Force India from administration back in 2018.
The team was then renamed Racing Point going forwards, with their drivers at the time being Perez and Esteban Ocon. Lance Stroll was still a Williams driver at this stage, but due to his father's investment in the Pink Panthers, he was announced as Ocon's replacement for the 2019 season. This move forced the young Frenchman out of the sport for one year, only returning this season for Renault.
With the team now financially stable for the first time, they were able to begin development of their 2020 challenger quite early on and have made a massive step forward this season. The team are now viewed as having one of, if not the fastest car in the midfield, and we could see them challenge for podiums at some races this year. They have also been accused of copying Mercedes, which I wrote about recently here.
Back in January of this year, Aston Martin were in trouble. They were selling fewer road cars than they needed to and were in desperate need of investment. Just as he did with Force India, Lawrence Stroll saw an opportunity and bought 16.7% of the company for £182 million - this has now risen to 25%. He also injected £318 million cash into the famous automaker, saving thousands of jobs and making sure the company stayed afloat. Under the terms of this rescue deal, it was agreed that Racing Point would be rebranded as 'Aston Martin F1 Team' for the 2021 season onwards. For me, this deal makes perfect sense when you look at the background details.
Stroll now has a Formula 1 team which is at the top of the midfield and a car company that needs to sell more cars. The Aston Martin rebrand makes a lot of sense from a marketing perspective, as it will mean that the Aston Martin logo is being broadcast to millions of people every time there is a race. Both McLaren and Ferrari use the sport as a way to help sell their sports cars, so I see no reason why it won't work just as well for Aston Martin. However, there are obviously ways to capitalise on this global platform and improve the reputation of the brand even more than you would normally.
The best way to do this would be the combination of a popular driver lineup with a competitive car that can fight at the front end of the grid. This is why the Vettel deal would make sense to me. If the team can sign such a big name to be the face of the brand, it will look much better from a sponsorship point of view. Now that they have the proper investment, the team can now justify spending a lot of money hiring Vettel - something which they could never have done before Stroll got involved.
Unfortunately, as talented as Perez is, he does not have the huge fanbase of the four-time world champion. He also isn't the son of the team owner, so he is the one who would be forced out to make room for Vettel.
Speaking of Vettel, this move also makes a lot of sense for him. The German driver would be able to go and make the team his own, much like he did at Ferrari in 2015. He will be hoping that the team can continue to climb up the Formula 1 pecking order, and with Stroll's money and a new factory being built you can only assume that this will happen. He will be counting on the incoming budget cap to close the gap to the top teams, meaning that he will still be able to fight at the front. Looking at the pace of the Ferrari this season, I reckon he will be hoping the move happens sooner rather than later.
It makes sense, but it doesn't mean I like it.
I'm pretty sure I have voiced my opinion on Vettel before, but I'll say it again: I am not his biggest fan. Having said this, I do still have respect for him as a world champion, and in no way think he is a bad driver. He's had a rough couple of seasons at Ferrari, but I still think he deserves to be in the sport.
However, what makes me angry in this situation is the fact that Perez would be dropped from the team he has done so much for. He was the reason the team went into administration, sacrificing his own paycheck to make sure this happened. Without the team going into administration, they would never have been able to find the investment that they needed to survive.
At the time, Perez was reportedly owed up to £3 million in unpaid wages, telling ESPN: "I ended up in a very difficult situation. The last month or so has been extremely tough for me, with the situation that our team was [in].
"In the end, I ended up in the middle. We got to a point where action had to be taken, to protect the 400 people who work in the team. I should not really be involved in this, because at the end of the day, I'm just a driver, and I'm just here to drive.
"I was asked by a couple of members of the team to go ahead and save the team and protect the 400 people who were working there. For me, it was hard because emotionally and mentally, it's really tough -- I haven't been able to focus on my driving, on being a racing driver. It's not something I'm enjoying and liking it but in the end, I have to make the decision to protect the 400 people who are working here."
Aside from saving the team, Perez has also been their most successful driver. He has scored five podiums for the Silverstone-based outfit and has been a regular points-scorer for the last few seasons. His consistency has been the strongest part about his time at the team, as he has been a solid pair of hands that they can rely on to extract the best from the car no matter what the conditions.
Due to his performances for the team, it was announced back in August that he has signed a three-year contract extension which would secure his services until at least the end of 2022. Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer had this to say about the deal: "Sergio believes in the long-term vision of this project and getting his commitment until the end of 2022 gives us valuable consistency going forward."
From this statement, it suggests to me that the team know how committed he is to the Aston Martin project, and therefore they reciprocated this commitment with such a long-term deal. I think it would be unfair to display this sort of faith in somebody only to change your mind and dump them a year later, especially when he has been driving so well. You can take the Styrian Grand Prix as an example, he drove the arse off his RP20 to go from 17th on the grid to challenging a Red Bull for 4th place. How can you let a driver of that calibre go?
Before I stop ranting, I'd also like to point out the driver who they are keeping at the team: Lance Stroll. As I have said in the past, I do not think he is a bad driver by any means. Stroll has proven himself as a fairly capable pair of hands over his years in the sport, but he is definitely not on the same level as Perez. Let me put it this way: if Stroll was not the son of the team owner, who would Vettel be replacing?
Where could Perez go?
If the rumours do turn out to be true, then Perez doesn't really have many options to consider. It was announced on Thursday that Nicholas Latifi will partner George Russell at Williams for a second year in 2021, with drivers locked also locked in at McLaren, Ferrari and Renault for next season. It is also expected that Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will be announced for Mercedes in the coming weeks, with the pairing of Max Verstappen and Alex Albon at Red Bull looking like a probability too.
I would also be doubtful of Perez signing for AlphaTauri, not least because I can't see them switching from Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly. If Helmut Marko does decide to change things up, they will no doubt promote someone from the Red Bull junior programme such as Juri Vips or Yuki Tsunoda.
Credit: @f1 on Instagram
This only leaves free seats at Alfa Romeo and Haas, both of whom I can see Perez signing for. To begin with, they are both Ferrari powered teams and have strong connections to the Scuderia. This could be an important factor given that Perez used to be a Ferrari junior driver up until he signed for McLaren in 2013, so he already has strong connections to the Italian team.
He also has strong connections to Alfa Romeo, as he made his debut in the sport with the team back when they were known as Sauber. He scored a career-best 2nd place for the Hinwil-based outfit at the Italian Grand Prix in 2012, so I don't think they would be unhappy if he returned. They would have to lose either Kimi Raikkonen or Antonio Giovinazzi to make this move happen, and I think it is a toss-up as to who would lose their seat.
It would all depend on whether Raikkonen decides to retire at the end of the season, as he is now in his forties. I also think the Iceman will start to tire of the sport if the team continue to struggle at the back of the grid, and could quite easily just walk away when his contract expires at the end of this season.
However, Giovinazzi will need to be at the top of his game if he doesn't want to face the sack at the end of the season. He is a driver who has gone under the radar, as he isn't seen as being on the same level as Leclerc/Verstappen and company but is by no means a bad driver. He made a few silly mistakes during 2019 but has seemed to have the better of Raikkonen for the last few races. He also faces the pressure of losing his seat to another Ferrari junior such as Mick Schumacher or Callum Ilott, as it is believed that under their engine deal Ferrari are entitled to choose one of the team's drivers.
Credit: Artes Max via Wikipedia
His other option is to sign with Haas, and on Thursday Guenther Steiner did not deny that Perez is an option for the team: “I think, in my position, you need to talk with everybody, as I always do. I talk a lot.
“I talk with a lot of people and sure, I’ve talked with Checo before in previous years. In the end, I’m talking with everybody and anybody."
As he alluded to in this statement, Perez has held talks with the team in previous years. It was rumoured he was going to join the American team way back in 2017 as a replacement for the outgoing Esteban Gutierrez. This obviously did not end up coming to fruition as he re-signed for Force India, but it does show he is/was at least slightly interested in Haas.
It has been thought that Haas want to replace at least one of their drivers for while now, and as we saw in Netflix's Drive To Survive series, that driver may very well be Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman is known for making silly mistakes that have ended up costing the team, so I don't think Steiner would hesitate if Perez came knocking at the door.
I hope after reading this article you have a slightly better understanding of what would happen if Vettel did sign with Racing Point and where that would leave Perez. Personally, I think he is more likely end up at Alfa Romeo rather than at Haas, mainly due to the fact that the team is already familiar to him and that they may be on the lookout for two new drivers for 2021.
As much as I think Vettel deserves to be in the sport, I would rather see Perez retain his seat at the team he has given so much for. He has been at the Pink Panthers since 2014, dedicating a huge amount so that the team can move forward. It would be a great shame if they were to lose him, but it is starting to look more and more likely by the day.
What do you think?
Do you agree with this article? I'm sure a few of you will disagree so feel free to try and change my mind in the comments section.
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(the image for the poll below was created by Sean Bull, go check out more of his work by clicking here)