Within the joy of a first-ever second-place finish, Racing Point owner Lawrence Stroll must have winced last weekend, even if for just a brief moment.
There was Sergio Perez, almost literally on a pedestal, standing in front of the world having finished second at the Turkish Grand Prix.
His appearance on the podium served as a jarring reminder that this immensely talented and experienced F1 driver might not be an F1 driver at all in a few weeks time.
Racing Point doesn’t want him anymore.
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It beggars belief that Perez, sitting fourth in the drivers’ championship and at the peak of his powers, is without a drive altogether in 2021.
Former F1 driver and Sky Sports pundit Karun Chandhok described that scenario to Perez as a “travesty”, prompting the Mexican to point to an uncomfortable truth about F1 recruitment.
“I think in Formula 1 it’s not 100 per cent related to performance,” he said on Sky Sports.
“We’ve seen with other drivers, there are so many things around the seat, around a driver, that at the end of the day this is not in my hands.
“I’m not really concerned, I really want to finish the season on a high and see what happens.”
Should Perez slip through F1’s hands, then it stands to reason that Racing Point has the biggest case to answer.
The team is on the way up with the backing of Canadian billionaire Stroll, while it will be rebranded as an Aston Martin works team next year, giving the team extra credibility. So will four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel, who has signed on for next season.
Perez was never going to keep the off-contract German out of the team, but he had the owner’s son, Lance Stroll, to compete with for the final seat.
Ultimately, blood runs thicker than water and Perez is being kicked out to the kerb after 10 seasons in F1.
The call wasn’t made in a timely fashion for the 30-year-old either.
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By the time Racing Point finalised its 2021 line-up, Ferrari, Renault and McLaren had done the same, while Mercedes was never a realistic possibility.
That leaves only Red Bull as a team with availability that is also worthy of Perez’ talent (Haas and AlphaTauri also have spots).
It’s true that should Perez land at Red Bull, then his Racing Point axing would have been a blessing in disguise. But that seems unlikely with the energy drink outfit said to be keen on giving Alexander Albon a third season on the condition that he shows signs of improvement before the end of the season.
F1 managing director Ross Brawn said it would be a “tragedy if (Perez) isn’t in F1 next year”.
“He more than deserves his place on the grid. If you’re a team (that) wants a competitive driver to maximise every opportunity, Perez is your man,” Brawn said after the Turkish Grand Prix.
Nonetheless, Perez sees the writing on the wall and realises his next step may be to take a sabbatical.
“That one is not in my hands,” Perez said about joining Red Bull.
“At the moment, I’m just focusing on finishing on a high. If the opportunity comes, great. If not, I’m prepared to stop for a year.”