TREMAYNE: Perez deserves to reap the benefits of Racing Point’s resurgence – but will he?
Sergio Perez and Racing Point: right from the start of the season they have been a focus of attention. From the moment that it first appeared, the Racing Point RP20 – ‘the pink Mercedes’ as it was so quickly dubbed – was a source of irritation to rivals.
The RP20 so closely resembled Lewis Hamilton’s World Championship-winning Mercedes W10 that everyone started reaching for the rulebook. But Otmar Szafnauer and Andy Green and the team at the Silverstone factory have been adamant all along that they kept the FIA informed of what they were doing, and the governing body have been satisfied that they’ve created their own version of a hyper-successful car via the use of copious photographs and a lot of clever reverse engineering.
Of course, we’ve seen all of this many times in the past. Remember how the 1979 Tyrrell 009 was a blue Lotus 79? How, Mugen engine apart, the 1995 Ligier JS41 was a dead ringer for the Benetton B195? How the FIA had to clarify that Sauber’s 2004 Ferrari-engined C23 wasn’t a Ferrari F2003-GA? More recently, various Toro Rosso (now Alpha Tauri) machines have inevitably had more than a passing resemblance to the Red Bulls, while the Haas cars when they first arrived were heavily criticised for their closeness to Ferraris.
Indeed, on the grid for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix, where Kevin Magnussen and Roman Grosjean were sixth and seventh, none less than Alain Prost had said, “It’s upsetting because it’s not exactly in the spirit of F1. We need to fix this kind of problem.”
But this is part of the game. All successful cars inevitably breed some sort of lookalikes. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? The key is just how close the resemblance is, and Renault’s protest of Racing Point is designed to have the issue clarified officially. It’s unlikely to be the only protest during this process.
Sergio himself was rightly expected to be the star in the team. The Mexican is hugely experienced now, having made his debut in the formula with Sauber back in 2011. In 2012 he was the standout in the rain in Malaysia, when he came so close to unseating eventual winner Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, in his Sauber. Similar performances catapulted him into McLaren for 2013, but it was too much, too soon, and also the right place at the wrong time.
He didn’t have the best approach, and was still immature. And he got a lot of stick from team mate Jenson Button when they went wheel-to-wheel in Bahrain, though Jenson later recanted and admitted that he regretted some of his outbursts, as he came to realise just what a good job his young team mate was doing. They formed a decent relationship thereafter, but it took Checo a while to get rid of the reputation that he picked up as a result. It got further traction when he and Esteban Ocon argued over the same bit of track several times while team mates at Force India in 2017.
Today, in my opinion, he is one of two drivers outside the top three teams whom I would most like to see getting a seat in one of them (the other being George Russell). He can still be tough and get his elbows out when the occasion demands it, but he has always been a master of getting the best out of his tyres, on the same level as Lewis Hamilton. And he is superb coming through in races, with consistent performances so smooth that they often go unnoticed, Giancarlo Fisichella-style.
But… the top team chance is a boat that Checo now seems to have missed. Especially as Ferrari, of whose Driver Academy he used to be a member, opted for Carlos Sainz as Charles Leclerc’s future partner. But this is why it’s been so exciting to watch the growth of Racing Point under the new ownership of Lawrence Stroll. Checo has been instrumental in helping to facilitate that. Next year they become Aston Martin, and could be the midfield contender with the best chance of closing the gap to the Big Boys.
But things change fast in Formula One. And all of that loyal and doughty service may not be enough to save his place at Racing Point. Now the Mexican’s career seems imperilled – by Sebastian Vettel, who himself only a few weeks ago seemed destined to be the man who was out of work in 2021.
If it was currently possible to do a vox pop of people in the paddock, I think many would say that Vettel and Perez would be a very strong line-up for a team on the move in 2021, but things aren’t that simple. With Stroll’s son Lance already contracted (as is Checo), it’s highly unlikely that the young Canadian would be the driver who was dropped to accommodate the German.
You could suggest that Stroll Snr’s fellow shareholders might argue in favour of keeping the Mexican on the basis that he is usually the quicker of the two in qualifying, more often than not the stronger driver in races, and also brings some decent funding. But when you factor in Lawrence’s motivation in buying the team in the first place, it’s clear that you wouldn’t bet against Lance being the one who stays. And, to be fair, I thought he did a terrific job in qualifying third, ahead of Checo, last weekend in Hungary, though in his defence the Mexican admitted to feeling dizzy and unwell on Saturday afternoon. Lance also drove the better race, to fourth place.
Sebastian has made it clear that nothing a yet has been offered to him, and that if and when that should happen, he intends to go away and have a long think before deciding whether to align his future with Aston Martin’s. It looks 50/50 right now. And while the prospect of him taking up the challenge of bringing a smaller team forward has massive appeal, I’m sure I won’t be alone in feeling a great deal of empathy for Checo were he to be replaced after doing so much to help them get to this crucial point.