What's really going on with possible Red Bull 2024 driver change
Mon 08, Jul, 2024
Source: The Race

Liam Lawson’s test of a 2024 Red Bull Formula 1 car after the British Grand Prix leads into a crucial few weeks for the team to potentially decide to replace Sergio Perez mid-season.

Red Bull has admitted it “desperately” needs Perez, who is on a prolonged run of poor form, in the fight at the front in F1 again.

Yet another race weekend has passed at the British Grand Prix with Max Verstappen left solo against increasing opposition, as this time he duked it out with two McLarens and two Mercedes and finished second.

Perez was not in the mix as he was eliminated in Q1 after spinning into the gravel in damp conditions in qualifying, and then failed to score points in a miserable race - in which an early gamble on intermediates backfired - after starting from the pitlane.

His form has been poor for several races, even before a new Red Bull contract was announced ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix, one that technically ties him to the team until the end of 2026.

But there are clear performance targets to meet and Perez is falling short of them, leaving Verstappen’s to fight single-handedly at the front as Red Bull has faced an increased threat from rival teams.

Perez has scored 15 points in the last six races and only the stuttering form of Red Bull’s closest early championship challenger Ferrari has protected the team from coming under massive pressure. But McLaren and Mercedes have scored the most points over recent races and at this rate, with 12 grands prix remaining, there will be a serious constructors’ championship fight.

That means Perez’s latest setback at Silverstone rammed home the point that Red Bull does not have a car advantage that can carry an underperforming second driver.

"It’s something we’re acutely aware of, that to win the constructors’ championship you need both cars scoring," said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner after the British GP.

If Perez doesn’t prove he can rise to that challenge before the summer break, the prospect of a driver change at F1’s best team becomes realistic for this year, not just for 2025, as while the team sees this as a last resort it is believed to be considered a real option.

Horner said that Perez knows it is "unsustainable to not be scoring points - he knows his role and his target". After Sunday’s British GP, Perez admitted that the last two races before the break were important for him.

“I know where I am in terms of contract and that sort of thing,” he said of the speculation around his immediate future.

“I cannot let it be a distraction, I need to focus on the next few weekends which are the priority, together with the team to get out of this difficult period.”

In terms of who could replace him, Daniel Ricciardo has been given a similar timeframe to strengthen his case within Red Bull, but Lawson might be in a better position.

Lawson’s preparing for a 2024 Red Bull test in the form of a promotional event at Silverstone this week, which Horner tried to play down, but it will help Red Bull evaluate his suitability for the top team.

Horner - who could not disguise post-race that Perez had had a "horrible weekend" - said only that Lawson's tests had been planned for a while, "so they're not something that has just sprung up". But he did not rule out shuffling the line-up when asked.

"Of course Checo is under pressure," Horner added. "That’s normal in Formula 1. And when you are underdelivering, that pressure only mounts.

"He’s aware of that. He knows that. And this weekend nothing has really gone his way."

Having stood in for Ricciardo for five races last year, and performed well, Lawson has shown himself worthy of a proper F1 chance, and Red Bull needs to decide by September whether it is putting him in one of its cars or not - otherwise he’ll become a free agent.

The initial idea was to put him at RB full-time, but Ricciardo could keep his place alongside Yuki Tsunoda even if he is not viewed as a serious Perez back-up, and now there is a potential need for Lawson to fill a gap higher up the food chain.

As for Ricciardo, recently he has been stronger than Tsunoda, but he has had a difficult British GP. Ricciardo felt that was mainly because the team handled qualifying poorly in mixed conditions, but he was also just a bit off Tsunoda - who scored a point in 10th - all weekend.

In terms of a Red Bull Racing opening, Ricciardo said that F1’s becoming “more Hollywood” with the wild narratives around it in recent years, but that he has no proof he’ll be anywhere else in the second half of the year and is “not in a place to say that or think that or predict that”.

He therefore wouldn’t make any predictions about what happens in the driver market. But Ricciardo did concede “crazy” things can happen in F1.

And Red Bull’s hand being forced into a shock mid-year change at its top team would be one of the extraordinary twists in recent memory.