Sergio Perez is facing the brutal reality he is about to get a significant pay cut because of teammate Max Verstappen. The Mexican driver has ridden a rollercoaster in 2023 having been blown out of the water by reigning world champion Max Verstappen after winning two of the opening four grands prix of the year.
According to widespread speculation, Perez also has the added pressure of having Daniel Ricciardo breathing down his neck after being loaned out to AlphaTauri for the rest of the season.
The worst part of his taxing year has now been revealed with a report claiming Perez’s poor recent performance has activated a clause that would allow Red Bull to slash his wages. The famously brutal team has never shied away from treating its drivers like pieces of meat — and Perez’s future with the team remains uncertain despite having a contract trough to the end of the 2024 season. It appears that contract will be enough for Perez to hold onto his seat for 2024 and Red Bull boss Christian Horner has said publicly Ricciardo is chasing the second Red Bull seat, beginning in 2025.
After Verstappen again embarrassed the rest of the grid to win his eighth consecutive race at last week’s Belgian Grand Prix, the Dutch driver (314 points) has extended his lead in the championship to 125 points ahead of Perez (189). According to Dutch newspaper de Telegraf, that 125 point buffer is the point at which Perez’s bonus payments are able to be changed by the team. It was reported when Perez signed his two-year contract extension last year that he will earn $10 million per-year through to the end of 2024, but it has now been revealed that the deal is made up of a $7 million salary and $3 million in bonuses.
Having fallen 125 points behind his teammates, that contract clause could cost Perez a fortune. The report does not provide any specifics about how much money Perez stands to lose if he continues to fall further behind his teammate. The revelation contains two important pieces of information for Ricciardo — that he will likely have to wait until 2025 for a shot at Perez’s seat, and will likely face similar contract clauses if promoted to partner Verstappen in 2025. It comes just days after Sky Sports F1 analyst David Croft said it would be “real shame” for Ricciardo to return to Red Bull as Verstappen’s sidekick.
The Aussie famously quit the team after feeling the garage was beginning to show Verstappen favouritism, despite Ricciardo finishing further ahead in the championship standings.
Ricciardo’s return to the grid is the talk of the F1 world after he was granted a lifeline to drive for Red Bull’s feeder team AlphaTauri for the rest of the season. He has finished 13th and 16th in his two races back, driving well if not unremarkably, in one of the slowest cars on the grid. AlphaTauri clearly isn’t the end game for Ricciardo, who has aspirations to return to a full-time seat at a top team like Red Bull, where he enjoyed the best results of his career.
Ricciardo has said a return to Red Bull would be a “fairytale” way to end his career, but it begs the inevitable question — has he just wasted the last five years to be back where he was as the Robin to Verstappen’s Batman?
Verstappen is rewriting the record books this season and will claim his third consecutive drivers’ championship in his Red Bull rocket ship.
Speaking on the Sky Sports F1 podcast, commentator David Croft said Verstappen’s Red Bull teammates almost have to accept that they will be the team’s No. 2 driver and have no chance of winning the championship. Croft said: “Is it a weird paradox that to be a successful driver pairing to Max, you have to accept that you’re number two, but to be the best driver, you never accept that you’re number two and you’re in it to win. Isn’t that like impossible?” Co-commentator Karun Chandhok, who drove in 11 F1 races, replied: “In Checo’s situation he’s got to accept he’s against one of the greatest naturally talented drivers ever to sit in a Formula One car.”
Chandhok made the point that while Red Bull is dominating F1 now, it will be crucial to have two strong drivers when other teams begin to get a handle on the new era of regulations and catch them up. “For me, the point of all of this is at the moment it’s fine, right? Max is winning the Constructors’ by himself,” Chandhok continued. “But the reality is, if Mercedes and McLaren and Aston and Ferrari do get it together, and the natural order of things is we will start to see convergence with the stability of rules, that’s just the way Formula 1 has always been, they will get closer.”
He said Perez’s struggles, particularly in qualifying, could give Red Bull enough justification to switch him out for Ricciardo at some stage. “Then Max might need a support act and then you can’t have a teammate who’s not made Q3 for four or five weekends in a row,” Chandhok said, referring to Perez. “And I think that’s the point I’m trying to make from Red Bull’s perspective. It’s not about this year, this they has done and dusted them, they’re going to clean it up.
“It’s a question of when rather than if, but it’s about what are they going to do for next year. And I think that’s where the Ricciardo factor starts to come into play here.”Ricciardo famously left Red Bull at the end of the 2018 season after several skirmishes with Red Bull’s emerging golden child Verstappen, including at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. F1’s race caller Croft has previously said he still doesn’t understand why Ricciardo left Red Bull and he reiterated it would be a “shame” for the Aussie to have a No. 2 driver mindset and be back in the same position all these years later.