At the 189th time of asking, Sergio Perez crossed the finish line of a Formula 1 Grand Prix in first place. Not only was it a momentous achievement to battle back from last to claim victory, but it was a poignant moment in what could be his penultimate race in the sport.
Sadly, this sort of storyline isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s become almost a yearly ritual that we say goodbye to a driver who is being ousted for reasons other than their ability on track.
At the end of last year we lost fan-favourite Nico Hulkenberg who was dropped by Renault after a successful three-year stint. The year before, Esteban Ocon – Hulkenberg’s replacement – was forced to take a sabbatical despite impressing in his first two seasons alongside Perez at Force India.
The list goes on.
But perhaps the most damning example will be the ejection of Perez that is fast approaching.
And speaking to The Race’s Edd Straw after the Sakhir Grand Prix, the Mexican once again addressed his future.
He said: “I never know what’s going to happen, but after today, after the last couple of races, I’m sort of determined to be here, either if it’s next year or the year after.
“I already have some good options for ’22 so my best option is obviously to keep going on next year but if I have to stop, then it’s not a disaster, I can come back in ’22.
“The regulations are going to change so much that in a way, I don’t think it will hurt that much the driving side, to get up to speed. I’m at peace with myself, you know.”
While it must be tough to take, it’s not hard to see why Perez is “at peace” with himself. Entering the weekend’s event, it was already shaping up to be a record season for the Racing Point driver.
Seasons-best finishes of 101 points and seventh place in the Drivers’ Championship are guaranteed to be surpassed and that’s despite missing two races from what was an already shortened 2020 calendar after testing positive for Covid-19.
And there were other less serious but more recent setbacks.
Most notably, a late call to pit cost Perez a certain podium at the Emilia Romagna GP and, just last week, he was cruelly denied another top-three finish when his Mercedes engine cried enough with little more than three laps to go in Bahrain.
If you consider these results flanked a second in Turkey and preceded his win yesterday, that ought to have been four podiums in a row. It’s nothing short of staggering that this is a driver without a team for 2021.
And yes, the machinery at his disposal this year has allowed the 30-year-old to be far more competitve than ever before, but where is his team-mate then?
In the same car and having driven one more race than Perez, Lance Stroll has 74 points to his name – 51 shy of the man he shares a garage with.
It’s a sad characteristic that draws the ire of not just those involved with the sport, but also of the casuals who fleetingly cast judgement after a race like yesterday’s.
Referencing his one-time team-mate who suffered a similar fate at the end of the 2018 season, Perez finished by saying: “I think Esteban [Ocon] mentioned that drivers like him are missing out on seats, so it’s just the way Formula 1 is.
“It can be really tough and not the best drivers are in Formula 1 unfortunately. So, we keep pushing and we keep delivering and I think that’s the best way to do it.”
That is the best way to do it, but will that be enough?
Will we see Sergio Perez on the grid next year? If so, where? Leave a comment below or reach out to us on Twitter.