That second seat at Red Bull has become a bit of an unlucky hotspot, but Sergio Perez’s victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix highlights that they have finally secured their second man.
The Mexican drove a composed race around the streets of Baku, and with some slight luck, took the second Grand Prix victory of his career, just six months after his maiden win in Sakhir.
Perez became the first Red Bull driver, besides Max Verstappen, to win a race since Daniel Ricciardo at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2018.
The 31-year-old has also achieved the second-highest amount of points at Red Bull after six races, scoring 69 points and only three behind Ricciardo, whilst Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon were significantly lower.
However, it hasn’t been all plain-sailing after a mixed start to his life at Red Bull.
After four finishes so far in the top-five, he was still some margin away from his Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, who were battling it out for the World Championship.
But Perez wasn’t worried and even predicted that it could take five races to get the best out of RB16B; long behold, in his sixth Grand Prix at his new team, the experienced driver cruised to his first victory and podium at Red Bull.
Speaking at the winter testing in Bahrain, Perez said: “But all in all, I also have to say that this car has very good potential in it. I think once I get on top of the car, then we should be looking good.
“It’s hard to pick a number – I think after five races. Once we go to very different races, different conditions, you understand the car [and] the team a lot better. I think five races, proper races, should be good.”
Although his victory captured the headlines from last weekend, it was another aspect of the race that caught my attention.
Starting the grid in the sixth, the Red Bull driver made a sublime start, rising to fourth by the end of lap one before quickly overtaking Charles Leclerc for third, maintaining distance with Verstappen and Hamilton.
Unlike before, Red Bull had a driver alongside Verstappen to double down on Hamilton, taking advantage when the British driver experienced a slow pit-stop, as the Mexican jumped him in the order and providing as a blockage for Verstappen, who was in the lead at the time.
In fact, the Mexican had the opportunity to lead the race, but suffered a slow pit-stop, although managing to still leapfrog Hamilton after building a significant gap in two laps.
From there on, Perez was tasked with keeping Hamilton at bay and did that superbly, giving Verstappen the time to gradually build a gap and comfortably control the race before disaster struck.
And that’s what Red Bull have notably missed since Ricciardo left in 2018, someone that can maintain pace at the front of the pack and help Verstappen in certain situations against the Mercedes.
Red Bull have their best opportunity in years to win their first title since 2019, now that they have a second driver that’s capable of winning races and challenging the leaders and currently lead the seven-time world champions by 26 points.
Even the current world champion believed that Perez’s arrival would help Red Bull challenge for the title, and so far, he has been proved correct.
Speaking at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December, Hamilton said: “I think naturally this makes Red Bull stronger, particularly with the way Sergio is performing.
“I think Sergio has driven incredibly well this year and truly deserved a drive so I was so happy to hear he has been taken on by one of the top teams and given this opportunity.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting battle to watch him up against Max and that’s going to make it much harder for us as a team.”
Having that second Red Bull at the front has heaped pressure on Hamilton, especially when his own team-mate is struggling in the middle of the pack, further outlining the excellent acquisition of Perez this season.
It’s too early to tell what could happen this season. We’re barely 25% through the season, but the victory in Baku can only build the Mexican’s confidence in the car, providing further headaches for Mercedes and Hamilton in the coming months.
This early evidence shows that Red Bull made an excellent decision to sign Perez, and despite the controversy in dropping Albon, it’s looking like the risk is paying off.