When Sergio Perez arrived for the Abu Dhabi GP with his CV splashed down the side of his helmet it was a clear message to Red Bull Racing.
The message was obviously received, as Perez will be team mate for Max Verstappen in 2021.
“This is what you call earning a fabulous F1 ride through pure brilliant performance,” said Mario Andretti when he heard the news.
But there is more to the signing of Perez than just the numbers on his helmet – 191 starts, 1 win, 10 podiums, 4 fastest laps, 49 laps led, 706 points.
It is proof that Red Bull Racing is going after Mercedes-AMG in 2021 with a super-serious challenge for supremacy in Formula One.
Honda is developing an upgraded powertrain package for its final year in grand prix racing and Perez is the final piece in a puzzle that could finally see Verstappen challenging Lewis Hamilton for the drivers’ world title and RBR threatening the Silver Arrows for the manufacturers’ championship.
Neither world have been possible with Alex Albon in the team.
Albon is a nice youngster with plenty of promise, but Red Bull needs immediate impact from the start of 2021.
That’s what it will get with Perez, who is at the top of his powers after his first F1 win and was only dropped by Racing Point – which becomes Aston Martin next year – because team owner Lawrence Stroll wanted fading four-time champion Sebastian Vettel to headline the team and to protect his son Lance’s spot in the second car.
Red Bull made a big fuss about checking the data from the season, but it was always going to take Perez.
“We thought long and hard about this decision,” said team boss Christian Horner.
“Having taken our time to evaluate all the relevant data and performances we have decided that Sergio is the right driver to partner Max for 202. Alex remains an important part of our team as test and reserve driver with a key focus on 2022 development and we would like to thank him for his hard work and contribution.”
So Albon has been sacrificed for Perez, just as Dani Kvyat has been punted out of AlphaTauri so Honda can have a Japanese driver in its final – once again, as it has quit F1 in the past – year in grand prix racing.
Yuki Tsunoda will partner Italian Grand Prix winner Pierre Gasly after a solid, but not sensational, season of Formula 2 this year.
“His integration with the Honda engineers has been seamless, which certainly helps. At the test in Abu Dhabi . . . he proved to be a fast learner and that he is ready to make the step to Formula One,” said AlphaTauri team principal, Franz Tost.
But, in all the driver moves for the Red Bull squads there is one unanswered question.
Before Perez made his short-lived final F1 start in Abu Dhabi he said he already had a deal in place for a comeback in 2022.
Red Bull Racing said his contract is only a one-year deal for 2021, so where will be be going – if anywhere – and what will he be driving after a season alongside Verstappen?