Sergio Perez has made very clear his desire to stay in Formula 1 after being dropped by Racing Point to accommodate Sebastian Vettel, but with opportunities with teams towards the front of the grid limited he has a huge amount to offer the struggling teams that have vacancies.
Haas team principal Guenther Steiner has confirmed Perez is among a list of “close to 10” candidates for his 2021 squad, which also includes Nico Hulkenberg as well as incumbent drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
Alfa Romeo team principal Frederic Vasseur is also known to be an admirer of Perez and there has also been contact with the Sauber-run team that gave the Mexican his F1 break back in 2011.
The only other teams that have yet to confirm their full driver line-up for 2021 are the Red Bull-owned ones – which are set be filled from the company’s current roster even though Perez would be eminently worthy of consideration – and Mercedes, where Lewis Hamilton’s yet-to-be-completed deal is seen as a formality.
But while the combination of teams interested in his services and Perez’s desire to remain in F1 means sounds like it will make a deal inevitable, the fact the likely berths are towards the back of the grid makes it less certain.
While both Alfa Romeo and Haas would benefit hugely from a driver of Perez’s experience and ability – not to mention financial backing – they might have their work cut out to convince him they are valid destinations.
After all, when Perez originally signed the three-year Racing Point deal that has now come to a premature end he made very clear that he didn’t want to continue in F1 simply to make up the numbers.
Perez echoed that position at Mugello yesterday when he said he wanted to stay in F1 but stressed teams chasing him needed to offer some realistic hope of capitalising on the 2022 rule changes.
“My main target is to remain in F1,” said Perez.
“I feel that I’m still very young and hungry and I want to carry on in Formula 1, but it has to be the right package that really gives me the maximum motivation to be at 100% every single lap.
“I think it’s also going to be a long-term project targeting 2022. That’s the main reason that I want to continue for 2022 – because I feel like there can be plenty of opportunities.”
So while Perez has accepted that ’21 is likely to be a difficult year, he would need to be convinced of the potential for a big step forward the following season for it to be worth his time.
The same would apply to his backers, who would need also need to be sure either Haas or Alfa Romeo would be more than occasional points threats.
The Race put it to Haas boss Steiner that Perez was surely a logical choice given he ticks all the boxes – experience, potential backing, a strong track record with midfield teams.
Unsurprisingly, Steiner was cautious given the likely difficulty of convincing Perez to make a move to his team, but did confirm he was a candidate.
“We will discuss this with Gene [Haas, team owner] and then come to a conclusion but there are other people that tick boxes as well, it’s not only him,” said Steiner.
“Checo [Perez], I respect a lot what he did. As I always said also with Sebastian [Vettel] it’s a pity if we would lose him in Formula 1.
“The same with Nico Hulkenberg not being here, they are all good people.
“I don’t know what we are going to do. There are a lot of options.”
Doubtless, both Alfa Romeo and Haas will move mountains behind the scenes to convince Perez of their potential and both can point to success in 2018 as showing what they are capable of.
But given both are firmly rooted in the ‘Class C’ battle at the back of the grid, it remains to be seen if they can make a compelling case.
What is clear is what Perez offers to those teams. Arguably, he is F1’s greatest-ever exponent of racing in the midfield with a consistent record of getting results and 107 points finishes from second to 10th place on his CV – eight of those podium finishes.
He’s a master tyre manager, capable of executing race drives that are beyond most in terms of controlling the slip of the rear tyres with what Racing Point technical director Andrew Green has likened to a built-in traction control system.
And while qualifying isn’t his strongest suit, he has a solid record on Saturdays that means he consistently creates a good platform for strong race drives on Sunday with the set-up focus ensuring he has the car to deliver on that.
That kind of dependability is hugely valuable to teams struggling to find a foothold in F1’s midfield.
While both Haas and Alfa are held back by the Ferrari engine package, something they can do nothing about, both also have car limitations, while Haas in particular appears to struggle to get the best out of the machinery at its disposal.
Perez would also contribute on that side of things. And, at 30, he still has a long future ahead of him in F1.
While Perez was vehemently against the idea of a sabbatical when it was put to him by The Race – and surprisingly so given he can afford to take a year off – he should perhaps also consider the potential of F1’s other backmarker team: Williams.
With new ownership in Dorilton Capital and cash being invested in the team, Williams has genuine potential. While it is perhaps asking too much for it to make too big a step in 2022, its long-term status is worth Perez considering. While George Russell and Nicholas Latifi are both signed up for 2021, the team has an open roster for the following season.
What is clear is that Perez will have options given his unusual blend of ability and the extra sweetener of potential financial backing.
What is less clear is how appealing those options are to him. And with teams outside of F1 likely to be interested in his services and IndyCar being a particularly good hit, there are no lack of alternatives.
So the real question is not whether F1 teams need Perez, because several of them clearly do. It’s really whether he needs them.