Sergio Perez says he only found out yesterday he will leave the Racing Point Formula 1 team at the end of 2020, having been led to believe he would not be replaced.
Perez signed a multi-year deal with the team that was due to cover the 2021 season but Racing Point has found a way to escape that agreement and sign four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel instead.
It means Perez will not be a part of the team’s exciting new era as the Aston Martin works team and he announced his exit on social media on Wednesday evening ahead of the Tuscan Grand Prix, before Racing Point unveiled Vettel on Thursday morning.
“I got confirmation yesterday,” Perez said on Thursday afternoon. “Nobody told me anything but I already knew and figured out a couple of things.
“And the final confirmation came yesterday.
“It’s fine, seven years with the team. Everything has a beginning and also an end. We still have nine races to make each other very proud.”
He was informed of the team’s decision by chairman Lawrence Stroll, father of Perez’s team-mate Lance Stroll.
“He told me yesterday that they’re going into another direction,” said Perez.
Perez had remained adamant in the face of speculation linking Vettel to the team that he had spoken to Racing Point’s bosses and received reassurance over his future.
He said two races ago in Belgium there was no reason for there to be a change and insisted he believed that because “that was the feedback that I was getting, that the team wanted to keep me and so on”.
It had been suggested that Racing Point had a break clause in Perez’s contract it could activate by a certain date.
Perez would not disclose specifics but admitted “there were some discussions in the background about contracts”, only elaborating to say there were “a couple of things in the contract that we went through”.
“In the end they just officially told me yesterday that I’m not continuing,” he said.
“I didn’t expect that, but it’s how it is.”
Perez is now reacting to remain on the grid at all, as he says he has no Plan B lined up. Alfa Romeo looks his most likely destination with Haas another potential candidate.
He says he would prefer to leave F1 completely than have a year out because “once you go out, you might never come back – I’d rather retire first than take the sabbatical”.
“My main target is to remain in F1,” he said. “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.
“I certainly think that 2021 can be a difficult year in that regard. But you never know. There certainly are options out there.
“I don’t expect to make a decision anytime soon. I will take the time that I require, and if I don’t find anything attractive in F1, then I will think about the other series, other things, and we’ll see.”
Asked by The Race if he was disappointed not to be given clarity earlier on in the process, if Racing Point was evaluating whether to replace him after all, Perez admitted he would have looked at alternative options sooner.
“I wouldn’t say disappointed in that regard because obviously I understand it,” he said.
“The team also has other negotiations going on and they took probably longer than I thought.
“A bit more clarity would have helped regarding my future as well because then I would have looked for a Plan B, which probably wouldn’t have changed anything [with Racing Point’s decision].
“I’ve been long enough in this business, it’s part of this crazy world called F1.”
Perez said in his announcement on Wednesday that the news “hurts a bit” and he said on Thursday it is more painful knowing how competitive the package is likely to be in 2021 and beyond.
Having spent so many years in the midfield and impressed with his underdog performance, this was considered a major career opportunity for the 30-year-old.
But he accepts that a major signing like Vettel is beneficial with the Aston rebranding.
“It is no secret I put a lot of effort into this team in many ways,” said Perez.
“At the same time the team, back then with Vijay [Mallya, Force India owner], they gave me the opportunity to carry on with my career.
“In the end, it didn’t work out.
“I think a better opportunity came to the team, to the brand, so there’s nothing I can do.
“It’s not a performance related thing. So as a driver there is not much I can do.”
Perez scored five podiums during the teams Force India era, led it to back-to-back fourth place finishes in the constructors’ championship and also triggered the legal action that took the team into administration and ultimately saved it as it became engulfed in a financial crisis in 2018.
“The main highlight for me that I will take forever is obviously saving the team and saving the jobs of so many team members,” he said.
“That’s the thing that is the most special for me, and that I will always be very proud of this team.
“I think they have a great future ahead of them and I wish them the very best.”