Sergio Perez has announced he will split with the Racing Point Formula 1 team at the end of the current season.
After weeks of speculation that he could be replaced by out-of-contract Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel when the team becomes Aston Martin in 2021, Perez took to social media to announce his long-standing association with the outfit would come to an end.
Perez joined what was then Force India in 2014, for his fourth season in grand prix racing, and has been a consistent part of its driver line-up since.
He’s scored five podiums for the team in that time.
In the statement he posted on social media, Perez – who had signed what was supposed to be a three-year deal in 2019 – intimated that he was not keen on leaving.
“It hurts a bit as I bet on the team during very rough times; we managed to overcome obstacles and I am very proud of saving the jobs of several of my team-mates,” he wrote, referencing his role in the Force India administration process of 2018.
“I don’t have a plan B,” he wrote. “My intention is to continue racing here [in F1], but that would depend on finding a project that motivates me to continue giving my 100% in each lap.”
Tengo algo que anunciarles…
¡Gracias por su apoyo todo este tiempo!
— Sergio Pérez (@SChecoPerez) September 9, 2020
Perez’s departure theoretically paves the way for Vettel to slot in alongside Stroll from 2021 onwards.
Vettel has kept his options open since learning Ferrari did not want to keep him beyond this season and signed Carlos Sainz Jr to partner Charles Leclerc instead.
The Racing Point/Aston Martin project quickly emerged as his best option as Mercedes distanced itself from a move for the four-time world champion and Red Bull closed the door to a Vettel return.
However, with Perez and Lance Stroll under contract for 2021, Racing Point refused to entertain speculation that Vettel could join – though it never emphatically ended that speculation either.
Vettel’s most recent comments about his future have reiterated that he is open to all options, including a sabbatical or retirement.
But he has regularly underlined his desire to continue with the right project.
Racing Point is in a fight to establish itself as the leading midfield team in F1 so that its Aston era may quickly develop into a programme that can fight for victories when new technical rules come into force in 2022.
The team was immensely successful on a small budget in its Force India days and with the investment from Stroll’s consortium boosting its funding and a budget cap set to slash rivals’ spending in 2021, expectations at the Silverstone-based team are high.
Meanwhile, it is thought Perez would have little trouble finding suitors in F1’s midfield given his financial backing and reputation as a consistent performer – but on current form a move to Ferrari customers Alfa Romeo or Haas, who don’t have their 2021 line-ups announced, would represent a downgrade from Racing Point.
The Silverstone-based outfit confirmed Perez’s departure in a statement released soon after the Mexican’s social media announcement.
“Checo has been part of the Silverstone family for seven years and in that time has become one of the most complete drivers on the grid,” said Racing Point team boss Otmar Szafnauer.
“Blisteringly quick on Saturday and Sunday, he’s established his reputation as a tenacious racer and together we have enjoyed some fantastic moments.
“If there was ever a sniff of a podium, Checo was ready to pounce, and those five podiums represent some of the finest days in the history of this team.
“Outside of the car, Checo is a true character and a good friend, and it’s been a pleasure working with him for such a long time.
“Although we will say goodbye at the end of the year, there are still nine races to go and plenty of opportunities for Checo to make some more special memories with this team.”