Red Bull has signed Sergio Perez to its Formula 1 driver line-up for 2021, with Alex Albon demoted to reserve driver.
Albon has had a disappointing first full season at Red Bull Racing alongside team-mate Max Verstappen.
Verstappen was able to split or fight the Mercedes drivers at times, winning the 70th Anniversary and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix, even with the team’s tricky RB16.
But as the car has improved and Verstappen’s Mercedes-fighting exploits were bolstered, Albon failed to progress – ending the year seventh in the standings with a pair of podium finishes to his name.
Albon’s new reserve role will include a focus on development duties for Formula 1’s 2022 tech rules revamp, with Perez replacing him on a one-year deal.
“Alex is a valued member of the team and we thought long and hard about this decision,” said team principal 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 2021 and look forward to welcoming him to Red Bull Racing.
“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.”
As Albon’s season failed to build momentum, Perez’s went from strength to strength.
The 30-year-old finished fourth in the championship in his best season in F1, which included a breakthrough victory in the Sakhir Grand Prix.
Perez’s stellar form came despite being informed by Racing Point it would activate a get-out clause in his contract for 2021 so the team could sign Sebastian Vettel instead.
With Perez suddenly on the market and out-of-contract Nico Hulkenberg impressing in stand-in appearances for Racing Point when Perez and Lance Stroll had COVID-19, Red Bull had two unexpected, experienced options outside its driver pool to consider.
The prospect of the team hiring an outside driver for the first time since Mark Webber only grew more likely as the season progressed.
Though Albon scored his first F1 podium with a feisty drive at Mugello, where he had to recover from various setbacks, he failed to match Red Bull’s expectation he would build on that result.
Instead, he scored just one point in the four races that followed, including a three-race pointless run after compromising his Eifel Grand Prix with an early error than a needless clash with Daniil Kvyat, failing to recover from a terrible start in Portugal and spinning late in the Emilia Romagna GP at Imola.
Albon briefly moved into victory contention in F1’s chaotic Turkish Grand Prix before spinning, then inherited a second podium finish in Bahrain after a race where he ran up to 40 seconds adrift of Verstappen and was stuck behind Perez until the Racing Point driver had an engine failure.
A miserable second race followed in Bahrain as Albon was knocked out in Q2 and only finished sixth in a grand prix Verstappen and both Mercedes drivers were eliminated from victory contention in, and Perez recovered from being spun to the back on lap one to win.
Albon felt he had made a final-round breakthrough when he posted his closest qualifying performance to Verstappen of the season in Abu Dhabi, even though Lando Norris’s surprisingly fast McLaren beat Albon to fourth on the grid.
In the race, Albon drifted away from the lead fight but while he only finished fourth while Verstappen won, he was at least able to pressure Mercedes to the finish and play a part in the outcome by stopping Verstappen’s rivals splitting their strategies or being able to take a breather.
However, it was not enough to convince Red Bull to keep him on, while Perez beat out Hulkenberg to be first in line to partner Verstappen in Albon’s place.
2021 F1 DRIVER LINE-UP
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas
Red Bull-Honda: Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez
McLaren-Mercedes: Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris
Aston Martin-Mercedes: Lance Stroll, Sebastian Vettel
Alpine-Renault: Esteban Ocon, Fernando Alonso
Ferrari: Carlos Sainz Jr, Charles Leclerc
AlphaTauri-Honda: Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda
Alfa Romeo-Ferrari: Kimi Raikkonen, Antonio Giovinazzi
Haas-Ferrari: Mick Schumacher, Nikita Mazepin
Williams-Mercedes: George Russell, Nicholas Latifi
Drivers in italics yet to be officially announced