The lack of a superstar-like record in his junior career and a not wholly convincing time at McLaren in 2013 left Sergio Perez with no clear routes to the front of the Formula 1 grid.
Except for one – to stick with what was then the Force India team through thick and thin in the belief that one day it will get the resources to deliver on its obvious potential.
Despite some setbacks in terms of results in 2019 and 2020, that day looks closer than ever as the Aston Martin era beckons, and Perez’s three-year deal should’ve ensured he stuck around to reap the benefits.
Instead, just as the team’s anticipated breakthrough looms large, aided by investment and a new F1 ruleset, Perez is on his way out.
No, he has not been at his most convincing in 2020 – but he’s still looked sharper than both the man who’s replacing him, and the man who’s been kept on instead of him.
Back when he signed his three-year Racing Point extension, Perez openly admitted he didn’t see himself sticking around for much longer in F1 if he and the team he was driving for hadn’t broken through to the front by the end of that deal.
Both Haas and Alfa would be fixer-uppers given their current state, and need years to get anywhere near the front
And it is clearly very hard to see how Perez can now find himself in an F1 car capable of winning as early as 2022.
Each of the teams with the resources to challenge for the title has several names on its shopping list that would get the nod before him.
Mercedes would turn to George Russell. Red Bull has been pretty set on not looking outside its programme. Ferrari – a top F1 team in terms of resources if clearly not results right now – is sorted long-term.
What of the midfield upstarts that, along with Racing Point, threaten to break into the upper echelon? Well, McLaren looks set for a while, and Renault/Alpine will have Fernando Alonso through 2022 at least. Even if Esteban Ocon fails to convince and earn an extension to remain alongside Alonso, it’s hard to see the double world champion being partnered by a fellow veteran rather than someone on the younger end of the spectrum.
There are F1 teams who would surely welcome Perez with open arms – every single one of us can think of two, the same two, Haas and Alfa Romeo.
But both of those would be fixer-uppers given their current state, and unless 2022 completely flips the pecking order, it would take them years to get anywhere near the front if they ever do.
Perez’s pedigree and backing would virtually ensure a top IndyCar seat
By then Perez will be in his mid-30s, which doesn’t necessarily have to be retirement age for an F1 driver. But as a percentage play it’s not great – investing several more years into a project that might never come off, and that might, like this one has, replace you with a flashier name once it’s about to make it.
So, unless he can somehow convince Red Bull to break from its current convention and land the seat alongside Max Verstappen (very unlikely), he won’t be winning in F1 in the coming few years. A seat elsewhere, where he can win right now, is surely more deserving of Perez’s time.
NASCAR, Formula E, the World Endurance Championship, you name it – all are worth looking at, and all can give Perez what he deserves: a genuine shot at silverware at a big stage in his prime years.
His previous positive comments about the Indianapolis 500 suggest IndyCar would be a particularly attractive destination, as his pedigree and backing would virtually ensure a top seat (see Marcus Ericsson, a good driver but one who hasn’t achieved anywhere near what Perez has in F1, ending up at Ganassi) and his tyre management skills would leave him well-placed to achieve great things in the series in its current guise.
He’d much rather be doing it in F1, but there comes a time where you’ve been at the table long enough and need to cash out. For Perez, the time is now.