Saturday, June 15, 2024

F1’s Checo Pérez returns to the podium, takes second in Japan

Mexican race car driver Sergio “Checo” Pérez finished second in the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, giving Red Bull a 1-2 finish with three-time Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen taking first place.

Pérez’s return to the podium in Suzuka, Japan, followed a disappointing showing for Red Bull in the previous Formula 1 event, the Australian Grand Prix on March 23, in which Verstappen departed after a mechanical failure and Pérez finished fifth.

Pérez behind the wheel in Suzuka, Japan on Sunday. (Mark Thompson/Getty Image via Red Bull Content Pool)

Every time Pérez has a disappointing race, speculation flies that he will not be back with Red Bull after 2024. Each team has two front-line drivers, and Pérez’s contract expires after this season; he signed a two-year extension worth roughly US $10 million in 2022.

Much of the speculation stems from Pérez’s rough 2023 campaign. Although he finished second in the overall standings, he had only two wins in 22 races, and none after the first four races of the season — despite having access to one of the most dominant cars in Formula 1 history. In his career, he has won only six times in 261 starts.

But in the first four races of the year, he snagged three second-place finishes (behind his Belgian-Dutch teammate Verstappen each time), and after the most recent, there was chatter about a new contract.

Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko praised Pérez’s improvement and ability to adapt to some recent car upgrades.

“I think Pérez was better than expected, especially after a very bad weekend here last year,” Marko said in Japan, alluding to Pérez’s 2023 collision and eventual retirement from the race.

He was especially happy Pérez was able to qualify last week in the number 2 position in the front row, alongside Verstappen.

“He gives the impression that he can do it,” Marko added. “But maybe it is also influenced by the fact that next year’s contracts are up for grabs … That also seems to be very motivating.”

After the Japan race, Pérez said he expects his Red Bull and F1 future to be clarified within the next month. Perhaps he’ll be driving with another team.

“I am pretty relaxed about it,” he told Sky Sports F1. “The driver market is moving, and the next few weeks are going to be a lot of movement for sure, so I expect within a month to really know what I’m doing next year.”

For now, the Red Bull seat is “Pérez’s to lose,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner, who has been critical of Pérez in the past. “I think his confidence is high, he’s very focused on the job at hand and he’s comfortable in the team.”

The next Formula 1 race is the Chinese Grand Prix on April 21 in Shanghai.

With reports from Récord, and Sports Illustrated FanNation

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