Formula 1: What Sergio Perez’s win means for Valtteri Bottas

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) /

Sergio Perez’s first win as a Red Bull driver could have a direct impact on Valtteri Bottas’s Formula 1 future with Mercedes.

By winning Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit, Sergio Perez has become the first Red Bull driver not named Max Verstappen to win a Formula 1 race since Daniel Ricciardo’s momentous victory in 2018 Monaco Grand Prix.

The 31-year-old Mexican showed great pace right from the get-go, and he played the team game by holding off Lewis Hamilton lap after lap with Verstappen comfortably leading the race.

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Then on lap 46, the 23-year-old Dutchman’s left rear tire let go, and he crashed into the wall, ending his race before he could take the checkered flag.

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But crucially for Red Bull, Perez was there in second place to pick up the pieces. So despite everything, the Austrian-based team still ended the day as winners, and Hamilton’s restart catastrophe means that Red Bull now lead the constructor standings by 26 points over Mercedes.

It was clear for all to see that this was the first race in which Perez was on it all weekend, and he was rewarded with a well-deserved victory, breaking the stigma that has surrounded the second Red Bull seat for a few years now.

Of course, Verstappen was on course for victory and had the measure of his teammate  throughout the race. But Red Bull are not expecting Perez to beat Verstappen; they simply want him to be there or thereabouts, which will give them a fighting chance to beat Mercedes.

In Baku, that is exactly what he did, which has given Mercedes, in particular Valtteri Bottas, a real headache for the rest of the season.

Just like with Red Bull’s expectations of Perez and Verstappen, Mercedes do not expect Bottas to beat Hamilton, but they need him to back him up in order to secure enough points for the constructor championship while Hamilton gains enough points to win the driver championship.

However, after the first six races of the 2021 season, Bottas has failed to score in three events and has taken three third place finishes in the other three, not exactly exceptional from a driver in the equal-best car who is now in his fifth season with the team.

Despite the low bar which Bottas had set himself coming into the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the Finn seriously underperformed on the streets of Baku, having one of his worst drives in a Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 car to date.

He only just made it out of Q2 to qualify in 10th place, admittedly with a red flag preventing him from setting a representative lap in the final session. He was battling with his old friend from Imola, George Russell, in the race and crossed the line in 12th in a race that Hamilton could very well have won.

This has created a crisis at Mercedes, as they needed Bottas to be in the mix with Verstappen, Perez and Hamilton at the front of the race so that he could be there when the chaos started to possibly pressure Perez, who was managing a last-lap hydraulics issue.

But the reality of Bottas’s result meant that Red Bull secured their third win of the season and Mercedes failed to score any points.

While rumors have been swirling around Bottas every year he has been at Mercedes, this time it feels different. When Mercedes clearly had the fastest car and were able to win both the driver and constructor championships with ease, having a compliant number two driver made sense.

But now the Silver Arrows have a proper fight on their hands, so Bottas needs to fulfill his role as a fast number two driver at the team, beating Verstappen when he can and giving Hamilton a chance to execute different strategies by running in the top two or top three race in and race out.

While this was only the first race in which Perez has done just that for Red Bull, this is only his first year at the team, whereas Bottas has been at the Brackley-based outfit for almost four and a half seasons now.

So if the tide is starting to turn for Perez and Bottas is continuing his downward slump, that can only be bad news for Mercedes.

There is another dynamic to consider, as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has been quite critical of Bottas recently, initially suggesting in Auto Motor und Sport, which was printed in the English publication PlanetF1, that Bottas was partly to blame for the botched pit stop that cost the Finn a certain Monaco Grand Prix podium.

He said: “Valtteri stopped a little too early. This meant the mechanic had to apply the impact wrench at an angle. The awkward angle damaged the wheel nut and we couldn’t bring it down.”

Wolff has since backtracked on these remarks, but it highlights the tension within the team, which is not exactly healthy for Mercedes while they are having to fight this hard against Red Bull.

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Bottas knows that he needs to at least be beating Perez if he wants to have any chance of holding onto his Mercedes seat for 2022 with a long list of drivers after it, but after securing his maiden win for Red Bull, Perez will be full of confidence and could very well help Red Bull secure their first title since 2013.