Sergio Perez is under contract with Red Bull through the 2024 Formula 1 season, but talk has already begun about who might replace him.
Red Bull’s Formula 1 driver lineup is one of the few that are already set for the 2024 season. Early last season, now two-time reigning world champion Max Verstappen signed a mega-deal to remain with the Milton Keynes-based team through at least the 2028 season, and shortly thereafter, Sergio Perez extended his deal through 2024.
While the speculation that Perez, who has won five races since joining the team two years ago, could be dropped a year early is quite literally based on nothing more than the cooked-up idea that Verstappen “wants him replaced”, it is looking increasingly unlikely that the team will extend his deal into 2025 and beyond.
Perez opened up the 2023 season looking like he could compete with Verstappen for the world championship and become a modern-day Nico Rosberg. But since he was poised to take the points lead away from Verstappen in Miami, he has recorded only one podium finish in three races, three races Verstappen has won, and he has failed to get into Q3.
The usual names mentioned whenever a seat with a top team opens up are unsurprisingly being mentioned in this space as well. The recent wakeboarding apparel choice of Lando Norris had fans talking about this very subject.
However, what Red Bull should do is make a seemingly bold move and sign a driver from outside Formula 1 for 2024 with the intention of having him moving into Perez’s seat in 2025. That driver should be Alex Palou.
Last summer, Palou’s IndyCar team, Chip Ganassi Racing, announced that they had picked up an option to extend his contract. Mere hours later, McLaren — and not specifically the McLaren IndyCar team, Arrow McLaren — announced that they had signed him for 2023. Palou made clear his intention to join the latter.
Long story short, Palou did end up back with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2023, all while taking on a new role as McLaren reserve driver on the Formula 1 side.
Now here we are in a similar situation in 2023. The general assumption has been that Palou will make the full move to McLaren in 2024, even though Chip Ganassi has made clear that he would be happy to have the 26-year-old Spaniard back for what would be a fourth season with the team next year.
But this time around, Palou holds all the cards regarding his Chip Ganassi Racing future, or lack thereof, provided he waits until September if he opts to go elsewhere.
The logical landing spot for Palou amid a potential move to McLaren is Arrow McLaren’s IndyCar team, presumably as the replacement for Felix Rosenqvist, whom he ironically replaced at Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021. Or, he could join as the driver of a fourth full-time entry that doesn’t yet exist.
Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri are both under contract with the McLaren Formula 1 team through 2024, with the former signed through 2025.
Based on the team’s lack of performance, there is speculation that Norris could leave early, but Piastri figures to be a focal point of the team’s future after dealing with his own Palou-like situation last summer, when he joined McLaren despite Alpine claiming that he would be in one of their two seats.
Another long story short, a spot on the McLaren Formula 1 team for 2024 — or even beyond that — doesn’t appear all that likely for Alex Palou.
But RACER.com’s Marshall Pruett recently reported that those within Palou’s management camp have been seeking out multiple potential opportunities for their client in the Formula 1 paddock.
There isn’t any way of knowing how these talks have gone nor with whom all they’ve been held, and all you generally get is an “I’m just looking forward to running well this weekend” response if you ask about it.
But it doesn’t take much investigative reporting to fully grasp what is being implied here: McLaren isn’t the only Formula 1 possibility for Palou, a driver whose heart appeared set on a full move to the papaya outfit less than 12 months ago.
Aside from the fact that a vacant seat doesn’t appear to be in the Woking-based team’s immediate future, the even more obvious fact to consider is that McLaren simply haven’t been able to compete at a high level in Formula 1. Sitting in sixth place in the constructor standings, they are struggling to score points on a regular basis.
Is that really something for which Palou would give up an IndyCar seat in which he can be a championship contender for the next decade-plus?
But Red Bull are in a much different position, and they have what it takes to make landing Alex Palou a reality.
The Milton Keynes-based team should have Palou sign with AlphaTauri in 2024 with the intention of having him take over Perez’s seat in 2025. If he performs well with the sister team, the seat alongside Verstappen becomes his to lose. If not, at least he knows where his future isn’t.
Neither Nyck de Vries nor Yuki Tsunoda is under contract with AlphaTauri for 2024, and there is general consensus that this lineup will look at least somewhat different next year. De Vries has struggled mightily since joining the team this season, and Tsunoda is still viewed by many as not doing enough for a driver in his third season in the sport.
The question that would be asked, especially if Palou performs well, is if potential success at Red Bull could result in a teammate conflict with Verstappen.
But Palou is as smooth of a driver as they come. He isn’t the type to ruffle any feathers. While there will be some who claim that Verstappen is the priority within the team and Palou wouldn’t have a chance for that reason, those are the same individuals who actually thought Perez had the advantage over his teammate just a few short weeks ago.
That crowd will change their story on a weekly basis to suit the “Never Max” narrative and should not be taken seriously when it comes to Red Bull’s next driver decision.
We all know that simply hanging with Verstappen is a tall task, but Palou has literally dominated three of the last eight races in the world’s most competitive racing series. And for the record, a lot more than two cars have a chance to win races in IndyCar.
Plus, let’s simplify things even further. If there are any drivers who can actually compete with Verstappen, they are clearly not in Formula 1 at the moment. That’s just the current reality of the sport.
Among drivers not in Formula 1, Palou, who already possesses an FIA Super License, certainly tops the list of talent. You simply cannot argue that he isn’t just as skilled as anybody else on the Formula 1 grid behind the wheel of an open-wheel race car.
Before next season ends, Palou is set to be 27 years old. You don’t generally see a driver starting his Formula 1 career at that age. But AlphaTauri signed a 28-year-old rookie this year in de Vries, so there is precedent for this type of signing by this particular organization.
Are there other teams that could have vacant seats in the near future? Sure. But no competitive team in Formula 1 can give Palou a seat straight away like Red Bull can through AlphaTauri. It is quite literally how Verstappen ended up with Red Bull instead of Mercedes.
It’s hard to see Palou giving up a championship-caliber IndyCar ride to join a slightly less potent IndyCar team. It’s also hard to see him giving up said ride to run 12th or 13th in Formula 1 every week. But to join Formula 1 with the prospect of competing for a world championship-caliber team? That’s a different story. And it’s a story that Christian Horner, Helmut Marko, and company need to start writing.