Updated: Feb 5, 2021
The 2020 season may only be 4 races old, but the Formula 1 driver market has already seen a number of high profile moves for next year. Ferrari’s decision to replace four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel with Carlos Sainz has left the German scrambling for a seat for 2021. With Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Renault all confirming that Vettel won’t be considered, his last hope of landing a remotely competitive race seat rests with Racing Point- a team with two drivers that would be expected to have stayed on in Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll- but for recent speculation linking Vettel to Racing Point.
Both Perez and Stroll have intrinsic links to the team that would make replacing them with Vettel extremely challenging indeed, but is this a risk worth taking in order to secure one of the most successful drivers in F1 history- and is this a decision that will be driven by politics over pace?
Perez and Stroll have been team-mates at Racing Point since 2019
What are the facts?
Perez is technically contracted to Racing Point until the end of 2022. Stroll’s contractual details are unknown, but since the team is owned by his father, Lawrence (more on that later), it’s assumed that he will have a contract for as long as that remains the case. Since Ferrari opted not to renew Vettel’s contract, he is free to race with whoever wants him.
Who are the quickest two drivers?
It’s always a challenge to give a definitive answer, such is the difference between the pace of each F1 team; but against a team-mate there is nowhere to hide. Perez and Stroll were Racing Points’ drivers in 2019, with Perez finishing 10th in the driver standings with 52 points, and Stroll miles behind in 15th and with only 21 points. Quite simply, this is a margin too significant to put down to Stroll’s relative inexperience.
With 53 race wins, 57 pole positions and 4 world titles, Vettel has by far the best pedigree for a team that is looking to start winning races over the next 2 years-compared to Stroll and Perez who have 9 podiums and no race wins between them. However, Vettel has been shockingly error-prone since halfway through the 2018 season, where he threw away a good shot at the world title, with 2019 and the start of the 2020 season continuing to emphasise this reputation whilst also lacking the pace of team-mate Charles Leclerc . F1 experts tend to argue that Vettel is low on confidence and a change of team should rectify these issues- although some say that he needs at least a year away from the sport if he is to continue at all.
So while it’s very hard to judge all 3 drivers relative to one another, we can quite confidently say that Perez has earned the right to be considered significantly quicker than Stroll, and so Perez should be guaranteed a seat with Vettel and Stroll vying for the other. But it’s not that simple…
Why is it not just based on speed?
Politics and money are never too far away from the F1 agenda, and the fight for a Racing Point drive is no exception. Since Stroll’s billionaire father Lawrence owns the team (as mentioned), Stroll’s deficit in pace and pedigree to Perez and Vettel almost becomes irrelevant; the team owner dropping his own son seems unlikely considering the financial support that Lawrence has put in throughout his son’s career- including his first F1 seat at Williams back in 2017.
Perez, though, has more than just good chemistry with Racing Point. He effectively saved the team from going bust before Lawrence Stroll bought it out by bringing about administration proceedings. Add this to the vast sponsorship that Perez brings with him through a number of Mexican telecommunication giants, and even for a billionaire such as Lawrence Stroll the numbers cannot be ignored.
Vettel, meanwhile, has one of the biggest profiles in F1 and as one of it’s most successful drivers in the sport’s history, would bring the experience of race-winning that no driver in Racing Point (or any of it’s previous names) has experienced in over a decade.
Vettel has a reputation for being something of a joker in the F1 paddock, but in recent times his smile has vanished
On a surface level, Racing Point would be foolish not to combine Perez and Vettel; on paper, certainly one of the very strongest driver line-ups on the grid. All the murmurings suggest that it’s Perez who will likely make way for Vettel, however- and Lawrence Stroll will keep his son safe and sound. This would be a huge gamble for Racing Point, and a costly one too. Is replacing your undisputed quickest driver who, has saved the team from going bust, with a driver who has underperformed for 3 years really worth it?