September 2020 saw shockwaves permeate through the Formula 1 paddock as, on the eve of the Tuscan Grand Prix weekend, it was confirmed that Sergio Perez would be leaving Racing Point at the end of the season.
Perez’s departure after six years with the Silverstone-based team would pave the way for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to join, leaving the Mexican out in the cold with few drives left on the market.
It also came at a time when Perez and Racing Point were enduring a frustrating campaign that saw the team get close to reaching the podium only for it to slip through their fingers.
To make matters worse, Perez had invested his own money into Racing Point in 2018 to keep it alive after the team was put into administration, rubbing salt into an already gaping wound.
Three months later, and with his future still in doubt, Perez produced a performance that would change the trajectory of his Formula 1 career forever.
One night in Bahrain
With the Formula 1 calendar dramatically shaken up because of Covid-19, some circuits held two Grand Prix to keep the show on the road.
The Bahrain International Circuit had a surprise up its sleeve as they would use the shorter outer layout for the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. With lap times set to be around 53 seconds and a race distance of 87 laps, the drivers’ reactions would be thoroughly tested.
The main story going into the weekend was the absence of Lewis Hamilton after testing positive for Covid-19. Hamilton’s misfortune was Williams hotshot George Russell’s gain as he was drafted in at Mercedes, qualifying second in a car he had never driven.
Russell duly took the lead from Valtteri Bottas on Lap 1. Behind the two Mercedes, Perez became the innocent bystander in a collision between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, taking both out on the spot and leaving Perez at the back of the pack with plenty of work to do.
What followed next was a masterclass as Perez, now with the bit between his teeth and his future on the line, sliced through the field, passing car after car to take an emotional maiden win from 18th, and last, on his 190th start.
Red Bull comes calling
With Red Bull’s insistence on having an experienced driver alongside Verstappen after experiments with Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly failed to bear fruit, Perez got a lifeline, and just five days after the season finale in Abu Dhabi, Perez traded Racing Point pink for Red Bull blue.
The 2021 F1 season started badly for Perez as he was constantly outpaced by Verstappen, who was far more comfortable with the RB16B, with Perez only managing to out-qualify the Dutchman once in the first half of the season.
However, not everything was doom and gloom as he did manage to take advantage of Verstappen’s late race puncture to take his second career victory in Baku and two weeks later in Paul Ricard, Perez played the team game to perfection, letting a faster Verstappen pass to help him beat Hamilton for the win.
The turning point for Perez’s spell at Red Bull came at Turkey when some tough defending of a charging Hamilton earned him secure his first podium since France, starting a run of form which would see him finish outside of the top five only twice.
But it was in Abu Dhabi where Perez showed how crucial he was to the Red Bull machine by holding Hamilton back on used tyres, allowing Verstappen rapidly closed the gap on the Brit before eventually beating him to the title on the last lap of the season.
With a new set of regulations, Perez could carry his 2021 form into 2022, taking the pole position in Jeddah and three podiums in the first six races.
During that run of races, Perez looked to have had the edge over Verstappen, particularly in the Spanish Grand Prix, where Perez led for most of the race after the retirement of Charles Leclerc. However, Red Bull’s intervention meant that he was forced to let Verstappen through before the chequered flag.
One week later, in Monaco, Perez got his just rewards taking a famous victory on the damp streets of the principality, opening up talk of a potential title fight between both Red Bull drivers and Leclerc.
That possibility quickly evaporated three weeks later in Canada when a gearbox problem on Lap 7 in Canada kicked off a poor run of form that saw momentum inside the team switch back to Verstappen, who stretched out an 80-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship before the summer break.
Perez’s title challenge failed to pick up steam when the sport returned to action at Spa, with Zandvoort and Monza cases of Verstappen dominance, and Perez’s resumed struggles with the RB18 failing to make the rostrum twice.
There was some crumb of comfort for Perez when Formula 1 went to Singapore for the first time in three years as a rare Verstappen off weekend and a perfect start from second on the grid saw him march away with a dominating victory even if he had to wait a few hours for it to be officially confirmed.
What will the future bring?
Despite his title hopes being extinguished at the very next round in Suzuka, Perez did manage to secure his Formula 1 future, signing a two-year extension with Red Bull the day after his Monaco heroics, a fine reward for a driver who has spent most of his career ringing every last drop out of midfield machinery.
Better yet, Perez’s two wins helped bring the constructors championship back to Milton Keynes for the first time in nine years.
With his home Grand Prix coming up, Perez is looking to send 110,000 of his compatriots into raptures by becoming the first Mexican to win the Mexican Grand Prix.
Although the world championship may not come his way, Perez can take full heart at the journey he has been on since that magical night in Sakhir; anything else he achieves will be a bonus to him and his legion of fans.