The short answer is, yes, at least on paper. Red Bull have repeatedly stressed that Perez’s seat is safe for 2024, as per his contract, which expires at the end of next season.
But for all of the PR spin, it is common knowledge in the paddock that contracts mean very little in F1. Every driver ultimately has their price and there are usually all sorts of secret get-out and performance-related clauses inserted into deals. These are often denied by teams who wish to keep such matters private.
While Perez’s seat may not be under immediate threat, there is a feeling of inevitability that the Mexican’s position will become precarious if he fails to get on top of his performances.
Horner piling on the pressure
Although Horner has continued to publicly back Perez, even after his most inexplicable of weekends, he has also subtly stoked up the pressure.
In an interview with Sky Sports News in the days that followed Red Bull’s constructors’ championship coronation at Suzuka, Horner stated that McLaren’s Lando Norris is one of “many” drivers his side are keeping an eye on.
Horner’s admission about Red Bull having “quite a bit of interest” in their seat alongside Max Verstappen for 2025 should set alarm bells ringing for Perez, if they weren’t already.
“Now, being Max’s team-mate is never going to be easy and some drivers may be up for that challenge, some may not be,” Horner added. “But, of course, as well as the drivers we have in-house we keep an eye on all the driver market.
“As you can imagine, there’s quite a bit of interest from certain sectors about driving a Red Bull car.”
If Red Bull were completely happy with their current driver line-up, Horner surely wouldn’t be entertaining such notions, and certainly not in such an open manner.
Is it second place or bust?
In the same interview, Horner interestingly placed heavy emphasis on Perez’s championship position.
Following his miserable run of form, Perez has slipped 175 points adrift of his dominant teammate, while he now sits just 33 points clear of third-placed Lewis Hamilton.
Perez has never finished higher than third in the drivers’ standings, while a 1-2 in the same championship has so far evaded Red Bull despite all of their F1 success.
“He’s got at least a one race weekend sort of [points] ‘buffer’ to Lewis and greater than that to Fernando [Alonso] behind him,” Horner said.
“It’s something that we’ve never achieved; we’ve never finished first and second with any of our drivers in the world championship so it would be a big thing for us to achieve.
“He came close last year, it would be his best-ever result, and he’s got the best car that he’s ever had to be able to try and achieve that result.
“Japan was frustrating and difficult for him, but he’ll bounce back. I’m sure there’s enough races with the six grands prix remaining for him still to achieve some great results between now and the end of the season.”
Even with the drivers’ crown set to be wrapped up by Verstappen next time out in Qatar, Horner is making an effort to keep Perez on his toes so he remains motivated for the final six races.
2024 will be a defining year
There is an argument that despite his struggles, Perez remains the perfect number two for Red Bull. He has, after all, helped the team secure back to back constructors’ championships and does not cause intra-team friction. Red Bull do not have the worry about their drivers running into each other like Mercedes did during the Hamilton-Nico Rosberg days.
For now, Red Bull can cope with – and just about accept – Perez’s inconsistencies. Even if Perez was taken out of the equation, Verstappen would remarkably still be leading the constructors’ championship all by himself.
Concerns will surely ramp up, however, if Red Bull ends up facing sterner competition from the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari, Aston Martin and McLaren in 2024.
In that situation, Red Bull could ill afford to have only one driver on the podium at each race. In a more fiercely-fought title battle, Perez’s misdemeanours would prove more costly, and potentially result in Red Bull missing out on world championships.
Barring a disastrous end to the season, Perez will still be a Red Bull driver next year, at least to begin with. But his position may become untenable, especially if Ricciardo and Tsunoda excel at AlphaTauri. Red Bull also have their highly-rated reserve driver Liam Lawson waiting in the wings.
In a scenario in which Perez continues to underperform, not only would he be at risk of being ousted for 2025, but he may not even see out the whole season.
There is no doubt that 2024 will be a critical year in defining Perez’s F1 future.