Standing at the top step of the podium, Sergio Perez looked to cement his future with Red Bull for at least another year, as he grasped the trophy and held it high above his head with victory around the streets of Baku after a thrilling Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Yet it’s hard to forget the history behind that Red Bull seat, and the cast-offs from Red Bull on their quest to find the best alongside Max Verstappen at the team.
It was clear from the get-go that at 18 years old, Verstappen was a highly talented driver. He is the youngest race starter, youngest points scorer, youngest podium finisher, youngest race leader, and the youngest driver to ever appear on a Grand Prix weekend, and now he is leading the driver’s standings ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Yet Red Bull bosses just can’t seem to find the perfect partner for the 23-year-old, who is now on his fourth different team-mate since stepping up from their junior team in 2016.
Verstappen was promoted from Toro Rosso five races into 2016 alongside Daniel Ricciardo at the time, replacing Russia’s Daniil Kvyat, yet since that move, we’ve seen a revolving door of drivers at the team.
First up was Ricciardo, who shocked the F1 world in the summer of 2018 when he announced he was leaving to sign for Renault, two years after Verstappen joined.
Ricciardo took seven Grands Prix wins for Red Bull between 2014 and 2018 – with 30 podium finishes and three pole positions.
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At the time Ricciardo said it was “by far the toughest decision” he’s made in his life but “felt it was a time now where it was good for me to move on and have a fresh start somewhere else” with many questioning if inter-team dynamics between him and Verstappen had played a part.
Next up was Pierre Gasly who was called up from junior team Toro Rosso ahead of the 2019 season, yet it was clear he would not last long.
“I started the 2019 season with Red Bull. I’d gotten to F1 with Toro Rosso in 2017, but Red Bull was my first chance to drive for a top team and prove to everyone what I could do in one of the best cars in the world,” he said in a piece for The Players’ Tribune.
“So after a really good year with Toro Rosso in 2018, I got the call from Helmut Marko to let me know they wanted me at Red Bull.
“I wish I could tell you it was exactly what I thought it would be — what I wanted it to be. But it wasn’t. It just wasn’t.
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“From the moment I made my first mistake in a car, I felt like people there slowly began to turn on me. I’d had a crash in winter testing and from that moment on the season never really got going.”
Gasly also felt he was ‘eaten’ up by the media, and had comments twisted in the media regarding his form, with ‘nobody’ sticking up for him.
He added: “For whatever reason, I was never going to be a fit in that seat — it was just never going to work.”
Gasly was demoted back to Toro Rosso midway through 2019, as Alex Albon tried his luck alongside Verstappen.
He lasted a season and a half, and continues to serve as test and reserve driver, but was forced aside to make way for Perez.
The Mexican arguably has one of the toughest jobs yet at that seat, despite 10 years of experience in F1, as the team looks to beat Mercedes for the first time since 2013.
After the Spanish Grand Prix, in which Perez finished P5, team principal Christian Horner admitted it “desperately” needs him to be mixing it up at the front if they are to take the fight to Mercedes.
And he did.
As championship leader Verstappen crashed out of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Perez stepped up, helping Red Bull extend their lead to 26 points at the top over Mercedes.
Yet still, Horner felt the need to tell media that, despite being happy with what Perez was doing, it was only race six, and they’ve “got plenty of time” to talk contracts for 2022.