Hunt for new Ricciardo is Insta official
Mexican driver Sergio Perez will replace Alexander Albon at Red Bull next season, the F1 outfit announced on Saturday (AEDT).
Perez, who was out of contract with Racing Point, will race alongside Max Verstappen for the Milton Keynes-based team in 2021.
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The popular driver put himself in the frame to replace the inconsistent Albon with a stirring first ever F1 win at the 190th attempt at Sakhir in Bahrain in the penultimate race of the season just ended.
"The chance to race for a championship contending team is something I have been hoping for since I joined Formula One and it will be a proud moment to step onto the grid in Red Bull colours alongside Max," Perez said.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner reckoned they had picked the perfect partner for Verstappen. The boss made things Instagram official with a post on his social media account, which came after days of rumours Perez would partner the young Dutchman in 2021.
"Having taken our time to evaluate all the relevant data and performances we have decided that Sergio is the right driver to partner Max for 2021 and look forward to welcoming him to Red Bull Racing," Horner said.
Albon had an up-and-down first full season in the role but Horner said the London-born Thai would remain a valuable part of the Red Bull set-up.
"Alex is a valued member of the team and we thought long and hard about this decision," Horner said. "He remains an important part of our team as test and reserve driver with a key focus on 2022 development and we would like to thank him for his hard work and contribution."
Verstappen is hopeful his new teammate will make Red Bull able to challenge Mercedes in the constructors' championship.
"It's more that we'll have a second car which is capable of being up there as well the whole race and trying to put a bit of pressure (on)," Verstappen said.
"I just hope that Checo will be the one to first of all push the whole team forward, but also keep me on my toes, which is always nice. To have a teammate pushing you, it's exciting.
"Hopefully we can, with a bit more of a competitive car from the start, make it just a bit more interesting and difficult for them to make decisions."
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton believes Red Bull will be a much tougher proposition next season.
"With all due respect to Alex, in the races that we've had, it's been me and Valtteri (Bottas) against Max," Hamilton said.
"So I think naturally, this makes Red Bull stronger, particularly with the way Sergio is performing.
"I think it's going to be an exciting battle to watch him up against Max. And that's going to make it much harder for us as a team.
"So we're going to have to really step up our game, because that's going to be a battle we've not seen for some time, in terms of having the two drivers there, fighting against us."
Hamilton said earlier in the year Red Bull was struggling because it hadn't found the right partner for Verstappen since Daniel Ricciardo left at the end of 2018 to join Renault.
Pierre Gasly replaced the Aussie to start 2019 but was cut mid-season and Albon promoted, ahead of Daniil Kvyat. Now Albon has been relegated and Perez brought in.
Horner and Co. will be hoping the instability since Ricciardo's exit eases with Perez's arrival.
Before the call from Red Bull, Perez was eyeing a season off after his seat at Racing Point was handed to Sebastian Vettel, the four-time former world champion let go by Ferrari.
He had bid a tearful farewell to Racing Point after retiring from the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last weekend.
Albon had finished fourth in Sunday's race, won by Perez's new teammate Verstappen with a lights-to-flag victory in the leading Red Bull.
Perez said after the race: "Who knows what will happen next? I am just looking forward to going back home. Whatever comes next, I will be ready for it."
Five days on and with his 2021 future secured he vowed: "You can be sure that I will give next season my full focus.
"The team has the same winning mentality as me and I know I am here to perform and help the team fight for another title."
The week before Yas Marina, the 30-year-old Mexican had driven from last position, after a first-lap collision, to top a memorable podium alongside Renault's Esteban Ocon and his Racing Point teammate Lance Stroll.
His success left him weeping in his cockpit at the end of his penultimate race with Racing Point, and at the same time caught the eye of the Red Bull garage.
Saturday's statement from his new employers noted: "Sergio made his Grand Prix debut in 2011 and since then has become one of the sport's most consistent performers and tenacious racers.
"Sergio's recent run of form and victory at the Sakhir Grand Prix made him the favoured choice to join Red Bull Racing, initially on a one-year contract."
Perez' welcome job offer comes as Hamilton is poised to put pen to paper on a new deal with Mercedes.
Mercedes all but confirmed their seven-time world champion would drive for them next season on Thursday.
A post on the team's official Twitter account carried the hashtag "announce" accompanied by the "coming soon" and "pen" emojis, along with a quote from Hamilton expressing his desire to stay with Mercedes.
Originally published as Hunt for new Ricciardo is Insta official