Hungarian Grand Prix: Sergio Perez saga adds an unexpected dimension to 2020’s most meaningful race

Perez’s response failed to convince that he would not be replaced by Sebastian Vettel at Racing Point next season ahead of a race weekend that already has so much on the line

F1 preview: Lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix

Just as Formula One’s driver merry-go-round threatened to grind to a halt, it sparked back into life on Thursday when Sergio Perez appeared to confirm that his future at Racing Point is very much under threat from four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

“I know I’ve got a contract,” Perez said ahead of this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the final instalment of F1’s season-opening triple-header before drivers get a break next week.

“I think I’m with the team, as far as I know I have a contract. We will see what happens in the coming weeks. From my point of view, I’ve got a contract with the team. I fully believe in the future of the team.

“I think it’s just part of the game. I’ve been in Formula One for 10 years so I am used to this stuff.”

Within that contract, it had been reported, is a break clause that must be triggered by the team before the end of this month, which was almost certainly included if they suddenly found themselves in a position to move for a more appealing driver.

That looks to have happened through Ferrari’s decision to release Vettel at the end of the season. With seats at Mercedes, Red Bull, Renault and McLaren booked up, Racing Point – which will become Aston Martin Racing next season – looks to be Vettel’s last real chance of remaining on the grid.

And no sooner had news of Racing Point’s interest in Vettel surfaced did the first olive branch arrive at Perez’s door. That is normally the first sign that the rumours are genuine.

“During the week obviously the rumours came out and we actually got contacted by a team in the paddock,” Perez said. “I won’t say names.

“Also other teams in other categories, which was quite a surprise because we have a contract for next year here. At the moment there are just rumours around. Nothing more to add from my side, other than we got a contract in place.”

Vettel will happily bat away the rumours later this weekend, but what it brought us was a firm reminder that ‘silly season’ is never really over. After the Vettel-Carlos Sainz-Daniel Ricciardo rotation, and the sudden return of Fernando Alonso, Perez’s sudden precariousness is the development we did not expect – one that serves to remind us that a driver’s seat is sometimes not even worth the piece of paper it is written on.

Vettel’s impending Ferrari exit threatens to shake up the grid more than expected 

It appears that Haas immediately contacted Perez’s team regarding his availability on Wednesday, given that Williams confirmed yesterday that George Russell and Nicholas Latifi will remain with the team next season – Russell’s retention essentially confirming that there is no room at Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas set to remain in place.

But the whole scenario has been a distraction from what could be the most revealing Grand Prix of the season.

Red Bull are hopeful that the gap between themselves and Mercedes was not quite as large as it appeared in Austria. However, while this track should suit them when the Mercedes power advantage is somewhat reduced on the tight and twisty Hungaroring, it is a stronghold of Lewis Hamilton’s. Last weekend’s race winner is bidding for a record-equalling eighth win in Hungary, having long eclipsed the next most successful driver in the Grand Prix’s history in Michael Schumacher’s four victories. Another win this weekend will see Hamilton join Schumacher as the only eight-time winners of the same race, with the German reigning supreme during his career at the French Grand Prix.

But another victory for Hamilton this weekend will reinforce the message that the only two things that will stop him from equalling Schumacher’s seven world titles this season is either teammate Valtteri Bottas or a complete loss of reliability – and on the evidence of last weekend, neither appears to be on the horizon.

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