A year after: Perez in retrospective

At this time, a year back, the mexican was quickly announced as Lewis Hamilton replacement at McLaren. Let's go over what happened then and since.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ocotber 9th, 2013 (F1plus/G. Keilloh).- After the excitement of the Korean Grand Prix was over I amused myself by taking a look at the latest 2013 drivers' standings (yes, I am tragic). One thing in particular leapt out at me: the positioning of Sergio Perez. He's totalled a mere 23 points, which for illustration is eight fewer than Nico Hulkenberg (who's spent most of the year in a recalcitrant Sauber), as well as is shy of the totals of either Force India pilot and only five clear of Daniel Ricciardo.

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Even more absurdly, he's accumulated barely a third of the points he managed over last season for Sauber, 65, before his supposed step-up. That year too he could claim three podium finishes including one near miss of victory; this campaign his best result is a sixth place. But, I can hear Perez-defenders shout, a lot of this can be attributed to the McLaren MP4-28, which has not been a good one.

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His intra-team yardstick comparison however isn't flattering either. Button has well more than double Checo's score, 58, and is also up 8-6 in qualifying; this is Button remember, not known as a demon over a single lap, someone who has started from pole only once in the last four-and-a-half years (despite being at the sharp end more generally for most of that time).

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Some have even whispered that Button - without Hamilton pushing him along and with an uncompetitive machine - isn't quite at the top of his form right now either. And even at the best of times he's perhaps more of a number one-and-a-half rather than a number one in the Alonso, Hamilton or Vettel mold. If Perez has designs on being all that you'd think he'd be a bit closer.

I'd always thought of McLaren's choice of Perez to replace Lewis Hamilton on its driving staff for this year as an odd one: even last season when he could boast some strong results (if you don't believe me see here and here). Yes, the three podium runs of 2012 were impressive but you wondered how much of them were down to a magic touch on the delicate Pirelli tyres from the C31 if voodoo-like factors aligned. Results otherwise were patchy, there were a few errors, particularly in the rounds after his McLaren contract was signed.

Word in the paddock had it that Sauber wasn't all that thrilled with him either, feeling that the car was capable of more than he tended to deliver. And perhaps now Ferrari's reluctance to promote him to the big team - Perez was part of the Scuderia's young driver's programme - makes sense. Perhaps its insouciance over losing him does too.

As for explaining McLaren's decision, I have a pet theory that the team never expected Lewis Hamilton to leave, despite the delay over him confirming his future plans (indeed, it's said that it was a Singapore meeting with Niki Lauda that led to a Damascene conversion from Lewis). When Lewis did confirm he was off McLaren was unprepared, but determined to get its announcement of a replacement out before Lewis to Merc was made public, so to present it as a good news story. Therefore the team didn't give its selection as much care and attention as it usually would, and it was within this set of circumstances that the Woking squad plumped for Perez.

It perhaps wasn't coincidence either that this all happened in the aftermath of last year's Italian Grand Prix, when Perez was getting inflated praise following his runner-up finish.

You could argue that his McLaren performances are more of the same as with Sauber: patchy, peppered with errors, with a vague accompanying suspicion that we should be getting more. It's concerning too that when seeking to solve one problem in his driving others are created. When Martin Whitmarsh told him to 'get his elbows out' as far as a few rivals were concerned he then went too far.

After that criticism some of his final tenths of pace seemed to evaporate. And even within the wavering performances McLaren apparently has noted too that even his high tide watermarks aren't all that high. Whatever is the case, there's no secret being made of the fact that his position is under review; that the team is expecting more. Of course this all sounds harsh, but F1 is a harsh business, particularly so when you occupy a much-sought-after seat at a team that has exacting standards.

It nevertheless seems probable that Perez will be retained at McLaren for next year, but beyond that his fate is far less certain, particularly with Alonso rumours continuing to circulate and Honda cash available to tempt most drivers. Perez must start to deliver and soon.

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