SUZUKA, Japan, Oct 9, 2011 (AFP) - Mexican rookie Sergio Perez battled through illness and a poor qualifying session to produce one of the strongest performances of his first Formula One season in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix.
The 21-year-old Sauber driver, competing in just his 14th Grand Prix, had a disastrous Saturday when his car developed a hydraulics problem in qualifying, seeing him stranded in the pits and down in 17th on the grid.
Despite suffering from the flu, the Mexican drove superbly in Sunday's 53-lap race, making a two-stop tyre strategy pay dividends to finish eighth in a performance described by team principal Peter Sauber as "brilliant".
Perez also set the second-fastest lap of the race on lap 39, a lap of 1min 36.569secs that was beaten for the fastest lap of the Grand Prix by just 0.001secs by Briton Jenson Button of McLaren on the penultimate lap of the race.
The only Mexican to have recorded the fastest lap of a Formula One race is Pedro Rodriguez, who set the fastest lap at the 1968 French Grand Prix at Rouen in a BRM.
The eighth-place result was Perez's fourth points finish of his first season, and he was quick to praise his team for making his two-stop strategy work.
Perez said: "The strategy with the tyres worked out very well for me, and the team did a very good job on this. "I pushed very hard and gave my maximum today. It was very hard for me because I am suffering from flu, so I'm totally happy that I brought the car home in a position good enough to score points."
Perez's teammate, Japanese Kamui Kobayashi, endured a difficult race after a slow getaway off the start saw him stuck in 12th place on the first lap after starting from a career-best seventh for his home race.
Kobayashi was a sensation in last year's Japanese Grand Prix, scything through the field to finish seventh, but couldn't repeat his achievements one year later.
He said: "At the start when I released the clutch, the car suddenly was in anti-stall mode, and that was why I lost five positions straight away.
"I tried to fight other cars, but overtaking wasn't as easy as it was here last year. It was a tricky race for me (but) I had a good qualifying here and the car's performance in the race has definitely improved."