LONDON, April 1, 2011 (AFP) - Although he was the victim of a technical disqualification in last weekend's season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Sergio Perez did enough on his Formula One debut to convince most observers he
has the potential to be a great star of the future.
The 21-year-old Mexican finished seventh in the race before being excluded when his Sauber team's cars were found to have carried rear wings that infringed the technical regulations. It was a pity that a superb first outing by such a young driver was not rewarded with points, but Perez did enough to make the paddock's old hawks tip him for a bright future and mark him down as a possible future champion. "He was very impressive in all aspects of the job," said his team boss
Peter Sauber, himself no slouch in identifying future stars - having picked aces such as Finn Kimi Raikkonen and Brazilian Felipe Massa to race for his team as youngsters in the past.
Indeed, Sauber selected Raikkonen when most paddock regulars regarded him as a risk because he had not done enough miles to earn a super-licence. The Finn went on to win the world title with Ferrari - and veteran team boss
Sauber obviously believes Perez could do the same.
His performance "was truly outstanding," said Sauber of the Mexican rookie, who drove excellently throughout the weekend, making light of the huge challenge.
Perez was the only driver who managed to complete the race using a one-stop strategy and by running for more than 30 laps on a set of used soft tyres. "I was really surprised and amazed by that," said Sauber. "But I had a feeling he was going to be a special kind of driver. "We followed him the last season in GP2 and he did a good job - and also
during the pre-season tests we were happy with him - but in this Melbourne race he was outstanding. To drive more than 35 laps on used tyres like that, well, that is incredible."
The team had not even considered that a one-stop strategy on the new-for-2011 Pirelli tyres was realistic. "For us, it was never a decision," said Sauber. "It was a no-goer. It was absolutely clear to do a second or third stop and we looked for a window, but then his times were so good - so after 40 laps we spoke about it. "Maybe it is possible we said and then the race engineer spoke with Sergio and he said yes maybe it is possible to drive to the end. And he did. Amazing."
The Sauber team's accomplished and respected technical director James Key was also full of praise for F1's new Mexican rookie hero. He said: "What he did was outstanding for a rookie driver in his first race. We felt he was quick anyway, but I think to be faced to do 38 laps on a soft tyre which no one believed possible was outstanding."
The Mexican, who only turned 21 in January, is the youngest of four Formula One rookies who made their debuts at Albert Park. He shone, behaving with a measured maturity in and out of his Sauber car.
The highly-rated youngster from Guadalajara, where a crowd of more than 150,000 turned out to see him drive a demonstration car in the streets earlier this year, did his home city and his nation proud.
"It was a great weekend for me, but not such a good ending for the team," said Perez. "I enjoyed it and I feel good now for the next race (Malaysia)." Perez is the first Mexican in F1 for three decades from a nation that still reveres memories of the great Rodriguez brothers Pedro and Ricardo.
Both had associations with Ferrari, colourful careers and perished in racing cars, Ricardo during practice for his home Mexico City race in 1962 and Pedro in a sports prototype event in Germany in 1971.Their legends live on, however, as witnessed by the crowds who turned out to cheer and it is a measure of Mexico's fervour for this sport that the Guadalajara crowd which turned out to see him in February was so huge. "I have never experienced something like this before with so many people cheering me," said an overwhelmed Perez. "I'm proud to be Mexican and I'm
proud to receive all this support."
Perez was runner-up in the GP2 series last year - and now appears set to follow on from that success.