Sergio Perez had a bad day at the office last Sunday in Abu Dhabi. That can happen to the best of us. But some wonder if his form has dipped since the announcement that McLaren have signed him as the replacement for departing Lewis Hamilton in 2013. The last two races have not seen the sharp end of Perez’s talent and there is no questioning that he has talent or McLaren wouldn’t have hired him.
The question we posed on our recent podcast is, are McLaren worried with the dip in performance of their new driver? Martin Whitmarsh told The Daily Mail that he thinks Sergio will have a lot to learn at McLaren:
“I don’t think so. He has been driving a Sauber and no one knows how good that Sauber is. He is very young. He is only the same age as when Lewis started in Formula One. He hasn’t been wildly groomed I would say, but despite all of those things he’s been able to sparkle. In Monaco, last year, as a rookie, was the first time we started to monitor [him] and since then he has had some giant-killing podiums.
He’s got something but we don’t know whether that something is enough to be groomed into a world champion. I think it might be so therefore it is an interesting challenge.”
One of the bigger issues for Sergio will be the transition to the team and a new way of doing things. McLaren is, comparatively, a juggernaut of a team where Sauber is an agile, thrifty team that has a much smaller budget. The systems, preparations, engineering and resources are a big operation at the Woking-based team and Perez will need time to settle in. Jenson Button’s feet are on the desk and Perez is the new guy. Will that pressure play a part? Whitmarsh says it will:
“He is going to find a different world at McLaren. He will turn up in Australia next year with so much more pressure on his shoulders and that is something he has to be groomed to deal with. McLaren since 1966 has won more than 25 per cent of the all the races in which it has competed in.
If you turn up and we’re not on the first two rows and not competing for the win, then ourselves and Ferrari get that pressure in the way that no other Formula One team does. When Red Bull weren’t competitive no one was piling into them so there is an added pressure to being a McLaren driver. He might thinks he understands it, but he doesn’t.”
Many think Whitmarsh is correct in saying that Perez has “something” and McLaren can extract those elements from some drivers as long as they are a part of their system. It’s a huge opportunity for Perez but not one without its challenges and he has big shoes to fill in Lewis Hamilton. His recent performance has been less than his capability and even Sauber are asking for him to finish strong as they fend off Force India and attack Mercedes in the constructor’s championship. Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn told AUTOSPORT:
“I guess it’s just unfortunate situations he’s found himself in, or has maybe caused to a certain extent.
“He’s very professional about finishing his career at Sauber in a very good way.
“I think if he can contribute to us having a fantastic position at the end of the season, it’s a tribute to him as well and speaks for him when he moves onto the next team.”
In the end, Perez will have one of the best teams and cars on the grid in which to make or break his career. Many have tried to do so at the wheel of a McLaren and one can look no further than Heikki Kovalainen to see a driver who seems to have “something” but just couldn’t put it together at McLaren…although it must be said that he entered the team at a time when Lewis Hamilton was at full blossom.