Hot tamale! Sergio Sepang hero
MEXICAN WAVE: Rookie Sergio Perez proved a master on the track and popular on the podium for second at Sepang. Image: AFP Gallery
SEPANG, Malaysia - Sauber's Sergio Perez had his boss in tears as he stormed to a stunning second at a wet Malaysian F1 GP on Sunday, becoming the first Mexican to earn an F1 podium in 41 years.
Perez' joy will be tempered by the fact that if he had stayed on a dry line when closing in on eventual winner Fernando Alonso's Ferrari with five laps to go, he would not have run wide and could now be celebrating a famous victory.
"Thank you, thank you very much," emotional owner Peter Sauber told Perez over the team radio as the 22-year-old crossed the line to record the team's best result as an independent.
Perez started ninth and as the drizzle turned into a torrential downpour Sauber gambled on pitting him at the end of the first lap to put on wet tyres as the others delayed, hoping for the rain to ease. It was an inspired move that took him up to third by the time the race was red-flagged for 51 minutes after eight laps and the Mexican briefly led following the resumption before Alonso passed him on lap 17.
Perez, who was ordered by Ferrari-powered Sauber to "be careful" just before his slip, said later: "Towards the end I had some understeer into a left-hand corner and I ran wide enough to go into the wet and then I just lost control of the car and went straight and lost the fight for the victory,"
Rumours in the paddock linking Perez with a mid-season move to Ferrari as a replacement for Felipe Massa are growing louder and what better way to audition for the role than to chase home your future team mate, beating him at a second a lap for pace. Perez, however, was quick to play down the rumours.
"My full commitment is with my team, with Sauber F1. It's only the second race of the season so we have to keep improving. Obviously it's only rumours but no, I will stay with Sauber for the whole season."
Sauber chief executive Monisha Kaltenborn could only see the team growing stronger after enjoying such an unexpected result. "No disappointment at all. I think we should really be very happy and grateful for what we have achieved today," she said. "It's a tremendous boost to the team in building up the confidence that we are heading in the right direction.
"At the same time, we have to be really careful and focus on our development - the gaps are very small and you don't know where you are at the next race. We have to keep the momentum."