MOVING UP: Sergio Perez is congratulated on the Monza podium by race winner Lewis Hamilton (McLaren).
MONZA, Italy - Mexican Sergio Perez shrugged off pre-race sickness to finish a stunning second for Sauber in the 2012 Italian GP to give his F1 career prospects extra lustre at a key point in the season.
Perez is already part of Ferrari's young driver academy and his third podium of the season, and second second, only increased speculation that he could replace Brazilian Felipe Massa at the Italian team.
SIXTH ON CONSTRUCTORS' TABLE
Sauber F1 team chief executive Monisha Kaltenborn smiled when asked whether her Swiss-based team could hang on to Perez, who brings considerable Mexican sponsorship with him.
Sauber is highly-respected in the sport but far from the glamorous end occupied by Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari - even if they are now only 26 points behind fifth-placed Mercedes in the Manufacturers' championship.
Kaltenborn told Reuters: "We announced for one season and we will in due course announce for the next season, but I am still relaxed as I was months ago."
Massa, who has not stood on a GP podium since 2010, finished fourth on Sunday after letting team mate and championship leader Fernando Alonso go past. When was asked if Sunday's race could be seen as a battle for his seat between him and Perez, he responded: "I don't think so."
Sunday's success made up for the disappointment of Belgium the previous weekend when both Sauber cars qualified in the top four, with Japan's Kamui Kobayashi on the front row for the first time, only to see hopes scuppered at the start.
"We were so confident and happy and then you just see it fizzle out without you having really done anything wrong," said Kaltenborn. "Coming back at this track in this way, and bringing that performance home and showing it all, is very important for us."
DEFERENCE TO FERRARI?
Perez might have won in Malaysia, when he chased down Alonso, but made a mistake just when it looked like he was sure to pass and had to settle for second. He was third in Canada. He was so close to winning on Sunday.
Some cynics suggested that a Ferrari-powered Sauber might be under some pressure not to pass the factory Ferrari but Perez exploded that myth on Sunday when he powered past Alonso and Massa in front of the massed ranks of Ferrari faithful to go second.
The next target for the Mexican, who said he had been unwell before qualifying at Monza, is to win a race for the first time.
Perez declared: "I hope sooner rather than later. I want to win. I already have a second and a third, as you say. I want my first victory to come and I hope it can come before the end of the season."
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, winner at Monza on Sunday, felt that was likely. "Well done to Sergio, it won't be too long before we see him up front," he told reporters separately. "I don't mind if he's up front as long as he's taking points away from the guys in red (Ferrari)."