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Perez: Wrong man for McLaren?

2013-11-14 09:28

END OF THE LINE FOR PEREZ: Was Sergio Perez the wrong choice or could McLaren have supported him better in 2013? Image: AFP

LONDON, England - Sergio Perez arrived at McLaren in January 2013 desperate for success, talking of fighting for wins and Formula 1 titles. Less than a year later, the rookie is walking away with his goals more distant than ever.

Questions will be asked about whether the 23-year-old was ever the right man for McLaren, a driver signed in a hurry in late 2012 when 2008 F1 champion Lewis Hamilton decided to jump ship and join Mercedes.

There will be others, particularly in Mexico, who will wonder just how much of a chance he was really given to prove himself.


F1 is a cruel arena in which harsh commercial realities stamp on sentiment but Perez might have expected more time after being handed one of the worst race cars McLaren has built in decades. He arrived at the factory in southern England as the first Mexican in more than 40 years with a real chance of winning a grand prix.

At mid-table Sauber in 2012 he was on the podium three times.

Ferrari, which had brought him up through its academy, had said he was not ready for the team as a replacement for Felipe Massa but McLaren thought otherwise and snapped him up to fill Hamilton's seat.

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh said: "We undoubtedly believe we can develop him into a world champion in fairly short order told reporters at the time.”

More ominously, in retrospect, he added: "You come to McLaren and you've got the scrutiny and the pressure. You either do well and survive, or struggle. You ask me if we are 100% sure that he's the right man for us - I can't be."

The marriage might have lasted had McLaren been able to offer Perez a winning car. Instead, with its worst season since 1980 bringing unexpected tension into the team, it has ended in divorce.

In a dignified and restrained statement posted on Twitter, Perez made clear he had been shown the door but thanked the team for giving him the opportunity to drive.

Perez said: "I will always be a fan of McLaren. Meanwhile, I will be looking at my future to ensure my position in the best possible package to fight for wins."

He is now expected to be replaced by Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen, winner of the Renault 3.5 series title and a McLaren protege whose performance has turned heads.

Whitmarsh has described the Dane as "pretty special" and "lightning quick" and reports from Woking have suggested his performances in the simulator have backed up the belief.

McLaren took a risk with Hamilton and it paid off handsomely. The possibility that Magnussen could be another such talent is incentive enough to give him the nod over Perez.

The fact that the sport is going through significant change in 2014, with all the drivers having to come to terms with a new V6 turbocharged engine, also makes it arguably a better time to bring in a rookie than if the rules were stable.

Sometimes it works and sometimes not. McLaren signed Kimi Raikkonen in 2002 with just one season under his belt at Sauber and they knew immediately he was special. They took Perez after two seasons at Sauber and clearly the feeling has been different.


The last driver to stay for only a year at McLaren was Fernando Alonso, a double world champion when he joined for what proved a stormy 2007 season alongside Hamilton.

Alonso fell out with then team principal Ron Dennis, and found it hard to accept that Hamilton - a rookie - could be given equal treatment to him.

However, McLaren stuck with Heikki Kovalainen for two seasons, even though he was never in Hamilton's league on the racetrack.

In their first season together in 2008, when McLaren had a title-winning car, Kovalainen scored 53 points to Hamilton's 98. Perez has scored 35 so far to Button's 60 and both have had fifth places, the team's best result so far this year.

Some, when Perez was signed, saw it heralding a move by Telmex - the fixed-line phone company owned by the world's richest man Carlos Slim that has backed him throughout his career - to replace Vodafone as title sponsors.

For whatever reason the talk of incoming Mexican money died away while Mexico's return to the GP calendar now looks unlikely until 2015; it was listed provisionally for 2014.

McLaren, meanwhile, is on the cusp of a new era with an engine partnership with Honda from 2015 when new engine rules apply. Its future, at least, looks bright.

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