SEPANG, Malaysia, March 25, 2012 (AFP) - Mexico's Sergio Perez was showered with praise Sunday after he came within a whisker of pulling off one of Formula One's most remarkable wins at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Sauber driver admitted he had victory in his sights as he hunted down leader Fernando Alonso in the closing laps of the rain-interrupted race, before dramatically overshooting a turn.
But Perez, 22, was far from downcast at his career-high second place, which was also Sauber's best result since they returned to the ownership of their founder, Peter Sauber, in 2009.
"I was catching Fernando toward the end of the race, I knew I had to get him soon," said Perez.
"Then I ran wide in the quick corner, I touched a kerb and went to the dirty side. It was completely wet and that was the end of the win, probably. It was very difficult to get Fernando but I think today the win was possible."
Even Perez's team grew anxious during the dogfight, warning Perez over the radio not to throw away his position and vital points. But afterwards, team principal Sauber was elated.
"It's fantastic for us, especially for a midfield team, and it's fantastic for Perez of course," he said.
There was also praise from Perez's competitors. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who came in 10th, agreed the Mexican had been close to victory.
"At the end of the day you have to see the pack in the middle is so close together. You have to see the Sauber today, doing such beautiful lap times, as I understood, and could have won the race," he said."So there is a lot of teams that are very close together, that are highly performing," he said.
Red Bull's principal Christian Horner said Perez drove a "great race", while third-placed Lewis Hamilton said Perez and Alonso had both done "fantastically well".
Perez and Ferrari have both rebuffed suggestions this week that the Mexican is being lined up to replace struggling Felipe Massa, whose contract is up this season.