Holly McCluskey is a Formula One blogger and former Red Bull Reporter. Follow her on twitter @hollykmc.
June 12th, 2012 (F1plus / Holly McCluskey) .- In a season full of surprises, Sergio Perez’s success is probably the most intriguing development of 2012 so far. The Mexican put himself on the map during a breathtaking chase-down of Fernando Alonso in Malaysia, and his drive at Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix from 15th to 3rd almost stole the show. If Perez continues in the same vein, Ferrari’s task of replacing Felipe Massa will be easy.
Perez was overshadowed by the famous exuberance of team mate Kamui Kobayashi last season, finishing four places behind him in the final standings. But that comparison was a little skewed – Perez missed both Monaco and Canada following his accident at qualifying in Monte Carlo.
2012 has been far more fruitful for Sauber’s young driver: Perez impressed by stopping only once in the opening race at Australia, and his ability to nurture the difficult Pirellis has astonished onlookers. There are many teams who would offer him more than a penny for his thoughts on the subject.
All of this was unexpected: Perez is a pay driver and has had a helping hand in progressing up through the racing ranks. He’s been sponsored by Mexican telecoms company Telmex since the age of 14 and this was a major factor in Sauber’s decision to give him Nick Heidfeld’s seat in 2011. But Sergio is no Alex Yoong (look him up) – he has put in performances that exceed the potential of the car in only his second year in F1.
Perez, interestingly enough, is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy. He tested for the Scuderia last September, and Head of the Ferrari Driver Academy Luca Baldisserri was impressed: “Sergio proved to be aggressive and quick right from the start and was able to adapt to the car in a very short space of time. He is very mature for his age.” Perez has openly stated that his dream is to become world champion with Ferrari; that target is still a way off, but a seat with F1’s most prestigious constructor could well be on the cards.
It’s generally accepted that this is Felipe Massa’s last year with Ferrari. The Brazilian is 14th in the driver standings and is, unfortunately, routinely humiliated by his team mate’s performances. Ferrari remain supportive, but their warnings have become clearer. On an official post on the Scuderia’s website last month, the team stated: “Felipe’s drop off has made itself felt. The Brazilian had picked up 49 points two years ago and 24 the following year, while so far this season he has just 2…Everyone, he more than anyone, is expecting a change of gear starting right away with the Monaco Grand Prix.”
That ‘change of gear’ at Monaco did happen, but Massa’s error on lap six at Montreal lost him and his team yet more valuable points, and the driver confessed that he was “angry” with himself. The only thing that might save Massa, aside from a dramatic upturn in performance, is the support of Alonso – Ferrari’s number one has been a strong advocate of his team mate and it’s been clear since 2007 that the two-time world champion needs a weaker team mate if he is to be kept happy.
Ferrari may be tempted to keep Felipe on board in order to appease Fernando, but ultimately they are a racing outfit for whom anything but a top finish in the constructor’s title is unacceptable. What they need is a driver who is a known quantity, a strong performer and a legitimate number two to Alonso. Sergio Perez should treat the next 13 races as a job interview.