November 7th, 2013 (f1plus/B. Ferreira).- Sergio Perez’s goals at the start of 2013 season were very clear. For his first year as McLaren’s driver, the young Mexican set his sights on winning races and perhaps the World Championship, as he reckoned that those were supposed to be the ambitions of a driver of the Woking squad – the team with a rich heritage that won the last two races of the previous campaign.
Unfortunately for him, however, the new car was a huge disappointment. The expected good results never came and Perez’s position is under threat with two races remaining on the current season. What a turnaround of events.
In fact, Perez was being questioned long before that, since the first rumors that he could replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari in 2013. Despite he had some remarkable performances last year (like the one under the tricky weather conditions at Sepang), he showed in general a disturbing inconsistency. After he was confirmed at McLaren, Perez failed to score a single point for Sauber and made some silly mistakes, like when he spun at Suzuka after a clumsy overtake attempt.
That was a warning sign for McLaren. People from all over the world started to question if the team had made a mistake by hiring the Mexican instead of Nico Hulkenberg, who shone at the last part of the 2012 season. Regardless all of that, it’s a fact that Perez had only shown highlight performances for a few times, which is a small sample to prove whether he’s a top driver.
In 2013, his performances against Jenson Button have not been all bad. They’re almost tied up in qualifying sessions – the Briton is winning by 9 x 8 – and, in the races, the duo is quite often separated by a few seconds. In addition to that, Perez has taken the expected attitude for a McLaren driver by being brave on battle for positions (despite he went too far at Monaco).
But is that enough? Although Button is a truly World Champion and is one of the most respected drivers on the grid, he’s not the safest bet for McLaren to get the best results possible, and he’s not exactly the right man to lead the Woking squad. Since Pirelli joined F1, the Briton has shown a very narrow window of performance – he may win a race and fade away on the next one.
In fact, Button is more efficient playing a supporting role, being consistent (but not the quickest) and helping the team in the Constructors’ standings, while his teammate shines and fights for the Driver’s crown – like Hamilton used to do. This might explain why Perez’s year can be considered disappointing, as he never showed himself capable to replace Hamilton in that benchmark role.
On the other hand, it is unanimous that the MP4-28 is below the average on what concerns McLaren. That makes this kind of analysis of performance to be unfair with Perez. Had the car been as quick as it was the 2012 contender, the Mexican could have put a couple of victories under his belt (as Button did last year), which surely would change his current reputation.
Furthermore, there are no better options available on the market. The awkward situation McLaren is in, having a transitional year with Mercedes in 2014 before Honda’s arrival, certainly scared away the team of top drivers’ radar. Nico Hulkenberg made clear that Lotus is his highest priority, and Kimi Raikkonen chose to return to Ferrari. The bottom line is there are no better options around.
Recently, a lot has been said about McLaren’s will to promote his protégé Kevin Magnussen to a race seat, but this seems to be too risky. It’s unlikely that the Danish emulates Hamilton’s debut year (2007), as there aren’t as much test as it were back then. Nowadays, the rookies take at least two full seasons to start to deliver, and if Magnussen underperforms in 2014, it would create a negative label for him that is tough to be removed.
In order to act accordingly to its philosophy, McLaren should keep Perez at least for one more year. That would be the most efficient way for the team to get better results, and it would also mean another deserved chance for the Mexican – hopefully with a stronger package. In 2015, with Honda, new horizons will be open, and the team will finally be sure if Perez is the top driver they thought he was when the Mexican was hired last year.