The 22-year-old Sauber driver has racked up three podium finishes in his second season. And on more than one occasion he’s come close to ending Mexico’s 42-year wait for a Grand Prix winner.
Arguably he should have won the second race of the year in Malaysia, but for a conservative final pit stop which cost him time on a drying track, and a costly mistake while hunting down winner Fernando Alonso.
Earlier this month he finished second to Hamilton at Monza having ripped through the field from 12th on the grid, passing both Ferraris on his way to finishing second.
But following this drive Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo poured cold water on suggestions Perez could join his team. For the second time this year di Montezemolo insisted Perez, who joined Ferrari’s drive academy in 2010, was insufficiently experienced to drive for Ferrari.
“Next season is too early,” he said, adding: “To put a young guy to Ferrari with the pressure of Ferrari, you need more experience.”
McLaren clearly don’t feel Perez lacks the experience to drive for them having snatched him from under the nose of their bitterest rival. In the press release announcing Perez’s arrival, Martin Whitmarsh praised Perez’s “string of giant-killing performances, trio of podiums and brilliant fastest lap in this year?óÔé¼Ôäós Monaco Grand Prix that showed us that Sergio lacks nothing in terms of speed and commitment”.
Graciously, he also admitted a debt of thanks to those who had not quite as much faith in him, a few hours later.
It goes without saying that being signed by a team as successful as McLaren is a considerable vote of confidence in Perez’s abilities.
McLaren’s mantra when it comes to hiring drivers, recently reiterated by group chairman Ron Dennis, is to sign the best two available drivers. Given who was available after Hamilton had made his decision to join Mercedes, it’s hard to argue they haven’t done that here.
With Perez out of the picture, it is unclear who Ferrari might turn to as a replacement for Felipe Massa. Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg might offer the requisite blend of potential and appetite for success, but neither has significantly more F1 experience than Perez.
Michael Schumacher returning to his old team is a romantic but surely fanciful notion.
The signs increasingly point to Massa staying put, perhaps as a seat-warmer for one year until Sebastian Vettel exercises his rumoured option to join Fernando Alonso at the team in 2014.
The idea of Ferrari as a team of two number one drivers, both multiple-champions, is an exciting one, though not one that tallies with their history of preferring a strong number one and a solid back-up driver.
And retaining Massa even on a short-term basis may prove undesirable. Mired in a shocking season, he’s scored barely more than a quarter of Alonso’s points haul so far.
What Ferrari need is a new Massa – a fresh young driver who’s had a few years in a Ferrari-powered Sauber and done a spot of testing in a pukka prancing horse. The problem is, he’s just signed for McLaren.
2013 F1 season
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