Was Sergio Perez ever the right man to fill Hamilton’s shoes at McLaren?

Sergio Perez stint as a McLaren driver has been brief

Sergio Perez stint as a McLaren driver has been brief

Sergio Perez arrived at McLaren in January 2013 desperate for success, talking of fighting for wins and Formula 1 titles with a team he greatly admired, yet less than a year later the Mexican will walk 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 late last year when 2008 World 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.

Formula 1 is a cruel arena, a world where harsh commercial realities stamp on sentiment, but Perez might have expected more time after being handed one of the worst racing cars McLaren has built in decades.

Sergio Perez with Jenson Button during the McLaren team presentation in January

Sergio Perez with Jenson Button during the McLaren team presentation in January

He arrived at Woking as the first Mexican in more than 40 years with a real chance of winning a grand prix. At mid-table Sauber, he had finished on the podium three times last year.

Ferrari, who had brought him up through their academy, had said he was not ready for them as a replacement for Felipe Massa but McLaren thought otherwise and snapped him up to fill Hamilton’s shoes.

“We undoubtedly believe we can develop him into a World Champion in fairly short order,” team principal Martin Whitmarsh told reporters at the time.

More ominously, in retrospect, he added: “You come to McLaren and you’ve got the scrutiny and the pressure. And you either do well and survive, or he will struggle. You ask me if we are 100 percent sure that he’s the right man for us – I can’t be.”

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

Sergio Perez makes a pit stop during the British GP

Sergio Perez makes a pit stop during the British GP

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

“I will always be a fan of McLaren,” he said. “In the 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 21-year-old Danish hotshot 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 that 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.

Sergio Perez talks with Martin Whitmarsh

Sergio Perez with Martin Whitmarsh

The fact that the sport is going through significant change next season, 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 that he is 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 Spaniard 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 Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen for two seasons, even though he was never in Hamilton’s league on the racetrack.

Compared to its predecessor the  McLaren MP4-28 was a total flop and Sergio Perez  suffered as a consequence

Compared to its predecessor the McLaren MP4-28 was a total flop and Sergio Perez suffered as a consequence

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.

When Perez was signed, some saw it heralding a move by Telmex – the fixed-line telephone 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 has died away while Mexico’s return to the grand prix calendar now looks unlikely to happen until 2015 after being listed provisionally for next year.

McLaren meanwhile are on the cusp of a new era with an engine partnership with Honda starting up from 2015. The future for them, at least, looks bright. (Reuters)

Subbed by AJN.

  • Spartacus

    Perez wasn’t quick at Sauber, just able to manage the tyres on a car which was already superb at managing tyres. In the modern ear of F1 that’s fairly important.

    For what he was able to do at Sauber, yes, McLaren were right to try, but that he wasn’t a quick driver, no, McLaren were wrong. He’s gives the impression of a very good safe driver for any team which needs safe results, but not WDC.

    Worse, he hasn’t seemed to improve over the course of the year. Perhaps he himself has decided to have a stable year behind him. But you can’t argue that he’s still young and could improve. However, if you’ve not got speed then it’s difficult to see how he become WDC.

  • iceman 2.0

    You win some , you lose some. Thats life. You can move on or keep sulking. The choice is totally yours. Game on !!

  • Fritzo

    Mclaren is known for treating there drivers (not well) Lauda when he retired no thank you. Montoya fired them not letting him finished his 100th GP. If you win a grand prix you can not even keep the freeking cup. Check how Kimi won the championship after leaving them.

  • iceman 2.0

    Baby checo got screwed big time….it will be a race against time to secure a seat for 2014. Mcleren took full advantage of his management’s laziness. He needs to fire his manager right away. Got a valuable lesson though. No one is your friend in this cut throat competitive world. You are on your own. Life is hard but you need to bounce back harder. But on the hind side he lacked any class whatsoever. Only raw aggression and a bit of madness. Mcleren did little to polish his roughness and hone his skills. I personally believe communication gap did it. Again he was not that far from Button in terms of speed. Surely a veteran like Jenson who has been around for ages will have an advantage in the team. Yet the kid held his own and button was never able to blow him away. JB is past his prime and and not much of a force anyway. Mcleren are making blunder after blunders. They should have got Hulk but instead got afraid of his bulk. Persisting with pereZ and ousting the aging British driver would have been a more mature decision. They can however spice up things if they are able to lure the disgruntled Spaniard into their stable and give him the number one status with or without Button alongside. Game on !!

  • michael schumacher

    McClaren had around $30m reasons to try this out courtesy of carlos slim. Nothing more or less…

  • ZombieJebus

    Chico couldn’t fill Lewis’s shoes even with orthodic inserts.

  • Taskmaster

    Bad deal all around. Button is not capable of stepping up without a perfect car, Perez is not mature enough as a driver to take on a stronger role, and McLaren is in the tank with the 2013 car being the worst its ever built. Whether Magnussen is a better choice will have to be seen. Throwing Perez under the bus seems a bit brutal considering the car itself, while retaining Button seems a recipe for another weak season – all heading into the Honda relationship in 2015, insuring it will very likely be a few more dry seasons (as the combined Honda/McLaren packages are sorted) before we see a McLaren on the podium again. As far as Perez… if Hulkenburg moves to Lotus, perhaps Perez could return to Sauber? – or maybe Force India will take a stab? Not much else left for him.

  • the fan

    everyone knows that perez was hired as a rebound driver for lewis so he was never the right guy. hulk would have been a good choice a year ago.

  • fapper

    Sergio had those small feet and couldn’t fill in the big shoes of Lewis in McLaren as he tried to fit it in. Sorry Sergio…

  • Fletcher

    To be fair THE FAN at the time McLaren signed Perez it was after Monza where Perez had already stellar drives to the podium one Niki Lauda bowing to him after the race. Perez was the man that season. Autocourse ranked him 8th. He had shown promise. Hulk was the equal of DiResta that same year. Sorry to say but it seems teams don’t really rate Hulk. He doesn’t even have a podium to his name. Perez is 23 he will bounce back.