• Indian Grand Prix comment

Pressure on Perez

Chris Medland October 31, 2012
Sergio Perez beat Nico Hulkenberg to the McLaren seat but lost out to him in India © Sutton Images
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In the driver announcement race, Sergio Perez's camp will have smiled as McLaren declared his arrival first; giving him some time in the limelight before Lewis Hamilton's switch to Mercedes was officially confirmed by the team.

There were many other suitable candidates for the seat - some would argue more suitable - but Perez's sublime drives to secure three podiums in 2012 had convinced McLaren that he was a rough diamond it must acquire to replace its crown jewel.

In Japan - the following race - there was still hype surrounding the moves. By the time we reached Korea, that interest had died down and by India questions had been asked if McLaren had made the right decision. Nico Hulkenberg continues to impress, and did so again on Sunday, while Perez has hit a slump.

It was a tough weekend for Perez; hampered by a cold on Thursday to such an extent that he left the circuit almost as soon as he'd arrived and cancelled all media commitments. As a result, Esteban Gutierrez jumped in to his car for FP1 for a thinly disguised opportunity to impress as Sauber weighs up its 2013 options.

Perez was far from happy. He confirmed the following day that he "was feeling good enough to drive on Friday morning", and while missing a practice session puts a driver on the back foot, seeing his car being driven by a fellow Mexican - with who he vies for coverage for some sponsors among other things - will also have rankled with him.

Perez produced what he described as a "magic lap"

Then came the flash of class that highlights just why McLaren signed him up. Despite missing half of Friday and having never looked particularly competitive, Perez produced what he described as a "magic lap" to make Q3 and stick the Sauber in 8th place while team-mate Kamui Kobayashi floundered in 17th.

One lap is not enough, though. The race lasts for 60 and a top driver needs to deliver for all 300km. Usually so easy on the car, Perez chewed through the tyres and saw himself passed by Hulkenberg for eighth place in the opening stint. The irony was not lost on Perez, who pitted for more softs in line with a two-stop strategy and then set about making progress through the field.

In the space of one lap, Perez proved unable to control his emotions and caused his own downfall. He tried to dive past Daniel Ricciardo from much too far back in to turn four and ran wide, relinquishing the place back. Then, in his eagerness to recover, Perez was careless completing a move ahead of turn one and clipped the Toro Rosso's front wing as he turned in, giving himself a puncture. A few laps later, he duly retired.

That left Hulkenberg with the rest of the race to enhance a still-growing reputation and perhaps insert a tinge of regret in to McLaren minds. Ironically, it could be that Sauber is looking forward to its (yet to be confirmed) new charge in 2013 more than those at Woking.

Perez is a fantastic prospect, and clearly has what it takes to be a race winner. But he should be performing consistently strongly and close to his best, safe in the knowledge that he has a seat in a front-running car next season. He knows the pressure is already on, and no matter how good a prospect you look, a second chance at a top team is a long time coming. Just ask Heikki Kovalainen.