• Comment

The kids are alright

Laurence Edmondson
September 11, 2012
Sergio Perez has impressed at Sauber but is he Ferrari material? © Press Association

Uncertainty over the future of two of Formula One's biggest names provided, as Martin Whitmarsh put it, "a bit of titillation in the media" over the Italian Grand Prix weekend. The prospect of Lewis Hamilton leaving McLaren for Mercedes and Michael Schumacher leaving the sport altogether filled more column inches than any other story, while Felipe Massa's future at Ferrari is becoming rather more tedious than titillating.

But one worrying theme that came out over the weekend is that there is a lack of trust in the next generation of F1 drivers. Sergio Perez proved beyond doubt that he would be the perfect fit for Ferrari next year, not only beating the man he should replace, Massa, but also the man he should understudy, Fernando Alonso. It's true that Perez's mesmerising fight through the field was down to having softer medium compound tyres rather than hards towards the end of the race, but the way he managed his tyres over the race showed a level of maturity beyond his years.

His opening ten laps in his first stint - while he was on hards and the rest of the frontrunners were on mediums - were all in the low to mid 1:30s, which was on a par with all but the McLarens, Ferraris and Sebastian Vettel. The hards then suffered minimal degradation, allowing his lap times to continue to fall throughout that first stint as his fuel burned off. After 29 laps of improving pace he swapped to medium tyres, taking a second off his lap times instantly, and again improving with almost every lap until he set his fastest time (and the second fastest of the race after the two-stopping Nico Rosberg on fresher tyres) on his final lap. It was a clever strategy helped by a very tidy car, but it still required him to make it work and to know how hard he could push to allow the times to steadily reduce in each stint.

Pirelli's philosophy of tyre making looks like it's here to stay and therefore a driver like Perez has the perfect skill set to succeed over the next few seasons. Ultimately, drivers that have been able to get a feel for the tyres this year have been the ones that have scored the most points, and despite the random results it's not down to chance that the top four drivers are all ex-champions. But as you scroll down the championship table Perez is the next man to stand out; ninth overall and 18 points clear of Ferrari's Massa. Yet on Saturday Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo dropped another hint that Perez is too young to fit the Ferrari driver mould.

"If I want to give a chance to a young driver how can I do it? I would never put a young driver in a Ferrari without the possibility to test."

Which come after his comments earlier this season that, "Perez is a good driver but to drive a Ferrari you need more experience. I think he is one of the potential best young drivers for the future but before putting a young driver in a Ferrari I need more experience and more results."

Hopefully Perez's Monza result will be enough to sway Montezemolo, but even so the Ferrari president makes a good point. The last rookie to come in to a top team was Lewis Hamilton, but only after roughly 10,000 miles of testing. That situation is unlikely to happen again due to costs so team bosses at the top of the sport have to start trusting young drivers who have completed a couple of impressive years at smaller teams.

The same goes for McLaren if Hamilton leaves. The likes of Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg or Kamui Kobayashi should be given a chance - all have shown impressive pace, but the feeling is that they would all be second choices.

Adding to the problem is that teams at the back of the grid can only afford to take on drivers with big sponsorship backing, while the junior series act as conveyor belts dropping good quality drivers at the F1 paddock gates without any hope of getting in. Ultimately, if drivers aren't performing at the top few teams, it should be young drivers with F1 experience filling those seats. That then makes space further down for GP2 and World Series by Renault stars, while keeping the sport fresh with new talent. Let's just hope Ferrari sets an example in 2013.