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Perez to leave McLaren

Sergio Perez will leave McLaren at the end of 2013 (Image: McLaren)

Sergio Perez will leave McLaren at the end of 2013 (Image: McLaren)

Sergio Perez has confirmed that he will leave McLaren at the end of the 2013 season. The Mexican driver, who is in his first (and now only) season with the team, revealed the news in an open letter on his personal website,

The letter reads:

“First of all, I would like to thank McLaren for giving me the opportunity to be with them this season. It has been an honor for me to have been in one of the most competitive teams in the sport and I do not regret even a bit having joined them. I have always given the best of me for the team and still despite this I could not achieve what I aimed for in this historic team.

“I am committed to deliver very good results in these last two races, especially in Austin. I am so much looking forward to see all my people gathered together, feel their energy and show them the best of me. I would like to say to every single one of my fans around the world and in my country that I am eternally grateful to them. They have never let me down, especially in difficult moments like these. I truly appreciate their support, they have never forgotten me.

“I have met a lot of new people at McLaren this season and I have made many good friends as well. From the top management level to the marketing, accounting and engineering departments to the mechanics, the cooks, the catering people and basically everyone in the team, I am eternally grateful to them. It has been a learning experience to me.

“I would like to wish the team the very best in the future. I will always be a fan of McLaren. In the meanwhile I will be looking at my future to ensure my position in the best possible package to fight for wins.

“Thanks to McLaren and all of its partners for this season, you can rest assured that I will never give up.”

Perez has had a difficult season with McLaren, largely due to the lack of pace of this year’s McLaren MP4-28. The Mexican’s best finish in 2013 so far has been fifth place at the Indian Grand Prix. With two races left – in the USA this weekend and next week in Brazil – Perez is sitting 12th in the Drivers’ Championship on 35 points, 25 fewer than the tally of his team-mate, Jenson Button. Button has also not managed to finish higher than fifth this season.

It’s not clear yet what will happen to Perez in 2014. He has not been in talks with any other teams, as he assumed that his position at McLaren was safe. With the end of the season looming, there is not a great deal of time for him to negotiate a competitive drive for next year.

McLaren have not yet announced a replacement for Perez for next season. The current rumours suggest that it will be 21-year old Danish driver Kevin Magnussen, son of former F1 driver Jan Magnussen, who made his debut for McLaren at the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix.

McLaren stalling over 2014 driver line-up

McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh shares a drink with Sergio Perez and Jenson Button (Image: McLaren)

McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh shares a drink with Sergio Perez and Jenson Button (Image: McLaren)

Jenson Button and Sergio Perez currently hold two extremely sought-after seats on the Formula One grid. At least, they’re sought-after seats for the future. This season is another story, as McLaren have struggled so much that neither driver has stood on the podium yet in 2013. Both drivers have contracts with McLaren until the end of the season, with options to extend, but those options have yet to be taken up by McLaren, sparking rumours of a possible change in driver line-up at the Woking-based team.

At this point of the season, there is no reason for McLaren to delay confirmation that they are keeping Button and Perez in their cars for next season. Unless, that is, they are considering alternatives. Reasons for signing (or replacing) racing drivers fall into two broad categories: sporting and commercial.

From a sporting perspective, there really isn’t much of a decision to make. Button has only improved since winning the 2009 World Championship, and Perez is still in his first season at McLaren after being identified as a rising star in 2012 and snapped up to replace the departing Lewis Hamilton at the start of this year. Both drivers have made it clear that they want to stick around at McLaren. Any delays can only be coming from McLaren, and only for reasons other than on-track performance.

When it comes to commercial interests, it is not unusual for a commercial partner of a racing team to put pressure on the team management to sign a driver who is close to their interests. It is also not unusual for up-and-coming racing drivers to join forces with wealthy sponsors in order to jointly further their aims of securing a deal with the highest profile team possible. Examples include Pastor Maldonado, who joined Williams in 2011 and brought sponsorship from Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA.

There are at least two major changes taking place at McLaren in the next two seasons that have massive commercial implications. From 2014, the team will have a new title sponsor, as Vodafone have decided not to renew their McLaren deal at the end of this year. From 2015 onwards, McLaren will switch to Honda power, when the Japanese manufacturer returns to Formula One as an engine supplier for the first time since 2008.

McLaren’s new title sponsor, whoever it may be, could well be linked to a driver or a few drivers. Honda could also be interested in promoting drivers linked to their organisation. While McLaren have a strong history of choosing drivers with talent, that does not preclude choosing talented drivers with commercial benefits.

During a recent Vodafone teleconference, McLaren team manger Jonathan Neale told Autosport:

“What you really want is talent and high performance.

“We’ve shown in the past that we weren’t afraid to make the changes that we felt that we needed to in the team, whether it was inside the organisation or in the driver line-up, in order to get the job done.”

Neale’s comments suggest that McLaren are at least considering a change of driver line-up, although arguably nothing is yet decided. He went on to say:

“We don’t comment on rumour mill or drivers until such time as we’re ready to make an announcement. I hope that it won’t be too much further now before we’re able to clarify what’s going on.

“This is that time of year when everybody is talking to everybody, whether it’s technical staff moving around or drivers.”

If McLaren are being as coy with Button and Perez as they are with the media, then there could be some cause for concern for the drivers. However, it could also simply be that decisions are already made and the team could just be waiting for the opportune moment for a public announcement, such as a race weekend or other event that is important to the team’s 2014 sponsors. With Honda involved, the announcement could well be delayed until the Japanese Grand Prix on 13 October.

Hungarian Grand Prix – FP3 results

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:20.730 20
2 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:20.898 0.168 13
3 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:21.052 0.322 10
4 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:21.125 0.395 27
5 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:21.151 0.421 14
6 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:21.158 0.428 19
7 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:21.254 0.524 17
8 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:21.356 0.626 23
9 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:21.499 0.769 15
10 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:21.519 0.789 20
11 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:21.589 0.859 17
12 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:21.646 0.916 19
13 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:21.963 1.233 21
14 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:21.964 1.234 21
15 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:22.180 1.450 18
16 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:22.423 1.693 19
17 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:23.028 2.298 16
18 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:23.975 3.245 21
19 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:23.987 3.257 19
20 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:24.298 3.568 20
21 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:25.122 4.392 20
22 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber No time 2
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