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Perez: “I always pray before I go into the car”

Sergio Perez has been introduced to the world as a McLaren driver by means of a Google+ Hangout, in which fans have had the opportunity to ask him questions. One such question was concerned with Perez’s pre-race rituals.

Perez’s response was: “I always jump into the car from the right, but it’s because it’s more comfortable… I have some cards with me that my family gave me from God to pray… I always pray before I go into the car. It’s my normal routine.” He went on to state that he had prayed before racing since his karting days.

Formula One 2009 Rd.15 Japanese GP: Ayrton Sen...

Sergio Perez would like to drive Ayrton Senna’s McLaren from 1990 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perez’s prayerful habits come as no surprise, as he was born in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, which has a strong Catholic heritage. He is also not unique in being a religious racing driver – in the latter part of his career, Ayrton Senna became very religious, and Lewis Hamilton has publicly expressed his belief that “God has a plan for me”.

The young Mexican also revealed that he trains for four to six hours per day and would love to drive Ayrton Senna’s 1990 championship-winning McLaren.

Button to lead McLaren in 2013

In advance of 2013, there has been an unusual amount of activity in the driver market. Only Ferrari, Red Bull and Lotus are fielding unchanged driver line-ups, which leaves eight teams with the task of introducing new team-mates to each other. One such team is McLaren, where Lewis Hamilton has been replaced by Mexican Sergio Perez. As a result of the move, Jenson Button finds himself leading a team for the first time since his championship-winning season at Brawn in 2009.

For the past three seasons, Button and Hamilton have been team-mates at McLaren. While it was generally expected that Button would be in the shadow of 2008 Champion Hamilton, the reality was an unusual equality of top level drivers. Hamilton had a slight edge in terms of results over the thee-year period, winning ten races to Button’s eight and taking 8 pole position to Button’s solitary pole at Spa in 2012, but Button had the edge on points, with 672 compared to Hamilton’s 657. Neither driver finished lower than fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, with Button second in 2011, albeit some way behind Sebastian Vettel who dominated that season.

Now the British dream team is split up. Hamilton is off to Mercedes (which is in large part Button’s old Brawn team) and Button stays with McLaren to partner Sergio Perez. The young Mexican Perez presents a completely different challenge to Hamilton for Button. When Button joined McLaren, Hamilton had three seasons under his belt and had already been startlingly successful, having won 11 races and the 2008 World Championship. Perez, on the other hand, has had just two seasons for midfield team Sauber with his best results three podiums in 2012. Perez is certainly quick, but he is only 22 years old, and his youth has shown on the track in a few incidents, particularly in the latter part of 2012. Perez is also not a first-language English speaker, which could create something of a language barrier at his new, ultra-British team.

Button is entering his 14th consecutive season of Formula One and looking to build on an already successful career that includes 15 race victories and the 2009 World Championship. He is comfortable at McLaren, and has arguably produced his best driving since joining the Woking-based team. Button is the ideal partner and perhaps mentor for the young Perez, as he has a cool head and a wealth of experience to share. Importantly for McLaren’s development, Button is only 32 years old, and could still be in Formula One for some time.

McLaren had arguably the quickest car in 2012. Button suffered during the middle part of the season as the team struggled to set his car up for the 2012 Pirelli tyres, but Hamilton would have been a title contender to the end if not for recurring car failures in the second half of the season. With technical regulations largely unchanged for 2013, it is highly likely that the McLarens will be fighting for the World Championship again, and Button is the man expected to lead that challenge. His first task as team leader, however, will be be to beat his young and exciting team-mate.

Perez gets his big break

Sergio Perez has impressed since the moment he stepped into an F1 car. He drives incredibly smoothly, and displays patience and maturity beyond his years to get great results out of a car that is not bad, but arguably not a front-runner. For some time it has been clear that he deserves a drive with a top team, and such an opportunity arose when McLaren asked him to replace the departing Lewis Hamilton.

This season has seen three particularly impressive drives from Perez. In Malaysia he came second to Fernando Alonso in very difficult weather conditions, a mistake in the closing stages ending what looked like a realistic shot at victory. The Canadian Grand Prix saw another mature drive, this time in the dry, to take third place from 15th on the grid. Most recently, the young Mexican made superb use of his tyres at Monza to finish second from 12th on the grid.

Although McLaren certainly wanted to keep Lewis Hamilton, his departure leaves them with the opportunity to nurture a young talent. Jenson Button is staying with the team for the foreseeable future, which provides the driver line-up with the experience needed to take McLaren forward. Perez can learn from his more experienced team-mate and use his own considerable talent to develop himself into a world-class driver.

For McLaren, the loss of Hamilton may prove to be a blessing in disguise. Perez will demand a lower salary than Hamilton, which leaves more of the budget available to develop the car. Considering that McLaren will have to pay for their Mercedes engines for the first time in 2013, any such financial flexibility will be most welcome.

Perez has landed firmly with his bum in the butter. After only two years in Formula One, he finds himself with a drive at the second most successful team in Formula One history (after Ferrari, of course) at a time when the team has been getting more and more competitive. He should realistically be a title contender in 2013, perhaps even more so than Hamilton will be at Mercedes.

Perez – What a great performance

Lewis Hamilton may have won Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix from pole position, but the drive of the day undoubtedly came from Sauber’s Sergio Perez.

Perez started down in 12th position, after failing to make Q3 in qualifying. While his grid position was not ideal, the young Mexican made the most of circumstances by choosing to start on the hard tyres, while those ahead of him were on the softer (and therefore less durable) medium-compound tyres. The choice of tyres proved to be inspired, as it enabled Perez to run long in his first stint. Running the medium tyre in the latter part of the race gave him a distinct pace advantage, and having fresher tyres than everyone else (due to pitting later) allowed him to push all the way to the flag.

Perez’s careful tyre management saw him move from the middle of the pack at the start of the race to second by the end. He passed both Ferraris like they were standing still and would have needed only a handful more laps to catch and pass Lewis Hamilton for the lead. As it happened, Perez ran out of laps and Hamilton took a well-deserved victory, but Sauber and Perez showed once again that they are capable of challenging right at the front.

A crucial part of Perez’s performance was his own driving style. The car is clearly quick and kind to its tyres, but it required sublimely smooth and controlled driving to preserve tyre performance throughout the race. Perez is only in his second season of Formula One, but is already showing remarkable maturity behind the wheel.

This is the third such impressive performance from Perez this season, the previous two being in Malaysia and Canada, where he also featured on the podium after smooth, measured performances. As a result of his consistent season, Perez is ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa in the championship, which is significant given that Sauber is a Ferrari engine custome. From very early in the season, there was speculation that Perez could replace Massa at Ferrari for next season, and after this performance (if not before), Ferrari must surely be looking at the possibility with interest.

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