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.
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.
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.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa started his Formula One career in the cockpit of a Sauber, and juggled that position with the role of Ferrari test driver before securing a race drive alongside Michael Schumacher in 2006. The Brazilian has been with Ferrari ever since, the high-point of his tenure being 2008, when he lost out on the championship in the final corner of the final lap of the season.
Following his near-fatal accident in 2009, Massa has struggled for form. Although he recovered from his injuries sufficiently to return to full-time racing, the Brazilian has not won a race since the crash. He has been thoroughly outpaced by team-mate Fernando Alonso, which in itself is perhaps not all that surprising, but what has been concerning is just how far behind he has been. In 2011, Alonso won a race and stood on the podium ten times, whereas Massa never finished a race higher than fifth. Currently in 2012, Alonso leads the championship with Massa 14th, 139 points behind his team-mate.
Sergio Perez is young, relatively inexperienced, but obviously talented and hungry for success. Driving for Sauber in only his second season of Formula One, Perez has already stood on the podium twice this year, including a strong challenge for victory in Malaysia that ended in an impressive second place. The young Mexican is currently ninth in the Drivers’ Championship, 14 points ahead of team-mate Kamui Kobayashi. As part of Ferrari’s Driver Academy, it is no accident that Perez is driving for Ferrari-engined Sauber, and he is constantly under scrutiny from the Ferrari team.
If Massa fails to deliver results in the second half of 2012 he is likely to be replaced for 2013. In fact, it is likely that his replacement for 2013 has already been signed. The Ferrari driver line-up is typically announced at the Italian Grand Prix, which this year takes place on 9 September. Could Sergio Perez be revealed as Fernando Alonso’s team-mate for next season? It certainly seems possible. Perez has easily outperformed Massa thus far this season, despite being in an arguably inferior car.
If Perez is going to Ferrari, it is likely that Massa is aware that his replacement has been chosen. If so, then the next race in Belgium could make for some interesting watching. Any over-aggressive driving by Massa when Perez is close on the track could be a give-away, as could any obvious public chats between Alonso and Perez.
Whether or not Perez goes to Ferrari, it seems reasonably certain that someone will replace Massa. It is simply a matter of time before the replacement is revealed.