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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.

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.

Massa vs Perez

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.

Malaysia – Alonso shows his class

The Malaysian Grand Prix was supposed to be a fight between McLaren and Red Bull, with Mercedes and Lotus in the mix. Ferrari were thought to be out of contention, as were Sauber. Just before the start, the rain came down, and all predictions went out the window.

When the track became so wet that the third sector was impossible to drive, the race was suspended until the rain abated. After the restart, a flurry of pitstops upset the order, and Fernando Alonso emerged in the lead. Jenson Button dropped down the field after contact with Narain Karthikeyan who was running an unbelievable tenth in the HRT at the restart.

Sergio Perez had made an early pitstop to change from intermediate to wet tyres, a move that paid off as he was running third at the restart and found himself second behind Alonso when the field settled down after the pitstops.

Perez set about chasing after Alonso, gradually reeling in the Ferrari until the field pitted again to go onto slick  tyres. Alonso pitted for slicks a lap before Perez, which opened the gap a bit, but Perez was quicker than Alonso and caught up with a few laps to go. Unfortunately, a mistake by Perez caused him to run wide and, although he rejoined the track, his chances of a win had all but evaporated.

Alonso held on for an extremely unexpected Ferrari victory, with Perez a superb second and Hamilton third. The quality of Alonso’s drive is obvious when compared to Felipe Massa’s 15th place, 97 seconds behind his team leader. The performance of the day arguably came from Perez, as the Mexican scored his first podium, which could easily have been a win.

Mercedes disappointed with Schumacher 10th after contact with Grosjean early on, and Rosberg 13th, although Schumacher has at least now scored a point this season. Their qualifying pace has so far not translated into race pace, which will trouble the team. Lotus were impressive again, with Raikkonen finishing 5th. Team-mate Romain Grosjean spun off a short while after his contact with Schumacher. Williams also continued their run of form with Bruno Senna scoring his best Formula One result in 6th place.

The Formula One circus proceeds to China in three weeks time, where the racing will hopefully be as enthralling as it has already been this season.

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