The brilliance of Sergio Perez- here's why he should stay in F1
Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez’s F1 career is looking increasingly uncertain. Let’s look at some of his most memorable races which prove that he deserves a seat.
This was the Mexican’s breakthrough Grand Prix where he caught the attention of the entire F1 paddock. Starting 9th, he would have been hopeful of a points finish for the team. What ensued was so much more for the young Mexican. In a chaotic rain-affected Grand Prix, Perez kept out of trouble at the start and made up places when Romain Grosjean and Michael Schumacher made contact and both spun around at turn 4. At the end of the first lap, Perez was the first to switch onto the full-wet tyres as the rain had intensified. On lap 4 and 5, the front-runners followed suit. Due to his early stop, Perez found himself in 3rd place. However, the rain became so heavy that the race was suspended until the conditions improved. Perez stayed out and pitted after the two McLarens and moved ahead of the pair as Hamilton suffered a slow stop and Button made contact with back-marker Narain Karthikeyan. Although, he was perhaps stopped too late which allowed Fernando Alonso to sneak past him when Perez re-joined the race. However, throughout the rest of the race, he hounded the Spaniard but made a critical mistake at the penultimate corner which spelled the end to his challenge for victory.
Despite not winning the race, Perez showed for the first time in his F1 career that where there is an opportunity to score a big result, he is more often than not in a position to capitalise on it.
Sergio Perez produced a number of stunning results in the Sauber C31. Monza was arguably one of the best races of his career. Starting 12th on the grid, Sergio was able to carve his way through the field with the use of an excellent tyre strategy. The Mexican opted for a long first stint and found himself leading the Grand Prix when Lewis Hamilton pitted for new tyres. When he finally made his stop on lap 30 he re-joined the race in 8th place. He moved up the order when Jenson Button retired with a loss of fuel pressure. He passed Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus and then set about chasing down the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso in front of their adoring fans. He ultimately finished the race in 2nd place, just over 4 seconds adrift of Hamilton. With a handful more laps, he could have gone one better and taken his maiden win for the Swiss-based outfit. During the podium ceremony, the late Niki Lauda memorably took his hat off to show respect for Mexican's incredible performance. This race proved pivotal in Perez landing a race seat at McLaren for 2013 in place of the departing Lewis Hamilton.
Perez was just 22 at the time, but this race proved above all else that he had mastered a very important skill in contemporary Formula 1- tyre management. With the introduction of the Pirelli tyres to Formula One in 2011, tyre conservation became fundamental for race performance. Perez possesses an ability to effectively manage his tyres during a Grand Prix which allows his team to develop creative strategies, rather than to simply react to what the rest of the field are doing.
Sergio qualified P5 at the third race of the season for his new team, Force India after being replaced at McLaren by Kevin Magnussen.
Sergio made an excellent start and moved up to P4 and immediately put a lot on pressure on the Williams of Felipe Massa and eventually passed the Brazilian. After the pit stops, Perez found himself in the battle for P3 with team-mate Nico Hulkenberg and Massa. He took advantage of the pair battling in front, and he passed Hulkenberg using the switch-back overtake. He then passed Massa for the second time in the race again using the same style of overtake. The Mexican thereafter held position and finished ‘best of the rest’ behind the two dominant Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Unlike his previous podiums that he earned with Sauber in 2012 with tyre strategies or unpredictable weather, his first podium with Force India was on merit. It was a dry race and no unusual circumstances occurred. He qualified at the front and had the pace throughout to secure the final podium position.
What was also significant about this result was the fact that the Mexican was told by McLaren at the very end of the 2013 season that they would not be retaining his services for the following year. This decision was very unexpected for the Mexican, who was sure that he was staying with the Woking-based outfit. At the time he said “I was told late, which puts me in a difficult position with my future”. It could have spelled an end to his F1 career but the Mexican was fortunate to find a home at Force India and he signed a deal to replace Paul Di Resta.
Following a very difficult start to the season, Force India reached the 4th round of the season with just 1 point to their name. Perez, who was yet to score produced a miracle in Baku for the team and provided the whole outfit with a much needed boost amid the difficulties that they were facing on and off the track. Checo was out-qualified by team-mate Esteban Ocon as the two Force India cars lined up 7th and 8th respectively. Perez was cautious at the start and so held his position. However, it all began to unravel for the Mexican when the Williams of Lance Stroll divided up his inside causing minor contact which damaged Perez's front wing. The net result was that Perez got an awful exit onto the long back straight which meant that he lost a number of positions. Although, he did almost immediately make up a place when team-mate Ocon crashed out after he collided with Kimi Raikkonen. Following the damage that he sustained, he was forced to pit at the end of lap 1. At this point, it looked like Checo was in for a difficult afternoon. Although, he was significantly helped by the safety car being deployed to clean up the circuit following a chaotic start also towards the rear of the field with Alonso and Sirotkin coming together. He found himself in P15 at the restart and was again cautious to avoid damage which is a highly possibility at this track with its tight and twisty nature after the long straights. He quickly fell back a place to 16th after being passed by Kevin Magnussen. A key factor in reaching the podium was that Perez was able to benefit from the mistakes of others. The Renault of Nico Hulkenberg hit the wall at turn 4 which forced him to retire. However, the key turning point for Checo’s race was when two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen took themselves out of podium contention when the took each other out of the race at turn 1 after an intense battle. This brought out the safety car once more which allowed the field to bunch up. On the restart, Sergio had a front-row seat to watch the action unfold in front of him. Vettel attempted an ambitious overtake for the lead on Valtteri Bottas. He heavily locked up, resulting in a flat spotted tyre. This dropped the German down into 4th directly in front of Perez who passed the Ferrari driver on lap 49 during the same moment that race leader Valtteri Bottas run over some debris on the start-finish straight which punctured his rear-left tyre and ultimately led to his retirement. This enabled Perez to finish 3rd and score the final podium finish for the team that was then known as Force India.
While Perez did not earn this podium on merit, he ensured that he was in the right place at the right time. Save the contact with Lance Stroll, he ensured that he stayed out of trouble by being conservative at the restarts for example. Baku has a history of having a high attrition rate, and so the Mexican was correct in his approach to bide his time. Playing the long game, rather than going for broke ultimately paid off for Checo.
Sergio revealed in September that he would be leaving Racing Point at the end of the 2020 season to make way for the incoming Sebastian Vettel. The decision made by Racing Point to remove the Mexican at a relatively late stage in the year means that Checo has limited options to pursue for next season. His most likely destination seem to be either Haas or Williams, but these are seats that will inevitably place him further down the grid. This seems particularly harsh for Perez who has fought almost his entire career in the midfield, waiting for the opportunity to be provided with a car that can fight at the front. Sergio has accumulated 8 podiums in his F1 despite never having the machinery to fight at the sharp end. This speaks volumes to the Mexican’s ability behind the wheel. Checo has been fiercely loyal to Racing Point for 8 seasons, committing himself to the project with a long-term view in mind. The team has improved dramatically this season with a car that can compete for podiums and is challenging for 3rd in the Constructors’ championship. Unfortunately, Sergio only has 6 more Grand Prix left before he is forced to part ways with the team. The only competitive seat that appears to still be vacant is at Red Bull Racing, as Alex Albon has been underperforming all season. If Red Bull decide to look outside their programme for the first time since 2007, then Sergio should be the first name that comes to mind. A Verstappen-Perez line-up would be compelling and one where they could fight Mercedes as a team, rather than Verstappen having to go it alone.