photo credit: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
A newly-minted McLaren man, Sergio Perez is living the dream, still a shade under 23 as of this writing, and driving for one of the top teams in Formula 1. Inevitably, comparisons will be made between whatever Perez does in the opening races with what Lewis Hamilton achieved during his rookie season. I think this would be a mistake.
Hamilton and Perez are different drivers, perhaps even opposite drivers. Hamilton is known for his raw speed, while with Perez, raw speed is perhaps the biggest question of them all. And I have asked the same question myself: can Perez deliver if asked to simply drive flat out on a conventional pit strategy? This remains to be seen. However, I would also argue that Perez is a victim of his own success: the media have turned Perez, to his detriment, into almost a mascot of tire management and the one-stop strategy. But in my opinion, his mastery of the one-stop strategy shows a certain degree of race craft beyond his years in Formula 1. Rather than label him a tire management savant, I think it demonstrates a certain level of feel and instinct behind the wheel which may serve him quite well if McLaren can harness it.
Also regarding the question of raw speed: he actually out-qualified his teammate last season. Perez qualified higher than Kobayashi 11 times in 2012. Kobayashi out-qualified Perez 9 times. One could argue these results are about equal, but he still out-qualified his teammate last year, which contrasts sharply with the endless swirl of questions surrounding his qualifying ability. Let his record against his teammate speak for itself. If he starts qualifying several rows behind Button next season, the questions will have proven their merit. But for now, I think these questions are overdone and a lot more speculative than most would acknowledge.
These questions of Perez’s raw speed and ability to perform outside of a one stop strategy will ultimately be decided by Perez himself.
I am optimistic about Perez’s development at McLaren, and I think he’ll ultimately prove worthy the chance McLaren have given him. The question is whether or not the media will give him a fair trial. It’s simply not fair to compare anyone’s debut with a major team against Lewis Hamilton’s unprecedented 9 consecutive podiums in his 2007 debut. Hamilton had years of preparation leading up to his McLaren debut. Perez isn’t in anywhere near the same position as Hamilton was in that regard. I think what’s more important is how Perez develops over the season, rather than his first couple of races. And I think that over the course of his 3 year contract with the team, his development may surprise a lot of people.
Clearly Jenson Button will the undisputed #1 at McLaren this coming season. I think if Perez can prove himself to be a solid, reliable #2, both he and McLaren will have done very well.