Sergio Perez is now into his third season with the Sahara Force India team, but his contract comes up for renewal at the end of the 2016 season, and the Mexican believes that a seat at one of the top teams is still very much achievable.
On his debut for the Sauber F1 Team back in 2011, Perez firmly shrugged off the “pay driver” taunts to come home seventh in his maiden Australian Grand Prix. A strong start, but a heavy crash in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix, saw the Mexican ruled out of that race and the subsequent race in Canada, but despite being shaken up a little from the experience, as far as rookie season’s go, it was no damp squib.
The next year saw Perez up his game dramatically, scoring three podium finishes, including a sublime second place to Fernando Alonso at the Malaysian Grand Prix, which on another day the Mexican could so easily have won, had it not been for a small error that caused him to run wide, allowing the Spaniard to gain enough of a lead to take victory.
Following a successful couple of years at Sauber, where his skill for making tyres last beyond the realms of most caught many an eye, Perez was snapped up by the McLaren F1 Team in 2013 as a replacement for the departing Lewis Hamilton.
But just as quickly as he arrived, the Mexican was let go again. Perez’ time with the Woking based squad was a troubling one for the now Force India driver, with the car not up to the usual McLaren standards, it was a difficult ask for either of its drivers to produce results. Frustration inevitably set in and as Perez tried to show his potential on track, an aggressive wheel to wheel tussle with team-mate Jenson Button in Bahrain did not go down well with McLaren head honcho’s.
As the season came to an end, it was unclear whether McLaren would keep the Mexican on, and the length of time it took bosses at the Woking based squad to decide was extremely unfair on Perez. With the help of McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh, the former Sauber man was able to strike a deal with Force India late in the day, to keep him in F1 the following year, but it had be an unpleasant foray into the top echelons of F1 for the upcoming driver.
His move to Force India started off well with a podium in Bahrain, only the teams second ever visit to the steps, but from then on it was a more subdued affair, and he finished way behind team-mate Nico Hulkenberg in the points, 37 to be exact. The 2015 season was better however and a further podium in Russia, the team’s only podium that year, as well as an all-round improvement in race craft and skill that saw Perez finish in ninth place overall and ahead of his team-mate by 20 points, got tongues wagging about the Mexican’s potential once again.
And he has done it again in 2016, consistently scoring points alongside his now regulatory podium for the team, taking third place in Monaco during the last round. It was an accomplished drive from the Mexican who managed to look after his tyres whilst keeping four time world champion Sebastian Vettel in the Scuderia Ferrari at bay for the majority of the race. While not being overly spectacular in his performances, Perez is proving once again that he has what it takes to perhaps one day be great.
So, was his time at McLaren a squandered chance of the big time for Perez? Many do not think so, including the man himself who confirmed his goal to compete with a top team, whilst speaking to motorsport.com recently.
“Hopefully. Why not? I think in the past years I’ve been doing good job, especially last year and so far this year, so hopefully an opportunity with a top team can happen.
“Obviously you’re always looking to move up. If there is an opportunity, then definitely it will be good.”
And even if Perez stays with Force India, he is confident that the Silverstone based squad is going places, and will move up the order soon enough.
“I’m confident. I believe in this team and that’s why I spent three years in this team. And I think the team is moving up, going forward. So I think there is a good future.”
“I want to believe I’m in a good position. Hopefully, if something happens, a good opportunity can come for my career. That will be great for me.”
Perhaps the most likely avenue available to Perez, will be through Ferrari. Formerly a member of their academy before joining McLaren, the Mexican had clearly caught their eye at one stage of his career. With the contract of Kimi Raikkonen, the veteran of the F1 paddock, coming to an end this season, many believe the Maranello-based squad will not want to sign a new deal with the Finn, favouring the chance to bring in some younger, fresher talent, as seems to be the fashion in F1 these days.
Perez could be the perfect replacement for Ferrari, already with a strong pedigree to his name, and starting to come into his own with a much improved Force India this year, it could be a make or break season for the young Mexican in 2016, who has much to prove and plenty to gain!