Sergio Perez couldn't have timed it better.
The young Mexican driver chose to showcase his immense talent in this Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix, regarded as Ferrari’s home race. Before taking the chequered flag behind the race winner Lewis Hamilton, Perez had overtaken Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso in succession, thus bringing cheer to his team, Sauber F1, as well as proving a point to Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo.
It may be recalled that in June this year, Montezemolo had reasoned that Perez was too inexperienced to be considered for a seat at Ferrari next year. Speculation is rife that Massa, who has been struggling for the past few years, is likely to get replaced. Thanks to his astonishing drive on Sunday at Monza (he started 12th on the grid), Perez has surely become a ‘must-have’ driver for top teams, including perhaps Ferrari.
Sunday’s race, though, wasn’t the first instance this year that the Mexican driver had sprung a surprise. In his début race in 2011, he managed to finish in the top 10, though subsequently he was disqualified because of technical infringements. Sauber F1 isn’t the strongest team on the grid. Yet, he produced some decent performances every now and then.
However, it is this year that he has taken the centrestage. He surprised everyone with his remarkable performance at the Malaysian GP, where he would have been a certain winner had it not been for an error on his part in the closing stages of the race. He finished second after starting 10th on the grid.
In Canada, he was even further down on the starting grid. After qualifying in a disappointing 15th place, Perez produced another tremendous drive to finish 3rd. What has made him stand apart, is his driving in the latter half of these races. The ability to be easy on tyres is his biggest asset in an era when the rate of tyre dégradation has become pivotal. Also, his teammate Kamui Kobayashi is not only more experienced but is also renowned for his agressive driving and his penchant for overtaking. Yet, Perez has scored almost double the points as that of Kobayashi in this year’s championship.
A product of Ferrari Driver Academy, Perez has helped Sauber F1 achieve its best race results ever. Prior to this year, Sauber F1 couldn’t do better than a 3rd place (six times from 1993 to 2005, 2010-2011). The team never managed more than one podium finishes every year. This year, thanks to Perez, Sauber F1 has already scored three podium finishes, including two 2nds.
It will be difficult for Sauber to hold on to a talent like Perez for long, even perhaps beyond this year. Though the Ferrari boss may have ruled out Perez’s chances earlier, the Mexican driver’s performance this Sunday, when he humbled both the Ferraris in front of the tifosi in Monza, may have changed the script in his favour. After all, in only his second year, Perez has already outshone much more experienced drivers.