Is Perez being unfairly criticised?

By on Friday, June 7, 2013

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As Formula 1 prepares for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, two men under the most pressure are those who secured podium finishes at the circuit 12 months ago.

While Romain Grosjean needs to blend his unquestionable speed with consistency, albeit something he has struggled to do throughout his career, Sergio Perez’s situation is a little more complicated.

Perez’s position stems from a sequence of events in which the young Mexican has attempted to assert himself as a consistent front runner, following his move from Sauber to McLaren.

After a difficult few races, Perez beat team-mate Jenson Button in Bahrain and also put in a strong performance a couple of weeks later in Spain.

In Monaco, Perez had an undoubtedly mixed race, with moves he admits were ‘on the limit’ but that he did ‘nothing stupid’.

‘If you look at the moves I did, I did it to people like Jenson, Fernando [Alonso] and Kimi [Raikkonen], who are really thinking on the world championship, so I never thought Kimi was going to shut the door’, he added.

The issue with Perez seems to be the lack of comprehension with regards to the differences of each move.

His attempt on Button was exquisitely judged and should be shown to aspiring racers as an example of how to pass in Monaco. Button, on the back foot after tagging Alonso, was caught unaware and Perez put his McLaren in exactly the right place.

With Alonso, the move was more optimistic and the Spaniard was forced into cutting the chicane and the stewards sided with Perez. Towards the end of the race, a defensive Raikkonen forced Perez into a split-second decision. The McLaren kept coming at the Lotus and was squeezed into the barriers. Perez’s approach was uncompromising but Raikkonen called his bluff and both suffered for the collision. The stewards decided it was a racing incident, but the larger picture was that Perez’s earlier move on Button was forgotten and the focus was on his over-exuberance with the Finn.

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An angry Raikkonen said Perez should ‘be punched’ to teach him a lesson and still feels that the McLaren driver was in the wrong.

“I am using my own line and I could easily have made the corner, but obviously if he comes too fast and can't stop, while I was in the middle of the circuit, then he can't get past me unless I move over.”

“I don't really feel that I should move over if the other guy comes too fast,” he added.

For Perez, it appears that his excellent move on Button subsequently justified his attempts at passing Alonso and Raikkonen. He has irked world champions and has shown that he is unafraid to attempt a pass - something which in Monaco should be applauded -  and take advantage of others who are thinking of the larger picture. But there is a difference between a justifiable attempt and a move of sheer optimistic hope. Perhaps recognising defensive driving has been lost in the era of DRS influenced passing...

Even in his junior career, Perez has never shown the outright one-lap pace possessed by his predecessor, Lewis Hamilton. Two of Perez’s three podiums in 2012 were achieved through an alternative strategy, one which Perez nonetheless had the skill to pull off.

At McLaren, Perez has had to change his game. Off weekends cannot be tolerated, simply using a quirky strategy is no longer good enough. His qualifying pace, compared to Button, has been fine and his race performances have been respectable, if not outstanding. Like team-mate Button, he will need to fight his way through the pack on race day, as he is unlikely to be able to control the field from the front. In 64 races with McLaren, controlling a race from the front is something Button has done only once. Yet he has won seven other races during that period. It’s a mentality that Perez could do with adopting. He has sent out a defiant message that he will not be a pushover, although to earn respect from his peers Perez at times needs to eradicate, as Alonso puts it, ‘the GP2 mentality’.

But for all of this, it is impossible to judge Perez’s McLaren tenure until the Woking based team is able to deliver a car capable of fighting for the title. The team is not in a position to win races, or even fight for podiums, under normal circumstances. This has perhaps taken some of the pressure off of the Mexican, allowing him simply to race and show the team his potential. The moves in Monaco, on top of some messy mistakes towards the end of 2012 and aggression in Bahrain, has left Perez with a little bit of a reputation, but he’s shown he has the hunger to be with a top team. Right now, gathering points and trying to secure fifth in the Constructors’ championship appears to be a realistic target. The real litmus test for Perez will come when a race win is on offer.

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