Is Sergio Perez to blame for being moved on from McLaren after just one Formula 1 season, or did the team play a part in the 2013 debacle?
Sergio Perez has had a roller coaster of a ride during his Formula 1 career. From fantastic highs, to unfortunate lows. He has mixed it up with the top tier teams, as well as fighting from the bottom of the barrel.
Looking to replace Lewis Hamilton who was heading to Mercedes for the 2013 F1 season, McLaren took an interest in Sergio Perez. The 23-year-old Mexican driver was coming off two fairly reasonable seasons with Sauber, and would sign on the dotted line to partner with Jenson Button.
At the time, Perez was a part of the Ferrari junior driver program. However, McLaren’s strong performance in 2012 was enough to entice him away and cut ties with the Scuderia. A decision that would ultimately not work out in his favour.
“It was all natural, I was part of the Ferrari Academy and there was a lot of contact with the team,” said Perez. “It was a natural step that a driver part of the academy would be linked to them. It was all looking like I was going there, but then things changed.
“We were talking to Mercedes, but that really depended if Lewis didn’t go there, I was the second option. It’s what they said. We had a couple of options, looking back then.
“2013 was the closest I came to going to Ferrari. That was very close. In hindsight, if I didn’t go to McLaren, I certainly would have gone to Ferrari but things change very quickly in F1. McLaren at the time were dominating, they offered me a contract. It made a lot of sense at the time. Unfortunately, it didn’t pay off. The car was quite bad, and I was not able to score any podiums or fight for anything apart from points.”
So what went wrong for Perez during his one year at McLaren? Two key things.
As mentioned, the draw card for Perez moving to McLaren was the strong performance of 2012’s MP4/27. But rather than continuing to build on the success the car enjoyed, McLaren decided to go in a different direction. Effectively building a brand new car in the MP4/28.
Hampered by a drop in pace, balance issues and aerodynamics, McLaren suffered through their worst season in F1 for some 30 odd years. They failed to finish on the podium, with Button’s fourth place finish at Brazil the highest for the year. While the team also failed to qualify inside the top five.
Button would go on to finish ninth in the Drivers’ Championship with 73 points, while Perez chalked up 11th with 49 points.
The other issue which Perez copped flack for at the time was his overly aggressive driving style. On more than one occasion throughout the season, Perez rubbed other drivers the wrong way. Including teammate Button and the team management at McLaren.
Button and Perez had a close call at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with the pair banging wheels. Followed by Perez colliding with Kimi Raikkonen at Monaco after passing both Button and Fernando Alonso.
Perez was understandably disappointed after being let go by McLaren ahead of the 2014 season.
“I was settled and going to stay but something happened in the past few weeks,” Perez said upon learning about his sacking. “It was a very late decision and it came as a shock to me. I was told late, which puts me in a difficult position with my future. When I signed they had a very competitive car, so it is no secret that I am disappointed, but we go down two different routes.”
Perez was used as somewhat of a scapegoat for McLaren’s poor 2013 performance. Was it his fault he was unable to secure a podium for the team, no. He was provided with a substandard car compared to that of his competitors. A World Champion driver in Button could manage just two places ahead of him in the standings.
May his attitude or driving style at the time have made it that much easier for McLaren to replace him with Kevin Magnussen, yes. The focus was shifted away from the performance of the MP4/28 to Perez’s aggressive style and conflict with Button.
“I’m more complete as a driver. I’ve grown up as a person, as an athlete. I’m very different.” Perez said when comparing his time at McLaren to joining Red Bull for 2021.
While Perez may have had to wait quite some time between stints at top F1 teams, he is looking to be a good number two driver to Max Verstappen this year. And, while his departure from McLaren came as a shock, it would be even more shocking should Red Bull not retain him for 2022.