In Sergio Perez, a star is born
It has been a while since Formula One witnessed such a dramatic race in which the hero was someone from a team other than the established names like Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull. In fact, the last such race that comes to mind was the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix (GP), where Giancarlo Fisichella scored a sensational second-place finish for Force India behind Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. Then there was the rain-affected 2008 Italian GP which was won by the then relatively unknown Sebastian Vettel driving a Toro Rosso. This race marked the birth of Vettel as Formula One's latest star. The race in Malaysia could very well do something similar to the 21-year-old Sergio Perez.
It is hard to believe that the Mexican driver is only in his second year of F1 racing. The maturity and talent he has exhibited under difficult conditions has already impressed many. Particularly, his ability to conserve tyres has been outstanding. Since last year, one of the biggest areas of concerns for driver is to conserve the tyres with smooth, calculated driving without compromising the pace. The Pirelli tyres, which were introduced last year, are characterised by their faster degradation compared to the Bridgestones that were in use till 2010. Many drivers have struggled to achieve this fine balance. Sergio, though, in his debut race in Australia last year, stunned everyone by going the race distance on just a single tyre stop. Had it not been for a technical infringement that disqualified both Sauber F1 cars from the race, he would have had the distinction of recording a points finish in his first race. Nevertheless, those who saw him drive in Melbourne that day could feel that a special talent had come to F1.
Last Sunday at the Sepang circuit, Sergio showed the level of confidence and ability he possessed as a driver. Having done an impressive qualifying session, he came into his own after the race started in wet conditions. Registering fastest lap after fastest lap, Perez was unstoppable and could have easily hunted down the race leader Fernando Alonso (whose performance too was remarkable). It was breathtaking to watch the spectacle of Sergio chasing Fernando as it has become a rarity these days.
There was a feeling that Fernando may be able to hold off Sergio once they switched to dry tyres and that Sergio's car had the perfect balance for a wet set-up. However, even after they switched to dry tyres after the final pit stop, Sergio kept up the same pace and would have easily caught up with Fernando with couple of laps left. However, a lapse of concentration that took his car on a small excursion on the service road meant he lost valuable time and momentum. He had lost out on a win. But a second place was an equally proud and impressive achievement for him as well as the team.
Sauber have been in F1 for close to two decades, during which time they have mostly existed as an independent unit, as they are now. From 2006 to 2009, they were part of the BMW Sauber team after the German manufacturer bought a majority stake at the end of 2005.
The BMW Sauber team had its best year in 2008 when it recorded a win at Canada. They also managed podium finishes. However, as Sauber F1, the team never managed to do better than a third-place finish. This result is also good for the sport on a whole as it has broken the hegemony of McLaren-Red Bull dominance. There is now a strong case for creating artificial wet conditions at the start of every race so as to make F1 more interesting.
More about Dhananjay Khadilkar
Formula 1 writer
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