Under the Spotlight is a feature series that focuses on the rising stars of tomorrow, and those which have achieved success beyond the limits of their respected field. The series will be run by Urban Times editor Christian Julal.
Standing out from the pack in Formula 1 is tough, especially when your car is not competitive enough to challenge for the driver’s championship. Yet, that is exactly what Sergio Perez, 22, has managed to achieve in his career so far. Perez, dubbed the “Mexican Wunderkind”, has risen head and shoulders above most of the other young drivers on the podium and will race for F1 giants McLaren during the 2013 season.
In the process, he will be replacing the departing Lewis Hamilton, who won the driver’s championship while racing for the team in 2008. The move will see Perez move to a team with a highly competitive car and aspirations of race and title victories. Once dismissed by critics as a pay driver, Sergio Perez has proven them all wrong, and is now being hailed as the ”most exciting young talent in Formula 1″ by his bosses.
Achievements at Youth Level
Sergio Perez’s ability has always stood out from other drivers in his age group. His racing career started at the age of six when he took up karting. The young Mexican required very little time to impress, as he achieved four wins in the junior class in his first year alone. The following year saw Perez finish as a runner up and achieve one win in the youth class, during which he was the youngest driver on the grid. In 1998, Perez returned to the junior class and became the youngest champion of the division’s history.
Already way ahead of the curve in terms of his development, Perez gained special permission to participate in the 80 cc Shifter in 1999 and won three races over the course of the season, finishing in third place in the championship.
Moving into the new millennium, Sergio Perez participated in three Telmex Challenge events in the Shifter 125 cc category, and in 2001 he moved to compete in 125cc Shifter Regional, where he captured the attention of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s Scuderia Telmex racing project. Perez’s relationship with Telmex, a telecommunications giant, would have a big impact upon his career.
In 2004, the next phase of Perez’s career began as he took to the Skip Barber National Championship, racing for Telmex Racing.
In 2007, he moved to Oxford, England in order to compete in the British Formula Three National Class Championship. It was a perfect fit as Perez dominated the season, winning an astonishing 14 of the 21 races, finishing on the podium 19 times in total, and becoming the champion. His haul of 14 race wins in a season remains a record. GP2 was the next logical step and in 2010, Perez raced for the Barwa Addax Team and finished 2nd in the driver’s championship. The season included race wins in Monaco, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and Abu Dhabi.
After finishing second in the GP2 standings, the time had come for Perez to make the step up to Formula 1 and the backing he had from his personal sponsor, Telmex, certainly helped. The sport has moved on a long way from the 1970s, when drivers like Niki Lauda famously had to take out loans for cars. Ahead of the 2011 season, Perez, a rookie, managed to bring in $10 million from Telmex in order to secure his seat with Sauber. The team subsequently announced a partnership with Telmex, which raised a few eyebrows and saw some critics writing Perez off as a pay driver. However, in spite of the skepticism, Perez was quick to demonstrate that he had more to offer the team than just his sponsorship money.
In his first race, Perez finished in 7th place. Although the result was later scrubbed out by officials because the team had broken technical regulations, Perez amazed on-lookers by becoming the only driver on the grid to look after his tyres sufficiently enough to make just one pit stop. It was an immediate demonstration of his talent and a swift answer to his critics.
Highlights of his first season included a 7th place finish at Silverstone and an 8th place finish in Japan, both impressive finishes by a rookie driver. Perez finished the season in 16th place in the driver’s championship. His performances even impressed his boss, Peter Sauber. “We knew that, in Sergio, we were getting a quick, young driver…I had high expectations for Sergio and I have to say that so far he has actually exceeded these.”
He joined the Ferrari Driver Academy and speculation linked him with a move to the Italian giants in the future. Perez himself seemed keen on the opportunity. “My dream is to become World Champion and it would be nice if it could happen with a team like this one.”
While Perez impressed in the 2011, the 2012 season was to be his true breakout season. In Malaysia he gained his first ever podium finish in an F1 car, placing in 2nd place, and gaining the appreciation of his peers. Perez also became the first Mexican on the podium for 41-years. Perez added to that impressive performance with subsequent podium finishes in Canada and Italy. At the end of the year, Perez finished in 10th place – impressive for a driver at Sauber and 6 points ahead of his team mate, Kamui Kobayashi.
Perez and McLaren
Despite having been pin-pointed as a future Ferrari driver by many pundits, Sergio Perez will get his big break in 2013 with McLaren. The decision to sign Perez was made and announced at the end of September 2012 and team boss Martin Whitmarsh was quick to dismiss the “pay driver” tag. “He is not a pay driver,” Whitmarsh told Sky Sports F1. “Sponsorship was not a factor; we picked Sergio because he is the most exciting young talent in Formula 1.”
In his short Formula 1 career, Perez has undoubtedly shown the potential of someone who can challenge for the driver’s championship in the future. However, at McLaren, potential must be fulfilled. The move, which Perez has described as a dream, could ultimately make or break his entire racing career. Perez seems confident that he can live up to the expectations of his team. After all, he has been exceeding expectations from day one.
“I’m under no illusion that it is indeed a very big step, as it would be for any driver – but I’m ready for it.”
What We Can Learn from Perez?
At the age of just 22, Sergio Perez is moving to one of Formula One’s biggest teams, McLaren, replacing Lewis Hamilton, one of the sport’s best drivers. Perez has consistently over-achieved in his racing career, showing us that age is no obstacle. In addition, although his huge sponsorship deals initially saw him dismissed as a “pay driver,” Perez’s high-quality performances in the sport are a superb example of why you should never judge a book by its cover.