Could Perez be Lotus’s Savior?

Now that Sergio Perez has officially announced he is leaving Mclaren, its time to officially add him to the mix of drivers currently looking for employment in 2014. Speculation has no place here. This is real uncertainty for Sergio.

It’s hard to deny that Perez was given a pretty tough set of circumstances to deal with in 2013: a bad car, a teammate at the top of his game (at the end of 2012, at least), tricky tires, more media/sponsorship commitments than ever before, national pride always pressuring him, oh, and a bad car. All of these factors conspired against Sergio and eventually clouded what really hasn’t been a bad season for the Mexican. Sure, it has been far from what he expected, and some mistakes on his part have prevented him from scoring more points than he has now (Monaco comes straight to mind), but considering all of the setbacks mentioned before, Sergio has been a solid performer this season.

Perez’s departure, then, would seem as something of a surprise to the casual onlooker; surely since it was not Sergio’s fault that the car was uncompetitive, the only fair thing to do would be to give him another chance in a much more competitive car to see what he can really do. Mclaren, in all likelihood, would have taken this path, had their priorities not gotten in the way.

I can completely understand the Perez sympathizers in this situation. I agree that he deserves another chance in the car when it is more competitive and representative of his talent, of which there is plenty. But I do understand the commitments Mclaren have to their own, that is, to Kevin Magnussen. It is rare to get the chance to put a rookie in a top team these days. It’s been six years since Lewis Hamilton made his splash into the F1 scene. Mclaren would be silly to turn down an opportunity like this, and looking for any way to do so is understandable.

We must also not forget that Perez is not a Mclaren man. He was a Ferrari protégé just days before the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix, destined for greatness alongside Fernando Alonso in 2013 and as the team leader once the Spaniard left. But then Lewis Hamilton left Mclaren. That meant the team had some frantic searching to do to find a suitable, or at least suitable enough, replacement for their 2008 champion. At that time Perez was the man to watch, having just scored his third podium of the season at the previous race in Italy after, ironically, almost chasing down Hamilton for the win. Importantly, he was out of contract for 2013 with Sauber. That gave Mclaren some pretty serious leverage when it came time for contract negotiations.

Many rightly criticized Mclaren’s decision to sign Perez. I still believe he was not meant for the seat. Nico Hulkenberg was the man to sign, and that became even more clear at the Brazilian Grand Prix. But his lack of “standout” performances at that point in the season (though his fourth and fifth place finishes in Belgium and Valencia, respectively, were extremely impressive) meant he was at a disadvantage when it came to making his case to Mclaren as to why they should sign him for 2013.

One year-and-a-bit later, and now Perez is gone. Almost like he wasn’t even there at all. One can almost here the name “Kovalainen” ringing in one’s head as the words of Perez’s classy, respectful, but rather sad, letter are read aloud.

The driver market is now busier than it has ever been, with Perez, Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg the three key players in this rather confusing tale of the silly season. This is how it all plays out, though: Should Lotus’s deal with Quantum fall through (remember, it isn’t officially done, just agreed to on both sides of the deal i.e. Quantum and Lotus), then money from a driver is of vital importance.

Pastor Maldonado has been the favorite candidate for that seat should the situation play out in the manner described above. But Maldonado’s millions are not as secure as we may have once thought.

AUTOWEEK reported in its most recent issue that all “disbursements of hard currency to automobile and motorcycle racers (from Venezuela) who compete abroad” have been “frozen” as the Venezuelan government investigates a corruption scandal. That means Maldonado shouldn’t sit pretty just yet. That $48 million a year in precious oil money could all but disappear just when it would come in its most handy.

Enter Sergio Perez.

His Telmex money, once a major sponsor for Sauber when the Mexican was a driver there in 2011 and 2012, could be put to use in securing him a drive at the Enstone-based squad for 2014. Perhaps not quite as sizable as Maldonado’s sponsorship, Perez’s backing from Telmex would still ensure whichever team was the recipient was far from scared for its financial future. This is where the Mexican’s more highly regarded talent would come in handy. The fact that he isn’t labeled a crash-happy nutcase puts him a step ahead of Pastor. While the mistakes have been cut down vastly in 2013, it takes more than just obscurity on the grid to erase a name like that. Just ask Romain Grosjean.

Sergio Perez may have ended the day a sad fellow, but all is not lost. He could just have set himself up for a future at a team that now has the capability to beat Mclaren on a regular basis. That is something to smile about.

2013 Australian Grand Prix Preview

It’s safe to say that no one really knows who is going to win the season opener. Belting out laps over and over again may prove that your car is reliable, but it doesn’t reveal the most important part: speed. While testing has clouded our judgement of the cars rather than clear it up, the fans can rest assured that whatever happens come Sunday, they most likely will not have expected it.

For the teams, preparing for the race will involve some new and interesting challenges. First off, not everyone completed their testing programs entirely. The rain and cold temperatures made sure of that. This means that rather than just getting re-aquainted with the smooth surface of the Melbourne track, all the teams will still be testing new parts. The significance of all of their impacts is yet to be deciphered, but it would be a good bet to say that the Friday practices will be hectic; more so than any other time we will see this year.

For the top teams, they will also have to prepare for the possibility of the midfield teams springing an early surprise. No one was expecting the fight between Sauber and Ferrari in Malaysia last year (although the rain made sure of a mixed race). Regardless, Red Bull, Mclaren, Ferrari and Lotus will be on the lookout for the likes of Sauber, Williams and even Force India to force their way to the front.

Another part of this preparation will be coming to grips with the relationship between the tires and the track surface. The rough tarmac of Jerez and Barcelona will make way for the smooth surface that characterizes the Melbourne street circuit. Pirelli have been brave to bring the Supersoft and Medium tires to Australia. This will be the former’s first appearance Down Under, prompting many to question the Italian company after the tire debacle we saw in testing. Pirelli assures the paddock, however, that despite all the concerns from testing, two to three stops should be expected this Sunday.

With the step in tire compounds comes an increased importance in strategy. Long gone are the days where drivers drove flat out until they got low on fuel and then pitted. Now, there is a huge degree of tire management that often defines the outcomes of races. The step between the Supersoft and Medium tires is expected to offer more than a second between lap times. Indeed, starting position, along with what tire you start on, will be major factors that influence race strategy.

With all the unknowns surrounding strategy and the running order, the season opener promises to be even more unpredictable than last year’s. The only certainty in uncertainty! Only 58 laps are allocated for the race, ensuring there will be an epic battle for supremacy this weekend.

Qualifying Prediction:

I feel a shoot-out between the top-5 teams is entirely possible. This doesn’t mean, though, that the midfield teams will be left out of the top-10 entirely (although that might be good for strategy). For pole, though, I am not going to discount Mercedes and expect Lewis Hamilton to come out on top.

Race Prediction:

I expect an entirely different narrative for the race. Despite all their flashes of speed and brilliance, I am not convinced Mercedes have what it takes to win right off the bat. With a Ferrari that is much improved compared to last year’s and a driver that is only more determined, I don’t see why Ferrari and Fernando Alonso won’t come out on top. Look out, though, for the likes of Vettel, Button and Raikkonen to fight it out to the checkered flag.

Race Stats:

Track distance: 5.303 Km (3.295 miles)

Race distance: 58 laps or 307.574 Km (191.11 miles)

Expected weather: Sunny for practice and the race with rain predicted for qualifying. Temperature is set to drop over the course of the weekend.