Do the F1 Shuffle! (Part 1)

The 2012 Formula 1 Season has easily been one of the most exciting in recent memory, with six drivers who have held the world championship title on the grid at the same time, seven different winners in the first seven races and a radical revival of the Williams team. But the season is nearing its end and that means contracts are being reviewed, and that (usually) means some drivers will be leaving, some will be changing teams and then there’s the potential for new arrivals. Rumors are abound about who is going to come, who is going to go and who is going to change, and I have my guesses too, but I’m more interested in following the solid leads that are already present. First off, let’s talk about one of the confirmed changes that are coming in the 2013 F1 season.

Sauber's Sergio Perez sided by two Sauber pit-crew.

One of the youngest drivers on the grid with a traditionally mid-field team, Perez has shown flashes of brilliance.

What would you say if I told you that one of the most promising young drivers in Formula 1 was Sauber’s Sergio Perez?
You’d probably have your doubts, and I can understand that. After all, Luca di Montezemolo (the chairman of Ferrari) has asserted time and again that the young Mexican needs more experience before he can join the Ferrari team, even though he (Perez) is a member of Ferrari’s driver academy and Ferrari’s second driver looks like a lost cause.
Well, what if I told you that team McLaren agrees with me?
Need proof? Would you take the word of the FIA (link) official F1 website?
Yes, Sergio has been confirmed for a drive with McLaren next year, and he will be driving alongside the 12-year veteran and 2009 World Champion Jenson Button. This is probably one of the best situations that the 22-year-old Mexican could find himself in with only two years of F1 under his belt; Jenson Button is one of the most knowledgable drivers on the grid and has an incredibly smooth and consistent driving style that makes him a contender for points in nearly any Grand Prix. Naturally, that should make him a very good mentor for the already quick Perez who needs to find a more constant pace.

What is it about Perez that makes him a good prospect for a higher ranking team if he still has rough edges, then?
He’s judged the same way that nearly any F1 driver is: against his teammate and by his results. That means pitting him up against the only real rival he’s had, the calamitous Kamui Kobayashi.

Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi flank team boss, Peter Sauber with the Sauber C30 in front of the trio on a race track.

Perez, Kobayashi and team boss Peter Sauber in front of the 2011 Sauber C30.

Kamui Kobayashi (26) is a solid driver, if nothing else. Starting his F1 career with the now defunct Toyota team in the closing two races of 2009, he has taken part in 53 races (21 more than Perez) and has accumulated a total of 100 points, again 21 over Perez. That means he’s averaging nearly 1.9 points per race, or has an average finishing position of about 9th place. Kobayashi also holds the honor of a fastest-lap in one race. That’s not a bad rap sheet, so to speak.
Unfortunately, Perez up-stages his teammate quite easily. With Sergio’s 79 point tally over his 32 races, he is averaging nearly 2.5 points per race (it’s not impressive, but he is doing it in a mid-field car) which means he averages over 9th place in finishes (1.5 short for an average 8th place). Not only that, but he equals Kamui’s tally of 1 fastest lap, and holds the astonishing achievement of pushing his car onto the podium 3 times, twice in second place. Perez further over-shadows Kamui when you stop to consider that most of his points (66 of them) have come from this incredibly competitive season. Kamui on the other hand has only managed to bring in 35 points.

Then there’s also the fact that Perez has never done this to his pit crew…

Attempted vehicular homicide on your own mechanics is never a good thing, especially when you’ve been upstaged by your junior teammate the whole year.

So, we know that Perez is quick, but what about character? Is the guy likeable? Well, I’d quote an FIA interview he had, but the FIA copyrights all of their material and protects it quite fiercely. I’m a bit poor to get sued by one of the world’s most powerful sporting organizations too, so click here for the interview if you to learn more about the young man.
If you don’t want to click it, then you can just take my word for it. He’s a fan of his mother’s food, cares as much about his friends and family as he does about his career and he admires nothing more than hard work and a never-give-up attitude. Overall, he sounds like a good guy.
And he doesn’t run over his mechanics in the middle of a race either.

Sergio has proven his mettle with team Sauber, was passed over by Ferrari and was picked up by Ferrari’s arch-enemy, McLaren. McLaren has the quickest car on the grid this year (even if it has struggled with reliability and been victim of a few collisions), and decided to pick up Perez to fill the vacant slot being left by 2008 Champion and 2012 title-contender Lewis Hamilton. No doubt that he will have some very big shoes to fill next year, but if he can carry this season’s momentum over and learns well from Jenson, we could see a constant front-runner. It’s too early to know for sure, but Perez may be a rising star.

**Quick fact: in 2011, the Sauber team finished 7th of 12 in the constructors cup, McLaren finished 2nd of 12. This year, largely thanks to Sergio, Sauber is standing 6th of 12, and McLaren — despite being blighted by collisions and mechanical failures– still stands second.

You may be wondering what happened to Lewis Hamilton, the radically talented Englishman who almost took the F1 championship in his first year in the sport and succeeded in taking it his second year? The 2008 champion (and only black champion) is only 27 and is still getting better, clearly he isn’t retiring any time soon, so why would he leave one of the most iconic names in F1 history? Lewis’ questionable move will be next on my list.

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