Sergio Perez has said that he is fully committed to giving his all for Sauber, despite his second place in the Malaysian Grand Prix heightening speculation that he could replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari before too long.
Even before the Mexican's stunning pursuit of Fernando Alonso at Sepang caught the imagination of television viewers and soggy spectators alike, he was being tipped as a potential stand-in for the struggling Massa, who hasn't recorded a podium finish in more than a year. While the likes of out-of-work Jarno Trulli and Adrian Sutil were also put forward as credible replacements, Perez's current form and membership of the Ferrari Young Driver Academy put him at the top of the pile.
He cemented that position by making full use of an early switch to full wet tyres to vault up the order in Sunday's race, and then provide the only opposition to Alonso, once the Spaniard had taken the lead. The Sauber driver led briefly during the various rounds of pit-stops, but closed inexorably on his rival not once but twice after a clutch-induced slow stop cost him several valuable seconds. Only a late slip, prompted many believe by an ill-timed call from the team to make sure he didn't throw away second place, denied him a legitimate shot at passing Alonso - and even then Perez had closed back to within a couple of seconds at the flag.
"It was very difficult obviously to get Fernando, but I think the win was possible," the Mexican reflected, "I have to say the team has done an incredible job. They called me always on the right time, especially the first pit-stop we did, it was really at the right moment. Unfortunately, Fernando pitted one lap earlier than us, towards the end of the race when the track was already dry and he opened some gap there, and even then we managed to get him. The pace was fantastic, I was really quick.
"I was catching Fernando toward the end of the race, and I knew I had to get him soon because, in all the sectors with the high speed, I was losing already my front tyres with a lot of degradation, so it wasn't easy. Then I ran wide in the quick corner, I touched a kerb and I went to the dirty side. It was completely wet and I was lucky not to go off, but that was the end of the win.
"In the end, though, second is a great result for the team. It's many points and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season. It's only the second race of the season and, hopefully, we can keep improving our car to fight the big guys."
The question remains, however, whether Perez will be one of the 'big guys' before too long, with Massa yet to score after two more scrappy races in 2012. The Italian media is already calling for the Brazilian - a title contender as recently as 2008 - to be dropped before the end of his contract, and the paddock grapevine suggests he has until Monaco to raise his game, but Perez refuses to be drawn into talk of a rapid promotion to become Alonso's team-mate, despite being spotted in conversation with Stefano Domenicali on the podium.
"I only congratulated him," the Mexican insisted, "As a team, they did a great job. For me, my full commitment is with my team, with Sauber F1. It's only the second race of the season and there's still a long way to go, so we have to keep improving, especially because we are a small team. For us, it's about getting closer to development, the others can improve more so it's important we remain focused. Obviously it's only rumours but no, I will stay with Sauber for the whole season."