Whitmarsh wants Perez to 'toughen up' in future
15 April 2013
Signs that McLaren might be losing patience with its new driver signing Sergio Perez emerged in the wake of a disappointing Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on Sunday.
Perez narrowly failed to get into the points in China and finished in 11th place - only one spot ahead of his starting grid position - and now his team principal Martin Whitmarsh has said that it's time for the 23-year-old Mexican to start showing his teeth out on the track.
"Sergio has been very polite so far this year, I think he needs to toughen up," Whitmarsh told UK newspaper The Guardian as the team packed up ahead of a tight turnaround between the China and Bahrain race weekends. "He's been generous in allowing people past him."
Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen perhaps wouldn't agree with that sentiment, after expressing displeasure in Perez' blocking tactics during Sunday's Chinese GP which ended up with the two of them making contact. The Finn yelled into his team radio, "What the hell is he doing?" after the incident, which damaged Raikkonen's front wing and arguably cost him a shot of challenging Fernando Alonso for the outright race win.
Perez' driving was also criticised by his predecessor at McLaren, Lewis Hamilton, who was similarly underwhelmed by what he saw from Perez: "He was all over the place," summarised Hamilton later when interviewed on the post-race podium.
But Whitmarsh insisted that this was exactly the sort of strong defence he wanted from his new driver in the future and that he'd been pleased to see Perez display a bit more grit and determination in China.
"In terms of the incident, I said to him you have to be racing and that means sometimes you've got elbows and you've got to be robust without being dirty," said Whitmarsh.
However, the incident did have repercussions for Perez for the rest of the race: "His car was damaged and we lost some performance from his car," noted Whitmarsh.
Perez has only finished in the points once since his move to McLaren - he claimed ninth place in the previous outing in Malaysia - and however mildly critical Whitmarsh might have been about the driver's performance, the team boss conceded that a lot of the responsibility for the disappointing start to Perez' McLaren career lay with the team itself.
"We haven't given him a great car so far," Whitmarsh admitted. "As a team have got to step up and support the young driver who has got an enormous amount of talent.
“He's still a very young guy in a big team with lots of expectations so you're under a lot more scrutiny and it's tougher," Whitmarsh added. "Sergio is not satisfied with his performance last weekend - he's a young driver and it was a difficult weekend."
Perez himself confirmed Whitmarsh's words. "I am very disappointed but it was a very difficult race. It was the worst weekend for us in terms of pace," he sighed. "I have a lot to learn from this weekend and a lot to analyse."
Perez did receive some public support from his senior team mate Jenson Button, however, who said that "A guy who races for a top team like McLaren has more pressure on his shoulders.
"When you're in the middle of the pack, it's tough. You can make one move, one lock-up, and it costs you three places," added Button. "It's not an easy position to be in. You've got to make the best of it, and experience does help in that situation."
Button's experience has certainly shown by comparison, which has only added to the pressure on the underperforming junior driver: "He's up against Jenson, who has done a fantastic job with the car," agreed Whitmarsh after Button succeeded in delivering a fifth place finish for the team in China despite the below-par form of the MP4-28 so far this season.
Outside the team, McLaren's decision to appoint Perez in haste after longtime driver Hamilton announced his defection to Mercedes in mid-2012 was under fire from some big names in the sport, including Sky Sports F1 commentator and former F1 driver Martin Brundle who felt that McLaren missed a trick not signing Nico Hülkenberg instead.
"I would have signed him ten times before Perez," Brundle told Speed Week after being impressed by the German driver's two back-to-back points finishes for Sauber, which ironically is Perez' old team. "I still don't understand why McLaren didn't sign this guy," Brundle added. "His talent is abundantly clear" - implicitly implying that this is not the case with Perez.
Asked in China on Friday if he felt his move to McLaren had been a mistake, Perez insisted that it wasn't and that he was still determined to prove himself and that he was desperate for his first success with the team and for his maiden F1 victory after coming close with two runner-up finishes in 2012 in Malaysia and Italy.
But for all the brave face he can muster, it's certainly a very different story from that of Lewis Hamilton who has described his own move to Mercedes this season as "a dream start" and "just the most satisfying experience - I couldn't be happier with my decision."
Unfortunately, Perez can't say the same so far about his tenure in Woking.