Whitmarsh working to find Perez new team for 2014
16 November 2013
Martin Whitmarsh has insisted that he will help Sergio Perez find a new race seat with another team, after McLaren opted not to renew the Mexican's contract for 2014.
"I am trying to help him get a drive," revealed the McLaren team principal in Austin on Friday ahead of this weekend's United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas.
"I have rung Force India and I have rung Lotus. They both do a good job and I have recommended him because he deserves to be in F1," Whitmarsh said. "He certainly deserves to be in F1. He is an exciting driver to watch, he will go for it and I enjoy watching him.
"I've told him the Ferrari seats have gone, the same with Mercedes, Red Bull and Toro Rosso, and in truth he wasn't in the frame for any of those so he hasn't lost a seat," Whitmarsh added. "Williams had a seat but that has now gone [to Felipe Massa] but there is a Lotus seat, and one at Sauber, Force India, Caterham and Marussia."
Perez also received support from the team's sporting director Sam Michael, who praised the way that the driver had handled the situation since the news had been made public.
"Checo's doing a fantastic job at the moment considering the pressure that he's under, he's keeping his head level and being very professional about it," said Michael. "It's obviously a discussion that's been going on for quite some time. It's always going to be difficult when you make a call like that."
The team has been attacked for the way it's handled its decision regarding its 2014 driver line-up. For months, Whitmarsh had given the impression that renewing the contracts of both Perez and Jenson Button was just a formality. In the end, only Button has been retained.
In the wake of this week's news that Perez is out in favour of Kevin Magnussen, McLaren has been criticised for stringing Perez along until so late in the season that's it's almost impossible for him to find an alternative competitive seat for next year.
"People say our decision was terribly late, but what I have said to him is to stand back from it a bit," insisted Whitmarsh. "There is no seat closed to him and we can have no accusations we made the decision too late."
Whitmarsh added that Perez had done nothing wrong in his eyes and that it wasn't a case of punishing the 23-year-old or his not being good enough in the car. "I would rather say we saw such great potential in Kevin that we decided to sign Kevin. It was not about what Checo did wrong: what Checo did wrong was that Kevin existed [and] Kevin was part of our programme," he explained, adding that it certainly wasn't a case of making the wrong decision to hire Perez in the first place in 2012 to replace Lewis Hamilton who had left for Mercedes.
"I don't regret it, I didn't have a Kevin last year, so it is as simple as that," he said. "But it hasn't worked out for us [with Checo]."
"I think we're in a very fortunate position at the moment with our young driver programme," agreed Sam Michael. "It's very rich with talent and Kevin's just the first of the guys in that pool. I've come across lots of drivers in my time in F1 and when you see drivers like that come along, it's very important that you react and make the most of those opportunities."
Originally the idea had been for McLaren to retain Perez and back Magnussen in a maiden season in F1 with one of the smaller teams such as Marussia, but Whitmarsh found no takers for that approach, which meant the team had been forced to look long and hard about whether to put him straight in at the top in a McLaren: "No one wanted to do it, so we went for it."
Paddock gossip has hinted that the decision to let Perez go was not primarily of Whitmarsh's making, and that instead it was McLaren's engineering department that was most vocal about how much better they found it to work with Magnussen, praising the quality of his feedback as the team's test and reserve driver this season.
Perez has also come under fire from other quarters, with his own former long-time manager lashing out and calling him "arrogant" in the way he deals with others which has won him few friends in Woking.
"The syndrome of becoming a F1 driver went to his head very fast," Jo Ramirez told Mexico's Chancha newspaper. "Checo grew a lot as a driver during the last three years in F1, but unfortunately he didn't grow as a person at the same rate."
Livio Oricchio, F1 correspondent for Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S Paulo, echoed those thoughts as he confirmed that from what he had seen, heard and been told in the last 12 months, "the relationship between the Mexican and McLaren never took off." He added that his sources from within both McLaren and Perez' former team at Sauber had described the driver as having "an arrogant attitude" toward them.
"F1 is not just about commitment, it's more than that. It's interaction, working together, two sides committed to the same goals, winning and losing together," wrote Oricchio. "Perez is not the kind of man who does that ... Human relationships have so much to do with success in F1. Without it, you go nowhere."