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Ecstatic Sauber dismisses 'conspiracy' talk

25 March 2012

The winner of the Malaysian Grand Prix might have been Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, but without question the driver of the day and man of the hour was Sauber's Sergio Perez, who seized on the wildly changing conditions at Sepang and drove out of his skin to claim second place.

"It is a great day for me," he beamed. "The team did a very good job and I feel very happy for them. It is a really nice feeling to have been on the podium here!"

"What a great result!" said a still-stunned team owner Peter Sauber. "Sergio drove an outstanding race and rose above our expectations," he said, adding: "It was a great and important day for the team.

"What surprised me most was the fact that he was very competitive in all conditions and with all tyres," he continued. "Whether they were wet, intermediate or dry tyres he was always one of the fastest drivers on track if not the fastest."

"It was a very strong race for our team," said Giampaolo Dall'Ara, Sauber's head of track engineering. "We made a good call on the weather conditions, and then Sergio took over. He drove a brilliant race. His pace was excellent on a wet and dry track."

As brilliant as second place was for the team, Perez couldn't help but mull over the missed opportunity for an even more famous success that had been so tantalisingly close.

"I think victory was also within reach," he said. "Twice in the race I was catching Fernando. On the final stint, when I was on the hard tyre compound, my tyres had degraded quite a lot. It wasn't easy and I went wide and touched a curb. I actually was lucky not to go off.

The off came shortly after Perez had been contacted over the team radio and told: "Checo, be careful, we need this position." The message seemed laden with some sort of deeper meaning, and commentators and conspiracy theorists kicked into high gear with speculation that Sauber were transmitting covert team orders to their driver.

Sauber's cars are powered by Ferrari engines, and there would be no better way of screwing up a business partnership than by publicly embarrassing the senior party by blasting straight past them. But Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn denied that there were any such thoughts going on in the team at any point of the Grand Prix.

"What we meant was get the car home," she insisted. "It was important to us to get the result. There was nothing else to it. There was no instruction."

"No. One hundred per cent no. One hundred per cent nothing," said Peter Sauber, who was equally adamant when asked if there had been any thought of easing up on Ferrari in the final laps. "We had no discussion about Checo and we had no discussion about the position."

Added to the mix is the fact that Perez himself is a product of Ferrari's Driver Academy and is strongly tipped to be in line to replace Felipe Massa next year if the Brazilian departs Maranello at the end of his current contract - provided he doesn't sabotage his career prospects in the meantime, perhaps.

Domenicali had earlier even made a point of congratulating Perez and reminding him of his old ties with the prancing horse following the end of the races at Sepang: "I want to congratulate Sauber, who today secured their best ever result and congratulations also to Sergio Perez, a youngster from the Ferrari Driver Academy, who today confirmed his great talent.”

Sadly Perez' team mate Kamui Kobayashi had a leak in the brake system that compromised his race performance and ultimately led to his retirement on lap 47.

"For me personally, of course, it was a very disappointing race," admitted the Japanese driver. "Technically I struggled with the brakes and that was then also why I had to give up."

But Kobayashi can take heart that he is in the same Sauber car that put Perez on the podium at Malaysia.

"Our car is not far away from the top cars and a good crew and a driver can also make a difference in such conditions," Perez himself pointed out. "It is only our second race in 2012 and I think we have a great season ahead of us. I knew we had potential to fight today."


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