Sergio Perez and the 5 Harshest Driver Sackings in F1
After another fine drive from Sergio Perez in Sunday’s U.S. Grand Prix, McLaren may well be wondering if they have been a little too hasty in letting the Mexican go.
Perez discovered only a week before the U.S. Grand Prix that McLaren would be replacing him with Kevin Magnussen for 2014, although he told BBC Sport that he had already signed his part of the contract.
Keen to prove McLaren wrong and impress potential suitors for next season, Perez achieved his third consecutive points finish on Sunday.
Perez can at least comfort himself in the knowledge that he is not the first driver, and certainly won’t be the last, to be unceremoniously dumped out of the blue.
Here are five of the harshest driver sackings in Formula 1.
Honorable Mention: Nelson Piquet Jr.
Although clearly not one of the quickest drivers on the grid and comfortably outshone by Renault teammate Fernando Alonso during the 2008 season, the nature of Nelson Piquet Jr.’s sacking seemed harsh considering what he was asked to do.
Having been ordered to deliberately crash on Lap 14 of the Singapore Grand Prix to engineer a safety car situation to the advantage of Alonso, Piquet was ditched halfway through the 2009 season to be replaced by Romain Grosjean.
According to BBC Sport at the time, Piquet accused team boss Flavio Briatore of threatening him on numerous occasions and called him his "executioner."
In hindsight, it probably would have been best to wait until the end of the season to see out Piquet’s contract, as he revealed shortly afterwards that he had been ordered to deliberately crash in Singapore.
5. Sebastian Bourdais
Like Piquet, Sebastian Bourdais was by no means setting the F1 world alight when he received his marching orders from Toro Rosso in 2009.
However, the nature of his sacking—if Bourdais is to be believed—leaves you with some sympathy for the Frenchman.
Autocar quotes him as saying he was sacked via text message and that there were no face-to-face meetings to discuss his future.
“Everything was done by SMS, which to me has no style.”
4. Heinz-Harald Frentzen
Whilst it’s fair to say that both Piquet Jr. and Bourdais were never F1 champions in the making, in at number four comes a proven race winner and world title contender.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen had finished third for Jordan behind Mika Hakkinen and Eddie Irvine in a close 1999 title race.
Less than two seasons later, he was sacked.
Although he had failed to live up to his previous accomplishments and had been outdriven by teammate Jarno Trulli, Frentzen’s sacking came as a surprise to many, including the German himself.
He was quoted by The Telegraph at the time:
The reasons I have been given for this termination I contest in their entirety. My position in this matter is now under legal advice. Due to the current situation, I am unable to make any further comment whatsoever at this time.
To make matters worse, Frentzen received his marching orders only four days before his home race at Hockenheim.
3. Sergio Perez
As outlined in the introduction to this list of unfortunate drivers, the reasons surrounding Sergio Perez’s sacking by McLaren have been well documented over the last week.
Although the Mexican endured a shaky start to the season and has been involved in a number of racing incidents that have incurred the wrath of fellow drivers, he has recently proven himself an accomplished driver, as demonstrated by his run of points finishes.
Even teammate Jenson Button has leapt to the defence of Perez, as quoted on BBC Sport, days before the U.S. Grand Prix.
He has really picked up a lot and learnt a lot... and improved himself not just in terms of speed but in being a racing driver, in terms of developing the car and tyre management and what have you. He has definitely been on a steep learning curve.
On the plus side, McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh has promised to help him find a drive for 2014, according to BBC Sport. Well, that’s nice.
2. Alain Prost
As far as driver sackings go, they don’t come much bigger than Alain Prost.
Prost had come within a whisker of pipping great rival Ayrton Senna to the 1990 title in his first season with Ferrari.
Less than a year later, he was gone.
What is certainly true is that the Ferrari in 1991 was not a patch on the 1990 car and Prost could only manage five podiums. Prost is quoted on Autosport (subscription only) as being openly critical of the car and even referring to it as "like a horrible truck to drive" during what would be his final race in Japan.
Prost did everything he could to squeeze performance out of the 643, but Ferrari team director Claudio Lombardi said the sacking was down to other factors.
We are very happy with the performance of Alain Prost. I personally worked with Alain for the past four months and he is a very good driver and a fantastic test driver. On the second point, his behaviour during this season has not been at the level that Ferrari would like from a top driver. His behaviour inside and outside the team meant that Ferrari had to stop the relationship.
1. Damon Hill
Leading the 1996 world drivers’ championship by 13 points with three rounds of the season remaining, Damon Hill was told by Williams that his services would no longer be required for the following season.
With so much at stake, it seemed an entirely inappropriate time to break the news when the focus should have been on the title battle ahead.
The sticking point, as quoted by The Independent at the time, appeared to be with Hill’s growing salary demands. He was requesting $12 million, while Williams was not prepared to go beyond $8 million.
It seems like petty quibbling to turn down such an already attractive offer and a car that may well have given Hill a second world title especially considering that he left to drive for Arrows the following season for less money than he was already on.