Sergio Perez Hasn't Yet Turned Around His F1 Career After 2014 Force India Move

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2014

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 18:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India sits in his car in the garage during practice ahead of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 18, 2014 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

If at the beginning of the year you had highlighted any number of Formula One drivers with a point to prove in the 2014 season, Sergio Perez would almost certainly have featured in your reckoning.

It would not have been an exaggeration to suggest that the Mexican, having suffered the humiliation of being eaten alive and ejected by McLaren after just a solitary campaign with the Woking-based team in 2013, was facing a fight to rescue his career.

He was, in fact, extremely fortunate to find an instant reprieve at Force India as his departure from McLaren was announced in mid-November, a time when the driver market has traditionally quietened down—leaving only scraps for the desperate—with Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren's then-team principal, informing BBC Sport's Andrew Benson of his efforts to find alternative employment for Perez.

Mark Baker/Associated Press

Remaining in F1 was one thing—but proving that he deserved his spot in the sport was quite another.

And alongside Nico Hulkenberg, widely considered to possess the talent of a future world champion, the Mexican could very quickly have, at the age of just 24, faded away.

The biggest compliment you could pay to Perez after 14 races of the campaign, however, is that the fanfare surrounding Hulkenberg is not quite as loud as it was a year ago.

What was feared, on paper at least, to be a one-man show has, in reality, become the ideal partnership for a midfield outfit such as Force India: Hulkenberg, a points scorer in 11 of the opening 12 races, plods along and consistently adds to the team's tally, while Perez pops up in the pound seats, the eye-catching positions.

And although Perez trails his stablemate by a rather large margin, 27 points, in the drivers' championship—his failure to even start the Malaysian Grand Prix due to a gearbox problem didn't help matters—his position in the standings doesn't tell half the story of how much the former Sauber driver has developed and matured over the course of 2014.

Luca Bruno/Associated Press

The highlight of his season so far, of course, came in the Bahrain Grand Prix, where he cemented a place in Force India's history in just his third event, securing the team's first podium finish since the Belgian Grand Prix of 2009 by pipping Daniel Ricciardo, the undisputed star of the season, to the chequered flag by just 0.4 seconds, as per the official F1 website.

Perez later told the team's official website that it was "a massive confidence boost, especially after the very hard season I had last year" and, from that perspective, it was arguably the most important result of his career. More important than his breakthrough podium in Malaysia in 2012, when everything was new, fresh and exciting, with the Mexican showcasing an impressive resolve to return to the podium so soon after such a testing time at McLaren.

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 07:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India and Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren take part in the Drivers Parade prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 7, 2014 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Jenson Button, his teammate at McLaren, commented himself on Perez's growth in the aftermath of the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month, a race which saw the pair race wheel-to-wheel for a period of laps.

Among the defining moments of Perez's 2013 campaign occurred in a battle with Button in Bahrain, which led to the 2009 world champion complaining about the Mexican's driving over the pit-to-car radio, firmly casting Perez in the role of the outsider before he'd had a chance to find his feet at McLaren.

Button, though, was full of praise for Perez at Monza, telling William Esler of Sky Sports:

I don't think I could have had that battle with "Checo" last year, but as rivals in different teams it seemed to work pretty well.

It is something that last year as teammates it might have ended up a bit different, but I have a lot of respect for the guy, he drove really well and I really enjoyed the fight with him.

Like Button, the prime weapon in Perez's armoury is his ability to conserve his tyres over a race distance, allowing him to approach grands prix with a degree of strategic flexibility.

And although that trait seemed to desert him for much of 2013, Perez has rediscovered his delicate touch this season, nursing the rubber of his Force India to sixth place in Austria and into race-winning contention at the preceding round in Canada.

Race day at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, however, saw Perez at his very best and his absolute worst.

Having done the hard work in getting himself towards the front, the Mexican could not pass Nico Rosberg for the lead and scamper out of sight, and therefore became vulnerable to the chasing pack of Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa.

The Force India was passed in quick succession by the Red Bulls and, as Massa lined up a move into Turn 1 on the final lap, a seemingly petulant Perez—not for the first time in his F1 career—edged across the track and sparked one of the most ferocious accidents in recent memory, for which he was handed a five-place grid penalty.

There have, meanwhile, been other mistakes which have prevented the Mexican from getting more points on the board, most notably in Monaco—where a feisty start saw Perez create a roadblock after a tangle with Button at Mirabeau—and Hungary, where he crashed into the pit wall after running wide on the exit of the final corner while running in eighth.

Darko Bandic/Associated Press

Perez, along with Ricciardo and Williams' Valtteri Bottas, is one of the most improved drivers of the 2014 season.

But have any of his performances—even that podium in Bahrain—left McLaren, his current employers' rivals for fifth in the constructors' championship, cursing their decision to release the Mexican at the end of last season?

Probably not.

Perez has found his level at Force India and—even if he does eradicate his inconsistencies and mistakes—it's probably where he'll remain until the day he hangs up his helmet.

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