Sergio Perez’s Monaco milestone


Sergio Perez finished third in Monaco
Sergio Perez finished third in Monaco

McLaren reject Sergio Perez hopes his impressive third place at the Monaco Grand Prix will remind Formula One’s top teams of his talent.

The Mexican hailed Sunday’s (May 29) race as one of the best of his career, while dedicating the British-based team’s fourth ever podium appearance to absent co-owner and principal Vijay Mallya.

“I had a really tough time at McLaren and it seems that this is what everyone remembers… but no one remembers my time at Sauber, my time at Force India,” he said after enjoying the celebrations.

“All I can do is keep doing my job, keep doing as well as I can, keep improving as a driver. I think in the last years I have improved a lot. I’m a more complete driver in all aspects, qualifying, race pace, better experience,” he added.

“So if the opportunity ever comes (with a top team), I will be ready and up for it. If not, all I can keep doing is my job.”

Perez was a member of Ferrari’s academy and started out with Swiss-based Sauber in 2011, with two second places and a third in 2012 showing he was much more than just a driver bringing important sponsorship dollars to the team.

He moved to McLaren for 2013 with high hopes as replacement for Britain’s Lewis Hamilton, who joined Mercedes, but his arrival coincided with the former world champions’ dramatic decline.

McLaren, who have not won a race since 2012, replaced the Mexican with Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen for 2014 and Perez’s future in the sport looked in doubt until Force India threw him a lifeline.

The Mexican has amply rewarded that faith, with last Sunday’s podium his third for the team, as well as their best-ever result in Monaco.

With Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen out of contract at the end of the season, when he will be 37, there could be a vacancy at the Italian team and Perez is a former member of the ‘family’.

Last Sunday’s podium, making no mistakes and managing the tyres to beat Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel after starting seventh, did him no harm.

“Under normal conditions we wouldn’t make it to the podium. We don’t have the pace to do it,” the 26-year-old added.

“I felt I had Vettel under control, and it is a fantastic result. Everyone at my team deserves this one… for us it means a win.”

Mexican Perez finished 13.825secs behind winner Hamilton and 7.252secs behind Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull in an incident-filled race.

Teammate Nico Hulkenberg crossed the line at sixth in Monaco, meaning Force India picked up 23 points, with the German’s eight adding to Perez’s 15.

Out of their four previous podiums, Perez has achieved the feat three times, with third place finishes in Bahrain (2014), Russia (2015) and Monaco (2016).

Italian Giancarlo Fisichella had finished second for Force India in the Belgian Grand Prix in 2009.

Starting in eighth, Perez finished ahead of four-time champion Vettel of Germany and two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Spain (McLaren).

Hulkenberg overtook Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)– winner of seven of the eight races this season so far – at the final corner to finish sixth.

Perez added: “A podium in Monaco is a very special moment. It’s one of my best ever races, especially when you see how difficult the conditions were.

“You had to concentrate so hard and it was easy to make a mistake. The key was the strategy and we got things just about perfect today.

“The first difficult decision was when to fit the intermediate tyre, and we delayed this as long as possible. The team said it was my call when to come in, and it paid off as we managed to jump a couple of cars, including my teammate.

“The switch to dry tyres was another key moment because I pitted early, a lap before Rosberg and Vettel, and managed to jump ahead of them.

“The soft tyres worked really well, but I knew I needed to look after them and it wasn’t easy because there was pressure behind from Vettel for most of the race. I want to dedicate this podium to Vijay Mallya in particular.”

Perez is currently ninth in the drivers standings with 23 points, while Hulkenberg is at 14th with 14 points. Force India are now back in fifth place in the constructors standings with 37 points.

Hulkenberg said: “It was ultimately a disappointing race for me, despite getting back to scoring points.

“I feel the timing of our first pit stop was wrong; that cost me track position and put me straight into traffic. This effectively ruined my race, as I spent the rest of the afternoon stuck there.

“It’s frustrating as I had the pace to be on the podium, but this is racing and it’s just the way it often is in Monaco.

“All in all, I still feel it’s a huge missed opportunity for me. The car was in the sweet spot, it gave me a lot of confidence and I just had a good feeling today, but it was not to be.”

Robert Fernley, deputy team principal, commented: “What a race! It’s amazing to be celebrating our fourth podium finish and Sergio’s third with the team.

“It wasn’t easy to make the right calls with the strategy, but when given the opportunity to score a special result, Sergio didn’t put a single wheel wrong and grabbed it with both hands.

“Despite the disappointment for Nico, it’s a very special day for the team, one that will live with us for a long time. It’s our best ever result in Monaco and we will celebrate this moment.

“We showed the VJM09 is a very competitive package and got a big confidence boost as we head to a number of tracks that will play to our strengths.”