What could have been for Sergio Perez
An early move to McLaren tainted his early career. How could his career have panned out if he considered other options?
A young Sergio Perez was tearing it up at the Sauber F1 team, securing three podiums and one fastest lap in his two years at the midfield outfit, of all of his impressive stats coming from his second year at the team. The impressive two years he had enticed a lot of top-tier teams, caching the eyes of McLaren and Ferrari, of which he was a junior driver for. There are also reports that allege that Mercedes also showed an interest in the Mexican, leaving them as a potential option for him to move to in hopes of securing more impressive stats. In the end Perez opted for a one year contract with the Mclaren outfit, seeing potential in their 2013 MP4-28.
Unfortunately for Perez, that years car would be the teams first bust in years, with an underpowered Mercedes engine leading the team to a weak fifth place in the constructors, entailing no podiums, 1 fastest lap, completed by Checo, and a ninth and eleventh place finish in the world drivers championship for Jenson Button and Sergio Perez respectively. This poor performance ended with Sergio getting the boot and being forced to sign with midfield team Force India. When looking back at his options, was this realistically his best move? Was the rationale behind his move realistically valid? When observing the facts of the time, there is a lot to consider, which may have muddied the waters for Checos best move.
The 2012 season was truly a tumultuous one, seeing a heavy hitting Red Bull RB8, driven by Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber compete against the objectively terrible Ferrari F2012, being piloted by Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
The main battle was between Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel for the title, but looking back this should have been a runaway Red Bull and Vettel win with zero contention, if not from McLarens MP4-27. That years Ferrari is dubbed one of the worst cars to ever compete for the world championship, being seen as "Understeering traveling into the curve and oversteering coming out of the curve" by an observer of its testing.
For Sergio this might have been off-putting, despite seeing excellent results for the car, he more than likely saw it as a problem for him to inherit the year to follow which he might not be able to deal with, as no real improvements came to the car throughout the year, with little upgrades coming its way.
Despite Checo coming through the rungs of racing through Ferraris driver academy, the team seemed to have already been crossed out in his mind for a future move, Leaving McLaren, and the potential opening in Mercedes, in his sights. In 2012 McLaren seemed to be in damage limitation mode the whole season, with a heavily unreliable engine provided by Mercedes, but on a good day being able to take wins to its name, securing 7 wins throughout the season.
The team finished a comfortable third in the constructors, finishing seventy five points ahead of fourth place Lotus, also securing a safe fourth and fifth for their drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button respectively, only separated by two points, at one hundred and ninety for Lewis to Jenson's one hundred and eighty eight.
This average finish for the outfit was extremely enticing for Sergio, as not only would the Mercedes engine surely be improved for the following year, but regardless of whether he went to McLaren or Mercedes the good results would surely follow. In the end Sergio opted to race alongside Jenson Button at McLaren for 2013, with Lewis Hamilton taking Michael Schumachers seat at Mercedes, now we can look back and see how each of the three teams carried on and whether an inevitable demotion to a midfield team would have been seen no matter where Checo went.
The futures of the three teams
The 2013 season was nothing remarkable for any of the three outfits, with Red Bull subjectively having their best season ever. Of the three teams, Mercedes finished clear of the rest, finishing second in the constructors with their F1 W04, securing five pole positions, a lone fastest lap, and three wins, giving their drivers fourth and sixth for Lewis and Nico Rosberg respectively, and achieving second in the constructors. For Ferrari, despite having a better car than the year before, performance and ambition was most certainly lacking, only seeing two wins, two fastest laps, and no pole positions.
As for McLaren, being listed earlier as having nothing but a fastest lap to their name doesn't fall short of abysmal, surprisingly securing a fifth place in the constructors. No matter where Checo were to have gone, it is very likely a poor performance were to follow unfortunately, as the other two teams would have likely been tough grounds for Checo to familiarize himself with, optimistically bagging multiple podiums and a seldom win at Mercedes or a few sparse podiums at Ferrari, it simply comes down to Checo picking the worst of bad options.
Now the question posed would be what if he was given a chance beyond a year at one of these three teams? Well looking at the futures of the three it is clear to see a winner, with Mercedes winning all constructors and drivers titles from 2014 to 2020, with their single constructor in 2021. Could we have seen the first Mexican to win a world drivers title? It is possible, but with Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton being alongside him, it would have been a hard fought title.
At Ferrari things were up and down in the turbo hybrid era, with the exit of Fernando Alonso we saw Kimi Räikkönen return to his red threads. The outfit was consistently number two behind Mercedes, never competing for a title until Sebastian Vettel truly got his footing in 2017, then trying at the WDC a second time in 2018. We could have seen Checo compete for consistent podiums and rare wins at any point in the turbo hybrid era, but it is more than likely that's all he would have been able to achieve.
McLaren faired the worst of the trio, dropping off the face of the earth with the final year of their Mercedes engine agreement, only being able to secure one podium in their first race, achieved by their rookie Kevin Magnussen.
After this more than mediocre season an agreement was made between McLaren and engine supplier Honda, now being the teams works engine manufacturer, seeking to create a "size zero" Formula 1 car, which turned out as bad as it could have. Leaving the team from fighting for podiums to fighting for points. This partnership was cut off in 2018, with the team turning to Renault as an engine supplier.
Was McLaren the right move?
In the end Checo performed very bad as a McLaren driver, how much of the blame you can put on him is up to you. But regardless of his performance the demotion that followed to Force India was, in the end, more of a promotion. With Checo now being able to fight for podiums and, when the outfit turned into Racing Point, wins. The outstanding performances he had at the midfield team eventually landed him a seat with Red Bull amid their second driver dilemma. On top of getting his second career win, he is cited as being an instrumental piece in Max Verstappens first drivers world title and an impressive contract extension. So in the end, while it may not have been the absolute best move he could have made, it was a lengthy hike to the top that rewarded him with the drive of a lifetime.