After an excellent 2nd place drive by Sauber driver Sergio Perez at the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, many have speculated that Perez – a part of the Ferrari young driver program – will graduate into Felipe Massa’s race seat with the Red Car team. By comparison, the Brazilian had a dismal weekend, wathcing his team-mate Fernando Alosno take the checkered flag in Sepang as he struggled to a underwhelming 15th.
Perez, who looked certain to win the race at one point, is a shining example of the excellent emerging talent in Formula 1, giving Felipe Massa and other F1 old heads cause for concern and good reason to watch their backs.
After pre-season concerns over the lack of competitiveness Ferrari’s F2012 was showing, a panicked atmosphere seemed to descend over the team. Alonso has transcended this, hauling the car into a 5th and 1st place finish – positions the F2012 has no right to be in. Massa, on the other hand, hasn’t managed to out-perform his car, culminating in rumours that his replacement is no longer a matter of if but when. Some pundits have even suggested Perez could even replace Massa before the season is out, but I disagree.
In my opinion, Ferrari won’t make any change to driver personnel until the end of the season. There concentration has to be on improving the car, and changing a driver mid-season won’t do any good for the consistency of essential driver feedback on the F2012. With regards to Perez, there’s no guarantee he’ll be the driver to take Massa’s seat – even if he is part of the Ferrari young driver program. Any team with a pedigree such as Ferrari’s has their pick of drivers, and there’s plenty of upcoming talent to choose from – not just from Formula1 and not just from their own young driver program.
But drivers can smell blood, and the midfield drivers in particular will be looking to impress with an eye on a promotion. I wouldn’t write off either of Force India or Williams’ drivers to take the second Ferrari seat, all four of whom have shown great promise in 2012 so far.
Lotus driver Romian Grosjean is another possibility and could show his worth if he can convert his excellent qualifying performances into decent finishes. Even Kimi Raikkonnen being united with his former team isn’t out of the question.
A quick mention for forgotten Robert Kubica – if the Pole is to make a return to F1, there’s no ruling out Ferrari being the team to make space for the talented driver.
Last but not least, and sadly overlooked in my opinion is Perez’s own team-mate, Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese driver demonstrated ruthless overtaking ability on his F1 debut back in Brazil 2009 when he caused champion Jenson Button and the Brawn GP team all sorts of problems. Kobayashi went on to achieve eight points finishes for his first season with Sauber in 2010, which he then improved upon in 2011 with nine points finishes – four more than his new team-mate, Sergio Perez.
Whether or not Kobayashi will out-perform Perez again this season is yet to be seen, but it’s certain he – and Perez – has the talent to drive for a top team. If Sauber lose either of their star drivers, they’ll be much the poorer for it.