x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Sergio Perez attracts Ferrari eyes

Sunday's performance in the Italian Grand Prix will surely go some way in altering Luca di Montezemolo's opinion of the Sauber driver Sergio Perez.

Sergio Perez’s style of driving is drawing attention, especially after his display on Sunday at the Italian Grand Prix.
Sergio Perez’s style of driving is drawing attention, especially after his display on Sunday at the Italian Grand Prix.

When Sergio Perez was asked on Sunday whether his accomplished performance at the Italian Grand Prix might impact his chances of racing for Ferrari next season, the young Mexican, who is a member of the Italian manufacturer's driver academy, laughed and pointed at Fernando Alonso.

"Ask him," he said.

The 22-year-old Sauber driver, in a car that finished only 13th fastest in qualifying, had managed his tyres perfectly to climb through the field before, with the Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo and the team's ever-vocal tifosi watching on, imperiously overtaking both Felipe Massa and Alonso to secure second place.

In doing so, he prevented the Prancing Horse from claiming two of the three steps of Monza's famous podium at their home grand prix.

Only three months ago, Di Montezemolo had said Perez is "one of the potential best young drivers for the future, but before putting a young driver in a Ferrari, I need more experience and more results".

Sunday's performance will surely go some way in altering Di Montezemolo's opinion. As far as auditions go, it could not have gone much better.

It was Perez's third podium of the year and his second since June - all three achieved in a car that is by no means the quickest.

In Malaysia, he could have passed Alonso for the win had he not pushed too hard and ran wide late in the race, while in Canada he climbed from 15th on the grid to finish third.

The Mexican now has 65 points in the drivers championship, 18 more than Massa, despite the Brazilian finishing fourth and achieving his best result of the season at Monza. If decisions were made on results alone, Di Montezemolo would be preparing a contract presently, but there remain two key questions regarding any possible switch.

Does Perez want to move at such a stage in his career?

And are Ferrari ready to dismiss a popular and supportive team player?

First things first, it may seem obvious, but Sauber are no Ferrari and Kamui Kobayashi is no Alonso.

Perez would be moving to a far more high-profile marque where he would be very much a No 2 driver.

Much like Michael Schumacher, Ferrari's previous idol, Alonso prefers to have a team built around him. The Spaniard signed a contract last year that will keep him in Maranello until 2016 and last week said he wants to end his career there. He does not, despite what he says publicly, enjoy competitive teammates.

Only twice in the 31 year old's F1 career has he been partnered with a driver who held his own alongside him. Jarno Trulli was Alonso's teammate at Renault in 2003 and 2004. And Alonso was paired with Lewis Hamilton at McLaren-Mercedes in 2007.

Both spells ended acrimoniously, although in the former's case it had more to do with Trulli's relationship with the team rather than any problem with Alonso.

Would Perez really want to risk his career so soon?

Would he want to transfer to a team where he would be expected to move aside - as Massa did on Sunday - to allow his teammate to inherit a podium that he himself was fighting for?

It is a scenario that has threatened to rip holes in even the most successful teams, none more recently than Red Bull Racing in 2010 when sparks flew between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.

In Massa, Ferrari have a driver who appears, publicly at least, to be happy to play the supportive role.

Undoubtedly, any team that wants to fight for the constructors' championship requires two drivers who regularly bring home substantial points, but Massa's season has gradually improved since the British Grand Prix in July, and Stefano Domenicali's marque are up to third in the standings, only 46 points behind leaders Red Bull.

If Massa can continue to finish in the top five, the Brazilian should be confident of retaining his seat and Ferrari can expect to continue pushing for the constructors' title all the way down to the wire.

If Monza proves an anomaly for Massa, Perez may well have a phone call to field and a decision to make.

So will he move?

Alonso's approval is required for the switch to take place.

Ask him.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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