Don’t underestimate Sergio Perez
You know it’s a funny old world when the winner of GP2, Formula 1’s premier feeder series, is beaten to an actual F1 seat by, er, the bloke he beat to the GP2 title. Welcome, then, to the funny old world of Pastor Maldonado.
In spite of a management contract with Nicolas Todt (if that’s not a VIP ticket to a plum F1 seat, nothing is) and backing from Venezuela’s state oil company, not to mention a high-profile pat on the back from President Chavez himself, Maldonado has failed to secure a seat alongside Kamui Kobayashi at Sauber in 2011. Instead that place will be occupied by 2010 GP2 runner-up Sergio Perez in a move that has been eased by a considerable injection of funds from Telmex, the Mexican telecoms concern.
But exactly how big an injection are we talking about?
It’s perhaps a reflection on the sort of traveller who regularly commutes between London and Shanghai that the British Airways 777 employed for this purpose has a mammoth First/Club section, while Economy occupies about 10 rows down the back. Nevertheless it was in this cupboard-sized vestibule that I found myself sitting next to Perez on the way back from the Chinese Grand Prix a couple of years ago.
Back then, Perez had just kicked off his GP2 Asia campaign with a DNF and a seventh place, hot on the heels of flunking the lead of the British Formula 3 Championship. Still, everyone was talking about his potential, and plenty of people were excited about (and keen to get their hands on) the reputed pot of gold that Telmex brought. This was just as the financial crash was just crashing, but Honda were yet to withdraw from F1 – in fact, Nick Fry and Ross Brawn were sitting several rows ahead, beyond the gilded curtain, in altogether comfier seats.
He wasn’t the most talkative chap, but he owed me a favour. I’d woken him up as they came round with the boxes from the laughably misnamed ‘All Day Deli’. I made the slight tactical error of asking him what had happened in the closing rounds of British F3 (cue a screed of excuses, thankfully lightened by the arrival of some liquid refreshment – diss BA cabin crew if you like, but they’re generous with the vin rouge). I then asked him what on earth he was doing ‘down the back’ of a 12-hour flight when he had a fair bit of sponsor’s wedge behind him – especially when various unimportant persons and hangers-on, such as TV pundits and marketing types, had ‘turned left’.
He replied that it was more important to spend the money that was being disbursed on his behalf wisely, ie on the business of racing, than to swan around like a VIP when he hadn’t earned that status yet.
I was impressed by his attitude. Impressed by his raw pace during races, too, although his results have been patchy. For the latter reason you may read some hemming and hawing from the kind of pundits who do their research on Wikipedia. Ignore them. This fellow has talent.
And after all, Kamui Kobayashi didn’t set the world aflame in GP2, did he?