Sergio Pérez’s sacking by McLaren is expected to be confirmed any day, with Mexican set to be dumped after just a single season with the Woking outfit.
The team is expected to promote its protégé, Kevin Magnussen, in the former Sauber driver’s place for the 2014 season.
While no one is officially confirming the news – which we had speculated yesterday – our sources have confirmed that the team has elected not to take up the option on Pérez’s services for 2014 and beyond.
Granted, the McLaren MP4-28 has not been one of the team’s finest creations, but the 23-year-old has rarely risen to the occasion in spite of the quality of his machinery. He’s collected just 35 points in comparison to teammate Jenson Button’s 60, and the pair are split 8-9 in head-to-head qualifying honours – hardly a compelling statistic given that Button has never really been regarded as a great one-lap specialist.
While he may been signed by McLaren with much fanfare after a very impressive year with Sauber, concerns were being raised before the 2012 season was out. Following the announcement of his signing, Pérez was thrashed by teammate Kamui Kobayashi over the remaining six races and failed to score a single point, sometimes due to some very wild driving.
That trickled over into his first few races with McLaren. After a meek start, he showed some rather reckless aggression in the Chinese, Bahrain and Monaco Grands Prix – sometimes at the expense of his own teammate – and more senior figures within the team began to privately admit that his signing (at the behest of team principal Martin Whitmarsh) was not a wise move.
And so the speculation began to swirl that Pérez – despite enjoying some healthy commercial backing from sponsors in his homeland, whom McLaren was hopeful of wooing on multi-million-dollar deals – would not last long at McLaren.
The added complication has been the performance of Magnussen behind the scenes. The Dane has proven to be a quicker and more consistent performer in the team’s simulator, and showed excellent pace in the handful of test outings he’s had with the team.
McLaren had placed him in the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship, where his cool head and heavy right foot propelled him to the title.
There had been the idea of placing him at Marussia for a year to give him some F1 experience ahead of a full-time switch to McLaren (when it reunited with Honda) in 2015, but such is the antipathy for Pérez, the team is taking the bigger step of blooding him in its own line-up next year.
McLaren has little pedigree in taking on newcomers – certainly in recent years – although it does have the claim to fame of giving Alain Prost his F1 break in 1980, but then backed that up by picking Andrea de Cesaris the following year…
Other newbies include Kevin’s own father, Jan, in 1995 and Lewis Hamilton in 2007 – although the latter had a heap of in-season testing to prepare him.
The 2014 season will be McLaren’s last with Mercedes, so it is another transition year where it is unlikely to feature much at the pointy end of the field. Giving Magnussen a chance is, therefore, a relatively risk-free decision while the team plans on what to do for 2015, when a host of drivers come off-contract.
Pérez will now become a major player in a driver market that is proving to be extremely competitive, particularly where the backing of big-buck sponsorship will be crucial.
Should he be able to bring his financial support from the Slim family – who have backed his career since his junior days – then he will become an attractive prospect for a team in need of a driver with plenty of cash to line their coffers.
His biggest competition – financially, at least – will be Pastor Maldonado, whose exit from Williams was announced overnight with the news that the team has signed Felipe Massa in his place.
Maldonado remains in the pound seats to get the second seat at Lotus, unless the cash from its long-awaited buyout from Quantum comes along, in which case Nico Hülkenberg will get the nod. But everyone’s been waiting for this money for so long that few are prepared to believe it even exists.
A return to Sauber, or Force India, seems more likely for Pérez. He could possible replace his equally underwhelming compatriot, Esteban Gutiérrez, at the Swiss team.
Retaining a Mexican driver on the F1 grid will be very important in the coming years, particularly with the Mexican Grand Prix slated to return to the calendar in 2015 (the pencilled in 2014 slot will be scrapped, our sources say).
As yet, everything remains uncertain in Formula 1. The driver market shenanigans are certainly proving to be even more entertaining than the on-track action of late.