[Updated] The driver market this season seems both volatile and fluid, with many drivers in the balance and some big moves being made.
The latest is the decision by McLaren, after much agonising, to drop Sergio Perez after just one season and replace him with Kevin Magnussen. The decision has not been announced by McLaren yet, but various news outlets have heard it in the last 24 hours from various sources and this site has had solid evidence that Perez has been dropped. It’s a brutal reversal for Perez, who thought he’d hit the jackpot 12 months ago, moving to the team that had the fastest 2012 car. But it’s been a nightmare season with uncompetitive machinery and McLaren has made little secret of its disappointment in the Mexican’s performance.
His best option appears to be Force India, which is already turning into the in-demand team, with two seats up for grabs and plenty of drivers looking for a life raft. This puts their two current drivers in a difficult position. Adrian Sutil is known to be talking to Sauber, while Nico Hulkenberg’s management is in discussions with Force India.
Sauber is another team, which still has Mexican connections with Carlos Slim’s Telmex team, but this situation too seems fluid at the moment and it doesn’t appear to be the direction Perez is looking in.
There have been many conversations internally in the last two months at McLaren about the pros and cons of Perez and Magnussen but it looks like the “racers” have won this time and they’ve taken a bold step rather than a conservative one. Perez is a known quantity within the team, they’ve seen his numbers on the simulator and in the car over the season and they are able to assess his potential.
Unlike Heikki Kovalainen, who struggled against Lewis Hamilton but was given a second season, McLaren are clearly keen to get on with it and look to the future and a return to full competitiveness.
In Magnussen they feel they may have another Hamilton on their hands (and also in Stoffel Vandoorme) and the racers in the team want to blood him next year, in what is certain to be a transition year for McLaren, before they throw the kitchen sink at it with Honda in 2015. It makes sense to give Magnussen a chance to stake his claim and gain a season’s experience before then. With Fernando Alonso a target for 2015, Magnussen will need to show real form and potential to rival Jenson Button for a seat with the team for 2015. Button provides and excellent benchmark for a young driver like Magnussen.
Magnussen has had limited testing time in the car, but JA on F1 drew attention to his performance in the Young Driver test at Silverstone in July, where JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan had the following to say about the 21 year old Dane’s run:
“Perhaps the standout performance of the test was young Kevin Magnussen in the McLaren on Day 1. The 21 year old has had limited experience in F1, but put in a performance that he and the engineers will be delighted with.
He was sent out with a lot of fuel in the car, but his runs (shown in blue below in Fig 1 below) show highly impressive consistency. If you compare the time delta between the high fuel runs, (shown on the left, the lap times are higher, reflecting the extra weight of the fuel in the car) with the lower fuel runs, on the right, you can see that the difference is what it should be – so he has been able to take the maximum from both the higher and the lower fuel load and has been able to string together laps very consistently in both conditions, with a nice downward trend on both long and short runs.” (His performance is compared in the graph with Paul di Resta.
“If I was on the technical team at McLaren I would be very impressed and very happy with this run,” adds Gillan. “It’s a very impressive run for a young man who has limited F1 experience.”
The news comes ahead of the United States Grand Prix, where Perez is expected to have a huge amount of support from fans from his home country Mexico.
Speaking in an interview in Spanish, Perez said: “There are many more people that probably haven’t been good enough, especially this year. Mentally after what’s been said I’m ok, I have a lot of support from my country and that’s what helps me carry on.
“Yes I’m disappointed [with this season]. When your objectives are much higher than your results, we have a reason to be disappointed both me and the team.
“This is a great team, I have no doubt about it, but if I’m here next year there needs to be more organisation. Right now the car we have is to fight for points and the team has struggled to understand this.
“If I don’t drive for this team (McLaren) next year I have to study the best option and see what’s best for my future.”