Sergio Perez started his rookie campaign with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. The Mexican had already been signed to a Ferrari development contract and would be racing in Formula 1 for Sauber alongside the highly rated Kamui Kobayashi.
The Mexican however had a promising rookie campaign and overcame a qualifying crash in Monaco that left him severely concussed, and on the sidelines for two races, to have a strong second half to 2011 which saw him finish the season with 14 points and an enhanced reputation.
Speaking about his performances as a rookie Perez clearly saw reason to be optimistic for the future while also being aware that he still had to make improvements:
“I’m happy in terms of the speed I had but I’m not happy in terms of results and points,” said the 21 year old. “Also because of my accident I missed two races – Monaco and Canada – in which the car and the team performed very well. After I got back into the car it still took me a few more races until I was really a hundred percent again. But regarding my overall performance in F1, I think I can be happy with my rookie season.”
A strong start to the campaign saw him disqualified from seventh inAustraliafor a technical infringement but showed his potential. His first points came inSpainit was clear that he had adapted well to the sport.
The Monaco Grand Prix would however be a defining moment of his campaign. The car was quick around the streets of the principality and it seemed that Sergio was ready to have a strong showing inMonacobefore a heavy crash in qualifying left Perez heavily concussed. The effects of which he was still feeling for weeks following the crash and which forced him to miss the Canadian Grand Prix:
“Physically I had to wait[to make my return]. This wasn’t easy, but it was important,” commented Perez. “When I got back into the car for free practice in Canada I realised the difficulties I had. I felt dizzy, so it was impossible to drive. Two weeks later in Valencia I felt a lot better and was able to drive. But it was only in Budapest that I felt I was completely over it. It had been a very heavy impact and I learnt it takes time to physically make sure you feel right after suffering from concussion. Mentally it was a shock too. It helped me a lot to go home to Mexico and it was important to do all that work to prepare for racing again.”
Perez’ adaptation to Formula 1 seemed quite easy. His performance in Melbourne, where he nursed his tyres better than anyone in the field belied his lack of experience but some matters did take time for him to get to terms with. The sheer scale of the sport makes it difficult for most drivers to adapt and for Perez the media interest in him was clearly quite surprising:
“Formula One is a completely different world,” said Perez. “When you arrive there everything is new. Every detail is important outside and inside the car. The media interest is huge and all together this also has an impact on your private life.”
The transition from rookie driver to veteran is not easy and most drivers struggle to continue making the same level of progress in their second year. It is clear however that Perez has identified areas to improve upon for the coming season:
“I think it is important to be patient, to be focused and to always give one hundred percent. You need to improve constantly in every aspect and you must always be ready to adapt to situations. If circumstances require that you change your driving style, you just have to go and do it.”
With Perez and Kobayashi confirmed for a second season together in 2012 it will be interesting to see if Sauber can progress from their seventh place finish in the constructors’ championship. At the end of the campaign Toro Rosso built up a lot of momentum and with Sauber still clearly in need of additional sponsorship for 2012 the challenge for the team and its drivers is sure to be immense in the coming season.