Sergio Perez deliberately ran wide at Turn 14 on the Sepang International Circuit, with a handful of laps left to run in the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix, under team orders from his Sauber team bosses and under pressure from their engine supplier Ferrari in order to allow Fernando Alonso an easy passage to victory. This is what the bedroom wankers will tell you, running their blogs from under the comfort of their duvets, never having walked within a Formula 1 paddock in their lives.
The age of the internet will allow them to pontificate, to bark out age old theories of FIA collusion with Ferrari and about how the Scuderia are a bunch of conspiratorial underhand bastards. It gets them web hits and a bit of publicity and sponsorship. But it isn’t reality. It isn’t the sport I know and love. It isn’t what I saw in the flesh, in the humid rain-soaked paddock in Sepang.
How do I know?
Because I know Sergio. I’ve known him for many years, long before he arrived in F1. I know how he races. I know how his mind works. And I know he wouldn’t let go of the chance of victory.
Because I have worked in Formula 1 for a decade. I know how Sauber race. I know how a little bit of how Peter’s mind works. And know that above everything he is a racer. To the marrow at the very core of his bones, a victory in a Grand Prix is what he lives for.
And I know because I was there.
You want to tell me that the combination of these two lions of integrity and racing soul would have deliberately handed away a shot at victory? Get real.
The radio messages that are played out over a Grand Prix are at best half a lap old. On average I’d estimate we hear them towards one to two laps after they are transmitted. We don’t hear them live because in the first instance FOM don’t want to shoot profanity into the ears of the hundreds of millions of people watching their sport and in the second instance they have no idea whether the radio messages will be of any importance to the race itself or not.
But ask yourself this. If you hadn’t heard that radio message, would you think that Sauber and Sergio had given up? Of course you wouldn’t. And why? Because after that mistake at one of the trickiest corners on the circuit Sergio didn’t just carry on and hold position, he carried on pushing. He cut the gap to the race leader, a double world champion, by over half a second a lap. Were those the actions of a racing driver who, having been ordered to or not, had given up? Of course they weren’t.
The message from Sauber has been compared to that which Ferrari gave to Felipe Massa in Germany two years ago. But it is nowhere near comparable. In Germany, Massa was leading and was told that the car behind him, his team-mate, was faster. This, we all knew, was code for “let the man through.” In Malaysia, Sergio Perez received a message from his team telling him that the position that he held was important to them. This, to me, meant one thing in translation. “You’re in an incredible position. Have a pop at him but don’t screw it up.”
It is a measure of Sergio Perez that after coming so close to binning it, and I cannot stress how close he really did come to throwing his whole race away due to the nature of the difficulty of braking under right lock in the middle of T13 for T14 on a slippery track and with only a thin stripe of gravel between the end of the tarmac and the tyre wall, he should continue to press on and cut the gap to Fernando Alonso in the fashion that he did.
Perez had almost thrown his race away. But he kept on pushing. He cut the gap, every lap from his mistake until the chequered flag.
Do not try and tell me that Perez wasn’t gunning for the win.
And with that in mind, let’s pretend for a moment that Sergio had been given a slow down order from Sauber, something I doubt would ever have happened. The fact he kept cutting the gap to Alonso would suggest he had ignored it. You are a young driver, in your second year in Formula 1, with a team who have nurtured you and who appear to have a good car. This is a team who have a Ferrari engine in the back and you are a member of the Ferrari Young Driver academy, chasing down the lead car of Scuderia Ferrari.
If you were given a coded order to slow down, you’d have to be some kind of chump to ignore it. And Sergio is no idiot.
And regardless of times, gaps, mistakes, running off track, radio messages… the only thing that matters to me was the look in Sergio’s eyes.
I was the first journalist he spoke to in the TV scrum after the press conference. He walked towards me and I gushed forth about what a great race he had just put in, how proud he must be, how delighted the team must be… and his reaction? He stood there and simply said how upset he was that he’d made a mistake that could have cost Sauber a win.
This is a team that lacks funding. A team for whom a race win could have made a world of difference in the sponsorship stakes. While a podium is rich reward, the PR from a race win could have secured them the kind of backer that might have assured them a decent percentage of their 2013 budget.
Let’s not forget, this is a squad who last year scored 44 points. In 2012, in the two races thus completed, they have taken 30 points. Now you try and tell me that a radio message asking Sergio to think hard about any move he might have made for the lead wasn’t well placed. Tell me that it was ill thought out. And I’ll tell you that you don’t understand how this sport works.
Yes, in our hearts we all want Formula One to be about that ultimate drive for a victory. But until Bernie Ecclestone gets his way and starts handing out ridiculous Gold medals for race wins, this is still a championship that revolves around a points scoring system. And for as long as it does so, drivers and teams have to be smart.
They have to weigh up the additional seven points a win would give them, or hanging on to the 18 points that were far beyond the score they had ever considered possible when the lights went out at the start of the race.
The sign of an intelligent racer and an intelligent team is one who knows when to push and when not to. Sauber knew not to push, they knew that hanging on to second was the most incredible outcome they could have considered. But Sergio Perez is a racer. He wanted the win. And he would not have pushed if he didn’t think it was within his grasp.
So don’t sit there and tell me that Perez running wide is part of some greater Ferrari conspiracy.
Because, plain and simple, it’s bullshit.
UPDATE: I just want to make it clear that in no way does any part of this blog refer to natural speculation by the millions of fans of this sport around the world. Everyone, every fan is entitled to their views and their opinions. What riled me in the aftermath of the race was that certain blogs with questionable authority claimed the actions in the final laps of the race to be underhand. I found this to be unsavoury as it seemed to wrongly confirm people’s worst fears, when there was no basis in reality for believing such scaremongering.