Sergio Perez and the great Sauber Conspiracy theory

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.

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40 thoughts on “Sergio Perez and the great Sauber Conspiracy theory

  1. I have to admit after I heard the radio transmission, I did wonder if he went wide on purpose but you’ve convinced me otherwise. Nicely written piece as well. Motor on!

  2. Just a random question, do you think that Martin Brundle has ever been in the F1 Paddock?
    And are you personal friends with all the drivers, like sharing all the bad & happy moments with them, do you get invited to have dinner at their homes so that you know HOW their minds work? I bet they look at you just as another journalist. No more, no less. As far as I know, no journalist have personal friendship w/ any driver in the current era of F1.
    Or may be you’re the only one with Perez?

    • I’m not saying I’m his bezzie mate. Merely that having closely followed him and got to know him quite well in his GP2 days, I don’t believe he is the kind of driver who would give up a win. That’s all.

    • Watch the senna movie and listen to what he says of cause perez was ordered not to pass. Its time people woke up and stopped being so nieve, its political and money talks. Alonso’s face tells a thousand words when he is on the rostrum. Sauber use ferrari engine, perez is in the ferrari fi training school. do the maths. the guy that wrote this artical is a moron. probably hired by ferrari. But it is easy for the dark forces to hide behind the conspiracy theory and that we are all stupid.

  3. Good post.

    Do you think Sergio would have gone off the track and risked losing 2nd if he wasn’t pushing for the win?

    Seriously this is the most dumb conspiracy theory since Glock/Hamilton in Brazil 2008.

  4. Conspiracy theory aside, I still don’t believe it was a smart move from the Sauber team to send that kind of message. You have a young gun en route for his first podium and perhaps even a win. Instead of instilling him with the calm of a pitlane with a cool head on their shoulders, they send a rather panicky message which to me read as ‘above all, don’t mess up’ which is a fair thing to say in Sauber’s situation as you mention, but is not something a young driver on the verge of the biggest result (to date) in his career needs to hear. I don’t believe the conspiracy theory, but do believe Sauber was dead wrong sending that message. We’ll never know but it’s possible this whiff of stressy anticipation from the pitlane contributed to the error he did make. Sergio is smart enough to know not to throw it away. The team lost their nerves and should have just let him get on with it without filling his head with doubt and stress.

  5. Ok i’m a wanker am i (female) have watched F1 for 47 years and we all have a right to our own opinions without being called such names.First of all you are VERY naive.If you think being a voice on F1 gives you the right to do this you are also very wrong.Such things do and will always go on in F1 it is a business.You my friend are out of order and this sort of thing does nothing for your career ambitions.The reason whyJake & Martin etc are so well loved is that they respect the fans and i suggest you take a leaf out of their book and take on some humility please.You have just lost a follower and viewer.

    • Diane I absolutely, absolutely am not referring to the millions of fans worldwide who dedicate their time and money to following this sport. I was in a slightly ruffled state following the comments made by some bloggers following the race, pertaining to know the whole truth whilst actually providing a stilted and untrue version of the sport that I love. I am sorry to have offended you but please know my comments would never be aimed at all you fans. After all, I’m merely a fan myself.

  6. Hi Will,

    Whilst I respect your view that Sauber/Perez/Ferrari were not cheating (which I agree with), I feel that your article is directly attacking the people that are paying lots of money to watch the race. So what if they have never been to a race?

    I feel that everyone is entitled to their opinion whether it is right or wrong without being subject to being called “bedroom wankers”. I don’t think you are doing yourself any favours by doing that. I understand you are passionate about the subject, but criticizing people just because they are not wealthy enough to attend all the Grand Prix seems a bit unprofessional.

    At the end of the day, there has been lots of scandals in F1 before and there most likely will be lots more in the future. I personally didn’t hear the radio call at the time, but when Perez ran wide, it did cross my mind that it could be a scandal. Just as soon as I thought of it, I had dismissed it as rubbish too. With places like Twitter and Facebook being available nowadays, people will discuss it. People will discuss anything in F1 from race fixing, to the colour of somebody’s shirt. It’s just the way it is. In all honesty, I’ve barely seen anyone (genuinely) accuse sauber of cheating. Most people believe they are not. A lot of people have thrown the odd quip around about Ferrari and Sauber, but as a tongue in cheek comment not to be taken seriously, in which some people have clearly done.

    You clearly know the subject you are talking about, but to insult peoples points of views with profanities seems like a bit too much and I am not sure what you will gain out of it other than self satisfaction.

    Just a thought.

    • Hey Brett. Similar to what I replied to Diane, my intention was never and would never be to insult the fans. Without the fans this sport is nothing. I just want to ensure that the fans get the truth rather than some stilted version of reality.

  7. I do not have the first hand F1 paddock experience you have Will, yet I was able to come up with that same exact opinion simply by using reason and rational thinking.

    Thank you for explaining that to the people who were unable to come up with that on their own.

  8. I do not agree with the conspiracy theorists. In fact, I believe that Perez running wide in that corner is the best possible proof that he did *not* back off.

    However, I think the ease with which such nonsense gets accepted by so many (just like the Glock-Hamliton thing in 2008 and doubts about Webber’s win in Brazil 2011) is a sad reflection of what years of somewhat shady team tactics/orders (Schumacher’s days at Ferrari, Hakkinen and Coulthard in a number of races, notably Melbourne 1998) and deals (McLaren/Williams in Jerez 1997, Sauber drivers blocking Ferrari’s opponents while lapping numerous times in the early 00s) have done to the credibility of the sport.

  9. I knew Sergio (or Checo as he seems to prefer to be called nowadays) in his British Formula 3 days and fully endorse your comments about him. He won the National Class in 2007 and at one point was leading the 2008 championship by 32 points. He’d just started the two Monza races from 14th on the grid and won them both. The guy’s a racer, but with a maturity way beyond his years. It was a tough year an eventually Sergio was 4th behind Jaime Alguersuari, Oliver Turvey and Brendon Hartley, all in Carlin cars. Sergio was driving for the unfashionable T-Sport team, using an unfashionable Mugen-Honda engine, but both were actually very good, as both he and Telmex realised. A driver who knows his own mind.,

  10. Will,

    Thanks for the refreshingly frank article.

    For Perez to deliberately throw his chance at passing Alonso by going off and nearly heading into the gravel is bonkers crazy. I’m sure there are other better ways of backing off but that one was just too risky and dangerous (and unbecoming of a future Ferrari driver) if you are to believe Perez got a read between the lines team order. Though Perez is tipped for Massa’s seat, I imagine even in Sunday’s race Sergio was focused on the drive he had and doing his best for Sauber rather than overthinking the permutations and possibilities of the drive he might want with Ferrari. Besides, Peter Sauber was genuinely weeping after the checkered flag, something I don’t think he would have done if a few minutes before he received a threatening call on the Bat phone from Maranello demanding Perez “back off or else..”, for instance.

    I have to admit I’ve only been watching F1 since 2003 (when I finally got cable) and have only been to one grand prix in 2006 in Indianapolis. I’d like to think of myself as a dedicated fan who understands the sport and its players and politics. But I know no matter how many practice sessions I watch or Autosport articles I read or The Flying Lap episodes I download that I will never have a true sense of the reality of F1 until I work in a factory or on the other side of the paddock as you and others in the sport do. The relationships you build with team personnel and drivers from the support races and GP2 up to F1 gives you the perspective and information I need to help understand and enjoy F1. Thanks, Will for helping to cut through the bullshit :- )

    Richard Hunt
    @salukiconvert

  11. Spot on Will, although like some others, I’m not entirely sure the profanity was necessary.

    Alas, it is a shame that such a good race was haphazardly tainted by such baseless accusations, from the digital mafia, but it happens from time to time.
    Unfortunately, any minor inkling of controversy is bound to be hijacked – some folk just struggle to move on.

    Although I’ve watched Perez from afar for quite some time (my BF3 stint started after he left), he has always come across as a racer with a racer’s instinct and rarely is such an instinct diminished so lightly.
    Perez was pushing – and pushing very hard – and he lost it on a damp kerb while catching the leader. It’s happened before and I’m sure it will happen again in the future – many times over.

    It was still a brilliant drive by the young Mexican and I am certain we will see many similar performances from young Perez.

  12. He almost ended up in the gravel. There is no way that was done on purpose. Slowing down is one thing; there is no way a driver would run wide on purpose in any track condition let alone a wet one!

  13. Totally agree Will. Sergio almost put it into the gravel – hero to zero. It would’ve been like Vettel in Melbourne in ’09. He was trying to win and made a mistake that almost cost him a finish – if he was not at 10/10ths to begin with that wouldn’t have happened. Team orders would’ve been given much earlier in the race given the conditions. Keep up the good work.

  14. Ha think I know which blog you were referring to…

    Given the Sauber / Ferrari relationship it was inevitable questions would be asked. But it’s quite clear the answer to those questions is no.

  15. But what about the tyre change? Surely enough data was out there that slicks were faster and that one more lap on inters would be a few seconds lost? I agree that going wide was unlikely to be deliberate but why not follow Alonso into the pits and even if Ferarri changed them quicker he would have caught and overtaken with the 6 or so laps left?

    • It was a tough call at that point. He was flying on inters but they were well worn. At the moment everyone was changing to slicks it had started to rain again, albeit lightly and there was lightning at Turn 1. Sauber waited as long as they could to see if that rain would get harder. If it had and they’d been able to change for another set of inters they’d have won the race by half a lap.

  16. Hmm,
    There is rarely smoke without fire.
    I don’t for a minute think the lad ran wide deliberately, but he is paid to do a job for the team and it sounds as if the radio message was telling him to stay where he was to protect what they had
    It just so happened it suited both teams

  17. I just have to say (once again) that I love what you write. It’s actually very easy (well, at least to me) to see what this sport means to you, and how you always write professionally and responsibly about it.

    When I was just thinking about the idea of writing my very own rubbish and amateur F1 blog, a Caterham mechanic gave me this very simple, yet wise, advice: you can only write about what you live. I guess many people who are involved in Formula 1 coverage, even some of the ones frequently walking in the Paddock, aren’t actually living F1.

  18. I don’t believe Sergio went wide on purpose. My reasoning is slightly different, as I don’t know him personally in any way.

    My reasoning is that if he was to run wide to add a gap large enough to not be able to win, then he could easily do that at one or two other corners (e.g. the final corner) to create a gap using “mistakes” that have low risk.

    Where Segio went off was very high risk, he could have easily spun on the fake grass and ended up dropping a place or worse, in the gravel and out of the race.

    The whole scenario would also require Sauber to have pre-arranged the coded message. While Sauber are a team that appear to allow for pretty much all eventualities, I don’t think even they expected this one.

  19. I totally understood your point in this post, Will, never took it as a disincentive to blog, like some people did. On the contrary, your blog is an inspiration to me. And don’t worry, I won’t stop writing :) (won’t send you a link cause it’s in Portuguese, you wouldn’t understand a line of it). It may seem crazy, but even from a distance I guess I get to actually live F1, in my own way.

    Here in Brazil we have this very same problem with F1 media trying to make a bonfire out of nothing. It’s all about the scandal. It’s sad, and I think Formula 1 doesn’t need this kind of publicity, but some people think that’s what sells.

  20. Will, well said. The pit wall is making sure a young enthusastic driver with “a racer’s heart” doesn’t throw away a very fine result (one that brought tears to Peter Sauber) by overreaching in the heat of battle. He’s chasing a 2 time world champion who also has a racers heart. As David Hobbs says “it’s one thing to catch Fernando Alonso, it’s another thing to pass Fernando Alonso”. That is what a race engineer is supposed to do for a young driver. Alonso was not about to give up P1 without a fight despite the young Mexican’s pace. I believe in team orders, it’s always been part of F1(maybe I’m an old dog) and I am a conspirory theorist at heart but let’s not take away from a great drive by Sergio by misinterpreting an effort from the pit wall designed to preserve a great drive and an outstanding result. There are enough true conspiracies around, we don’t need to create one that doesn’t exist and tarnish a fantastic effort in the process. If Sergio ends up in a Ferrari seat it will be because he earned it on the strength of that drive, not because he didn’t pass Fernando for first. And I would love to see it, although the Sauber looked faster.

  21. Will, how do you really feel ….?
    Sorry, couldn’t help it …. but your points are valid.
    I think anyone who believes it was a conspiracy only need think back to Australia: Alsono ahead, young driver pushing behind … and crash, bang, pow, race over.
    Sauber is a smart man who was cautioning his young lion to not do what Maldonado did in Oz.

  22. Great posting Will, job well done on explaining the details.

    Yes, I have to agree that when I heard the message (now understanding that it could have been several corners or even laps old), I knew exactly what it was. Sergio’s 22 points was half the team’s total from last year (I didn’t remember the exact total but I knew I was close). Press on but be careful is what I read.

    Can’t wait to cheer for Sergio when he comes here to Austin this November. Way to go Sergio…

  23. Hi Will

    Agree with most of your points but would ask whether you were in the Sauber Garage or on their Pit Wall at any time during the race.

    If not you cannot know for ceratin what messages were passed between team and driver, and obviously if any message came through from another team.

    Hence a theory it will always remain and only certain parties will know the truth.

    After all the last time something akin to this happened was when Piquet crashed in Singapore, every body said a racing driver would never crash on purpose….

    • You make a good point Neil.

      No I wasn’t on the pitwall but I was in the garage with about 20 laps to go and the team were on edge and whereas normally someone would talk to we pit reporters about what was going on, they were all so concentrated on the race that nobody could bring themselves to tempt fate. If they were under orders from Ferrari, I sense the atmosphere would have been much less tense.

      Will

      • Hi Will

        You were certainly better placed than most to make an informed and objective argument, which you did.

        It would have been good to see Perez have a go at passing Alonso and I guess it was, us the fans who lost out.

        Keep up the good work.

  24. For the conspiracy theorists:

    Some people work backwards: They start with their conclusion, than set about hunting for any data that supports it. This is the worst form of confirmation bias. The preferred method is to research all of the relevant data, and see what conclusion that leads you to.

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