Last season Sergio Perez announced himself on the F1 scene with a number of good drives, collecting three podiums and using his ability to look after Pirelli's fragile tyres to move Sauber up the grid.

Now at McLaren, having replaced Lewis Hamilton, the 23-year-old Mexican has had a difficult start to 2013, thanks in some part to a disappointing car and also due to a few on-track incidents. In Bahrain however, he produced a great drive to beat team-mate Jenson Button even if he did cause some controversy along the way.

So given his rollercoaster start to life at McLaren, and the fact he has a reputation as one of F1's 'pay' driver given his financial backing, what is Sergio Perez? Is he nothing more than the highest profile 'pay' driver on the grid or is he a future world champion?

Firstly let's have a look at the background to McLaren's young hot rod. Perez is a product of Ferrari's young driver academy, responsible for producing other top class drivers including Felipe Massa.

After earlier drives in Formula BMW and A1GP for Team Mexico, Perez joined the British F3 in 2007 racing in the National series. He would win the championship claiming 14 wins from 21 races.

In 2008 he moved up to the International class where he claimed four wins finishing fourth in the championship. At the end of the year he switched again to the GP2 Asia series claiming two wins at Bahrain and Qatar earning him a drive in the main GP2 series for 2009.

Racing for Arden International he would claim two podiums in his first year finishing 14th overall. In 2010 he moved to the Barwa Addax Team taking five wins in a season long battle with now Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, Perez would eventually finish 2nd to the Venezuelan.

Thanks to that performance he would get his break into F1 in 2011 joining Sauber, a popular team for up and coming Ferrari academy drivers, where he would partner Kamui Kobayashi. 

He would have a poor season only claiming 14 points in his debut year.

Last year was the year he established himself, in the rainy conditions in Malaysia he would make an early gamble to full wet tyres as the rain moved in, that would eventually move him up to second in the race. As the track dried out he would start catching the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso.

Entering the final few laps he was within a second of the Spaniard before the team told him to back off from catching Alonso and take the second place.

His ability to look after the tyres was what stood him out, and that ability to take one less pit-stop would help him claim two more podiums in 2012, notably in Canada and in Italy he would close down and pass both Ferrari's late in the race to take a brilliant second place.

Thanks to those performances, Perez was called up by McLaren to replace Lewis Hamilton for the 2013 season. He has struggled a little in the opening few rounds sometimes down to the uncompetitive car McLaren has this year and partly down to poor driving.

In China he was battling with Kimi Raikkonen and as the Finn looked to make a move, he was forced to run down the kerb on the approach to the turn 6 hairpin by Perez, resulting in the Lotus hitting the back of his McLaren.

Raikkonen said on his radio that Perez had been "all over the place", while team boss Martin Whitmarsh admitted telling Perez to "get his elbows out".

In Bahrain, Perez produced his best performance of the year by a mile, with an aggressive drive through the field in both an attacking and defensive sense. Some of his moves were pushing the boundaries of what is and what is not allowed, especially in a feisty battle with his new teammate Jenson Button.

Button too was critical of Perez after their battle, over the radio he told the team to "calm down" Perez and after the race said that his team-mate had gone "over the limit."

Overall then Perez has won and battled for championships before and remember the Mexican is only 23-years-old the same age Sebastian Vettel was when he won his first championship, so time is definitely on the side of Sergio.

McLaren are well known for their ability to produce young talent, Lewis Hamilton being the best example of that, and as this season progresses I certainly expect McLaren and Checo to improve.

A few years ago the 'pay' driver title may have been accurate, and certainly having the backing of the world's richest man has been helpful to Perez's career. 

But he earned his way into GP2 through winning in British F3 and must certainly have enough talent to come through the academy of F1's most prestigious team.

So what is my final prediction for Sergio Perez, let McLaren give him a car capable of winning the championship, give the young man this year to adapt to the pressure of driving for a top team, and watch out because Checo is my dark horse for 2014.

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