When news last week came out that McLaren were indeed going to ditch Sergio Perez in favour of Kevin Magnussen my first thought was why.
Here we have a guy who is just two years older than the 21-year-old Magnussen, has shown potential and considering it was his first year with the team, has hardly been outclassed.
Indeed McLaren’s response since has been so unMcLarenlike I have to question if they think they have made the right decision.
In reality the team was in a difficult position, it has a young driver coming through showing potential in Magnussen, another young driver it can nurture in Perez and the established racer in Jenson Button.
Add to that the fact the team is facing it’s worst year since 1966 and an impending reunion with long-time successful partners Honda in 2015. The team had to make the best decision both for the short and long term.
In the end it was decided McLaren needed its young up-and-coming driver in Magnussen along with the experience of Button.
Now though, through little fault of his own, Perez finds himself out of a drive and potentially out of F1 unless he, with McLaren’s help, can find an alternative for 2014. Through it all I still find myself asking, did McLaren drop the wrong driver?
After his impressive performances at Sauber in 2012 there was no doubt Perez, at least in my opinion, deserved to move up the grid.
After seeing what McLaren had done with Lewis Hamilton it also seemed the most logical choice as there was no room at his original stable team Ferrari.
Here was a 22-year-old who had come through the Ferrari academy, started to show his ability and needed that time at the top to be moulded into a top racing driver.
Was it a little early for Perez? I don’t think so, he had shown he could run at the front on several occasions but just needed that final direction to be able to be at the front all the time and succeed.
Of course, filling the boots of Lewis Hamilton was a tough ask but given the ’08 champions place in F1 even a more established driver would face pressure.
So heading into the 2013 season he was at a team that had the fastest car at the end of the previous season, would be expected to be there or thereabouts again and could show him the ropes at how to adjust to life at the top of F1.
Then came the biggest surprise of 2013, the realisation that the dream move to McLaren had coincided with the worst car Woking had produced in years.
It can be argued that the team had a flawed car as recently as 2009 but remember that year they were hampered by a long championship battle in 2008 and a host of new rules meaning their (and Ferrari’s) development time was less than the likes of Honda (which became Brawn) and Red Bull.
What was different was that the MP4-28 was not underdeveloped - it was simply poor, the team had gone radical and cocked up, big style. Instead of battling for podiums and wins, both Perez and Button found themselves scrambling for points.
So now not only was Checo having to adjust to life at a big team, he was having to cope with a bad car at a big team. Looking at the stats only the early season form is what separates Perez and Button, in the first six races Button was able to use his experience and nous to score in five of the first six races.
Indeed of his 61 points so far, 25 came in the first six races, in that same time Perez only scored 12. Since then Perez has only scored seven less points than Button which for a young guy against one of F1′s most established cannot be bad.
Look in more detail and in the final six races Perez has outscored Button 25 points to 13 including a season’s best fifth in India.
There’s no doubt in my opinion McLaren has made the wrong decision, while they are keen to get Magnussen some experience before the Honda partnership in 2015, they have also dumped another young man that was starting to outshine one of the sport’s most respected drivers.
I’m sure the Dane will pick up the McLaren baton and prove them right to take such a gamble but while the prospect of a happy reunion for Jenson Button with Honda as well as McLaren may make for a great story, but it may also just be a case of heart over head.
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