Feature image: Formula 1
The F1 world was undoubtably shocked when Lewis Hamilton announced his move to Mercedes in the Autumn of 2012, in fact many people questioned whether or not the former World Champion had made an awful mistake in his choice. Only three months earlier at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal he told journalists that he couldn’t ‘imagine not being with McLaren’. Well, what if Lewis Hamilton proceeded with McLaren and stayed with them for the 2013 season? Mercedes did have a few other names on their shortlist that they were also interested in, with one of them being Mr Sergio Perez.
After an average rookie year in 2011, the following 2012 season can be classed as Perez’ breakout season in a midfield Sauber C31. The Mexican was on the podium three times, taking P2 at both the Italian and Malaysian Grand Prix and P3 in Montreal with performances where he showed signs of excellence. Around the same time as Hamilton’s comments and Checo’s podium in Canada, there were rumours linking Checo to Michael Schumacher’s seat at Mercedes.
Towards the end of the 2012 season, the seven-time World Champion lost a lot of motivation to race heading into the weekends, with him later saying he had times during the season where he ‘didn’t want to deal with Formula One or prepare for the next Grand Prix’. Schumacher’s indecision about his future forced Mercedes to look elsewhere for his replacement and also Nico Rosberg’s team-mate.
The Contributing Factors
Sergio Perez appealed a lot to Mercedes, with a number of contributing factors in the Mexican’s favour. The first was the fact he was unsettled at Sauber. Perez was part of the Ferrari driver academy and in a meeting at Maranello with Stefano Domenicali in 2012, he was told that he could have a drive at the Scuderia in 2014. However, Perez wanted something much sooner, in a 2019 interview he said that after the meeting he thought to himself ‘I need to get into a competitive car because I can win the title’.
The second contributing factor for Perez’ appeal to Mercedes would be the exciting pairing of him with Nico Rosberg, who also had a good 2012 campaign including his maiden Grand Prix victory. Rosberg was 27 years old and in his seventh Formula One season and with Schumacher leaving the sport at the end of the season, it would give him a chance to step into his former team-mate’s shoes as the more senior driver in the team. Fitting Checo into that team would have been easy, with the 22-year-old who was going into his third season of F1 being able to learn and progress with an experienced driver who was coming into his prime on the other side of the garage.
What Could Have Been?
We all know what happened in reality, Hamilton took the seat at Mercedes and Perez ended up taking Hamilton’s seat at McLaren. Perez admitted that this move was a disaster for him, with Perez telling journalist’s that it ‘damaged’ his ‘reputation in Formula 1’. Even though he was partnered up with a former World Champion in Jenson Button, the McLaren MP4-28 was not competitive at all which showed as the team didn’t make the podium all season. In fact, it was the worst performance by a McLaren F1 team for 33 years which was also the last year that the team failed to get a podium all season. They also failed to qualify inside the top 5 all season, the first time since 1983 and the first time since 2006 where the team hadn’t registered a win.
He put the poor performances down to both his experience and also the performance of the car, telling F1’s Beyond the Grid that they were ‘the sixth fastest team that year’ and ‘with the level of experience I had, I struggled to get the most out of the car’. At the time of signing for them, Checo saw it as a no brainer by saying ‘They were winning races and fighting for titles for five years so how could you say no. It was an obvious thing’.
Let’s say Sergio did opt for Mercedes instead of McLaren that Autumn, what could have happened for the Mexican? He would have joined the German engine manufacturer in the midst of quite a lot of change. Team Principal Ross Brawn carried out a number of changes to the team’s engineering personnel entering the 2013 season, including the replacement of Norbert Haug who was the team’s Vice President of Motorsport with Toto Wolff, the former Executive Director at Williams. With Sergio being a part of this change, he would have gained valuable experience working with other new guys who had experience in the sport, but not in that team. I dare say he would have hit the ground running with Mercedes, who took nine podiums and three race wins between Rosberg and Hamilton that season, but he would have had enough time to get to grips with the car before the 2014 season where Mercedes started to assert their dominance in the hybrid V6 era.
I guess we never will know what would have happened if Lewis Hamilton would have stayed at the team he had been with for the majority of his racing lifetime, or how many, if any, championships Checo would have fought for in his career as a Silver Arrow.
[This was originally posted in December 2020 and posted on DriveTribe.com]