Sergio Perez in profile
Last Updated: 07/01/16 3:07pm
It’s easy to think that Sergio Perez is older than he actually is such have been the ups and downs in the Mexican’s F1 career to date.
Perez only turns 26 in January, but embarks on his sixth season in the sport in 2016 on the back of his best season to date. Restoring his confidence and reputation at Force India after a challenging year at McLaren in 2013, Perez found a new level of consistency last season and outpointed highly-rated team-mate Nico Hulkenberg for the first time.
So was it a case of too much too soon three years ago at McLaren?
While his promotion to one of F1's top drives was swift after just two years at Sauber, Perez's relative youth belies a strong level of motorsport experience and maturity out of the car. Indeed, Perez has been competing in European racing since 2005 and raced in Formula BMW, A1 GP, Formula Three and the GP2 Series prior to his big break with Sauber in 2011.
His biggest success in international motorsport, in terms of championship position, to date is his second-place finish behind Pastor Maldonado in the 2010 GP2 Series. In all, he won five races and claimed one pole position.
That caught the eye of renowned talent-spotter Peter Sauber who boldly decided to team him up with Kamui Kobayashi at his F1 squad, despite the Japanese himself only having one full F1 season behind him.
Perez, who brought backing from Carlos Slim's Telmex communications company, didn't take long to make his mark on his debut in Australia. Sadly for him, though, his unique one-stopping drive to seventh place went unrewarded after both Sauber cars were later disqualified for infringing technical regulations.
His first official points finish arrived four races later in Spain but misfortune struck at the next round in Monaco when Perez suffered a nasty side-on crash into the harbourside chicane barrier during qualifying. Taken to hospital, he was found to have 'escaped' with concussion and a bruised thigh but as a precaution was still stood down for the remainder of the weekend. Although he returned at the next round in Canada, he felt unwell after practice and the team drafted in Pedro de la Rosa to fill in.
Returning in Valencia, Perez finished seventh at Silverstone before further points finishes in Singapore, Japan and India secure him 15th place in the Drivers' Championship.
Year two would bring far more headlines, however, after Sauber developed a car that was both surprisingly quick and kind on its tyres. Perez brilliantly demonstrated his potential at a rain-hit Malaysian GP when, from ninth on the grid, he adroitly made his through the pack and set off in a thrilling pursuit of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
It seemed inevitable he would overhaul the Spanish star in the closing laps but a small slip coming onto the backstraight - which followed a message from his race engineer to take it easy - meant the fairytale win just eluded him.
Still, both he and Sauber went on to prove that the second place was no flash in the pan. His next points finish, in Canada, was also a podium as another one-stop strategy allowed him to surge through the field again. It was a similar story later in the year at Monza, where Perez passed both Ferraris in the closing laps to finish second to McLaren's Hamilton.
By this time speculation was rife that Ferrari, who had signed the Mexican to their young driver programme upon his arrival in F1, were poised to swoop for 2013. Yet within a couple of weeks McLaren had pounced after learning of Hamilton's defection to Mercedes.
As McLaren struggled with a difficult car in the MP4-28, Perez did as well, only finishing in the top five once all season. His relationship with the team appeared strained from the beginning when ahead of the Bahrain GP Martin Whitmarsh criticised his new recruit for not being committed enough on track and fighting hard enough for position. Thus it came as little surprise that Kevin Magnussen was announced as his replacement in the build-up to the US GP.
Rescued by Force India for 2014, Perez almost immediately repaid Vijay Mallya's faith in him by delivering the team's first podium finish in five years in Bahrain, the Mexican's achievement all the more noteworthy given he had to pass Hulkenberg along the way.
A repeat result looked on the cards in Canada but a controversial last-gasp collision with Williams' Massa put paid to that. While Bahrain remained the team's standout result of the year, it wasn't actually until the second half of the season that Perez regularly became a match for Hulkenberg in both qualifying and races.
An impressive Button-beating performance at Monza, and several tyre preservation drives akin to those he became famous for at Sauber, set Perez up nicely for 2015 - when he became more of a consistent match for his German team-mate, particularly on Sundays.
Although Force India started the year on the back foot as they delayed the introduction of their pukka 2015 car, Perez still scored in half of the opening eight rounds before the arrival of the B-spec VJM08. Once the new challenger did hit the track at Silverstone it was the Mexican who invariably began getting the best out of it - Perez ended the season with eight points finishes in the final 11 rounds.
The highlights were undoubtedly Russia, when he claimed the team's only podium of the year with third, and the return of his home Mexican GP in late October. Showing statesmanlike qualities in his handling of the increased attention off the track, Perez then produced a fine drive on it - although eighth place hardly reflected the quality of the performance.
The challenge now is to kick on again in 2016 - and then just maybe a route back to a front-running team in future won't be out of the question.