Perez puzzle as McLaren face 33-year low

AFP| Updated: Oct 19, 2013, 00:03 AM IST

London: McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh has left the Formula One paddock in puzzled suspense by defending Mexican driver Sergio Perez as the storied team face a 33-year low.

With the Mexican Grand Prix returning to the F1 calendar in 2014, most observers expected to see the talented Perez confirmed in his seat alongside 2009 world champion Jenson Button.

Perez may have had a wild weekend at Suzuka in last weekend`s Japanese Grand Prix, but that, it was believed, was not going to be enough to jettison him from a team in desperate need of a podium finish.

Yet Whitmarsh appears to be hoping that a solution to his problems will materialize in the shape of an available star driver in the very near future.

Few close followers of the sport`s business and politics believe that and see only the highly-promising Nico Hulkenberg offering him any option to retaining the erratic Perez.

McLaren are without a win or even a podium position this year and are heading towards finishing their worst season in modern times as the circus heads to India next weekend.

"It hurts like hell," said Button of McLaren`s plight after he had struggled to ninth at Suzuka, just another also-ran on a day when defending world champion Sebastian Vettel virtually wrapped up his fourth consecutive title.

For McLaren, it is an unthinkable situation as they face completing their first season in 33 years since 1980 without a podium.

For Whitmarsh, that is failure. And part of that problem has been Perez, signed in year after 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton announced he was leaving for Mercedes.

Perez has speed and courage, but has not demonstrated the necessary consistency or race-craft with McLaren and he continued his wayward form in Japan where he was involved in a high-speed crash with Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg in Friday practice.

Whitmarsh`s dream of tempting Ferrari`s two-time champion Fernando Alonso away from Maranello to join McLaren for a second time, appear -- as widely expected -- to be still-born.

Apart from Hulkenberg, and the out-of-sorts Paul Di Resta, he has few serious options other than Perez now, but said this week that he preferred to wait and see more before he makes any further decisions.

"There is no hurry," explained Whitmarsh. "I had said all along that let`s let a few races go by, and let`s have a chat. And that is exactly what we are going to do.

"There is no tearing rush at the moment to do this. I know it becomes a story and lots more spurious stories stem from it, but there is no hurry for it."

Meanwhile, di Resta remains in a battle for Formula One survival.

The Scot, 27, was being heralded as a future F1 star just a year ago but now heads to New Delhi knowing he may need to win the Indian Grand Prix for his Force India team to keep his seat next year.

A string of poor results including four consecutive non-finishes prior to last Sunday`s Japanese race had undermined him at the worst possible time -- just as the teams finalise their plans for 2014.

He finished 11th in Suzuka, a result that at least ended his worst spell and kept alive hopes that he can regain the form that made him one to watch in 2012.

"I need to deliver something special, something good, definitely a points finish," said Di Resta, lookiing ahead to India.

"Hopefully, it happens. In front of our board members, too -- that`s the important bit. We always try to do well as a team."

Di Resta`s last points finish came in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, where he was ninth on an afternoon better remembered for exploding Pirelli tyres and talk of a drivers` strike.

Di Resta`s agent Richard Goddard said: "I think it`s difficult to know what will happen. There are a lot of drivers in the sport with money and a lot of teams that need money."

"That is probably the biggest issue, that it is not just outright talent that gets you a seat in the car anymore."