While some may consider a move to Renault as a career suicide, it’s the only way Sergio Perez can achieve further success in Formula 1.
Sergio Perez has emerged as a hot property in Formula 1 following his recent run of results at Force India. After a difficult spell at McLaren in 2013, the Mexican has rejuvenated at the Silverstone-based squad, delivering four podiums in a span of two-and-a-half years.
Two of those four podium finishes have come this season and he currently stands 13 points clear of his highly-rated teammate Nico Hulkenberg in the standings.
Naturally, rivals teams have come calling for Perez, with both Williams and Renault openly showing their interest in him.
Leaving Force India
But given that Force India is on an upward trajectory, many would think that leaving the Indian outfit will be a stupid mistake. Upgrades to the outfit’s in-house CFD facility, combined with use of Toyota’s state-of-the-art windtunnel in Cologne, have delivered the desired results, putting them ahead of Williams in the constructors’ standings. In short, Force India is the best privateer at the moment.
But if you look it from a different perspective, Force India is close to maximising its potential. It has made most of its relatively modest facilities and a strong, but small engineering team.
Now, It will either stabilize its position in the pecking order or go downhill. There’s no way it can challenge for wins and championships unless its budget and facilities are anyway close to that of top teams.
And Perez concedes this fact, saying he would have to change teams to achieve his goal of winning F1's ultimate crown.
"I know that to become a World Champion in Formula 1 I need to move further up the grid," he told GPUpdate. "Whatever happens, whether the opportunity comes or not, who knows. It's going to be difficult, realistically.”
So, if Perez does leave Force India, where does he go? Switching to Williams would be a sideways move, for it suffers the same disadvantages of an independent team like Force India. Moreover, there’s no guarantee Williams will be able to recover from its recent slump and re-emerge as the best privateer team.
That leaves Perez with Renault, the French manufacturer that has made a difficult return to Formula 1 this season following a delayed takeover of Lotus.
However, there is every reason to believe that new management can turn it into a championship-winning outfit.
While the chassis progress at Renault is less obvious, the major gains made on the power unit side show that this outfit is capable enough to be the best in the sport.
Remember, Renault and Mercedes are the only mainstream manufacturers to win a constructors title in Formula 1. BMW, Honda and Toyota have all failed in this regard.
When Romain Grosjean decided to join newcomers Haas, many thought it would be a career suicide. But the risk has paid off so far, with Grosjean already managing a top five result.
Yes, he is yet to achieve the ultimate objective behind moving to Haas - to drive for Ferrari - but strong results in the early part of the season have certainly raised his stakes.
Some would suggest that Perez should carefully watch Renault’s progress over the next few years before making a decision. The argument is fair, as attested by Fernando Alonso who has to go through the pain of the rebuilding process at McLaren-Honda..
However, top teams have stopped looking beyond their own driver stables, reducing chances of drivers without manufacturer links to land a top drive. Mercedes has already come up with a plan for replacing Lewis Hamilton and/or Nico Rosberg by placing Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein in Manor. Red Bull hasn’t hired a non-academy drivers for years while McLaren has Stoffel Vandoorne and Nick de Vries, among others in the wings.
If Perez doesn’t accept the offer now, he may later lose out the spot to a Renault juniour driver. Jack Aitken has made a successful GP3 debut this year, winning the sprint race at Spa last weekend. If he continues to deliver, he would be in a prime position to join Renault in 2018 or ‘19.
Renault have already stated their intention of grooming a star driver of their own, instead of hiring an A-list figure from elsewhere.
"If there is a model I would say we are more towards that model of maybe finding the Vettel of tomorrow, growing together, maybe become champion together,'' Renault F1 chief Cyril Abiteboul told Motorsport.com.
"Buying an existing world champion, I don't think this is an absolute necessity in modern F1,'' he added.
Only a major risk will make Perez’s title ambitions a reality. No driver likes to be detained in midfield, despite clearly having the credentials for a top seat. Just ask Hulkenberg.
by Rachit Thukral