SAUBER team boss Peter Sauber has categorically refuted claims that a conspiracy was at the heart of yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
On a day when Scottish driver Paul di Resta finished seventh, the Swiss team missed out on a historic win by just 2.263secs as rising Mexican star Sergio Perez pushed Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso all the way to the line at the Sepang International Circuit.
At one stage on lap 40, Perez had closed to within 1.3secs, only for the team to not follow Ferrari’s lead and bring him in when the conditions demanded a change from intermediate to dry tyres.
Then, on lap 50, Perez made an error of his own when he ran wide at turn 14 as he was poised to pass Alonso after again cutting the gap to 0.5secs.
The theory was, as Sauber are powered by Ferrari engines and Perez remains a product of the Maranello marque’s young driver academy, that the 22-year-old was called to file in behind Alonso. Fuel has been added to the fire by the fact Perez’s engineer was heard over the team radio telling him “we need the position”.
Asked about the message, Sauber said: “He meant that we needed the result. It’s a misunderstanding. Behind us, all the midfield teams, our main competitors, scored points. So it was important we kept the result and not the position.”
Pressed on whether Perez had been told to stay behind Alonso, Sauber said: “No. We told him ‘be careful we need the result’.”
Sauber was quizzed on whether there had been any discussion with Ferrari, but he said: “No. 100 per cent no. 100 per cent nothing. We had no discussion about Checo (Perez) nor the position.”
It took the gloss off a stunning drive by Perez as he achieved his finest result in F1 and Sauber’s highest position since the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix when Nick Heidfeld was runner-up, and at a time when the team were heavily backed by BMW.
Perez proved himself in very tough conditions as the race was suspended for 51 minutes after nine laps due to heavy rain. In high humidity the track did not start to dry out until near the end, yet Perez managed to reel in Alonso on inters and dry tyres, only to fall short. Perez said: “I think I could have won it, definitely. I was catching Fernando toward the end of the race, but I ran wide enough to go on to the wet and I just lost control of the car, went straight and lost the fight for the victory.”
For Ferrari, the result will lift them out of the doldrums, yet Alonso maintains the win “changes nothing” given the relative uncompetitiveness of their car. “The win is a big surprise because we were not competitive in Australia, nor here,” said the Spaniard. “We are in a position we don’t want, fighting to get into Q3 and then fighting to score some points.”
Winner Down Under a week ago, team-mate Jenson Button finished 14th after a collision with HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan forced a front-wing change shortly after the restart. Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel also missed out on points as he was 11th after his own clash with Karthikeyan late on.
Di Resta’s seventh was his second best F1 drive after finishing sixth in Singapore last year.