I'm here on merit! Perez vows to beat Button and silence critics who claim he's a 'pay driver'
15:29 GMT, 9 January 2013
15:29 GMT, 9 January 2013
Sergio Perez is determined to prove class not cash has earned him his big chance at McLaren by beating Jenson Button in his first season with his new team.
After arriving in style for his first day at work behind the wheel of a 195,000 McLaren road car, the 22-year-old Mexican insisted he is not fazed by the task of replacing Mercedes bound Lewis Hamilton.
And hitting back at claims he is a 'pay driver' who is only in Formula One thanks to the backing of billionaire countryman Carlos Slim, Perez vowed to silence the critics by seeing off the most experienced driver on the grid.
First day on the job: Perez is welcomed by his new team in Woking
'I remember my first press conference everyone asked me what it felt like to be a pay driver,' said the 22-year-old Mexican who has spent the past two seasons cutting his teeth with Sauber.
'But it took me a long time to get into Formula One. I had to make a lot of sacrifices. And I think I showed from my very first race in F1 that I was not a pay driver.
'We have to accept that these days we have to come with support. But I was a runner-up in GP2 in 2010 and won five races that year.
'It made me angry at the beginning as people didn’t realise what I had sacrificed. I had to leave my family when I was 15 and live above a restaurant in Germany. But sooner or later you learn how to deal with it.'
Far from paying for his seat this season, impressive driving which brought a trio of podium finishes for Sauber last year convinced McLaren’s powerbrokers to hand Perez a contract worth 20million over the next three seasons.
And Perez fully intends to repay that faith by taking the fight to Button – the 2009 world champion who most assume will provide McLaren with their best chance of glory in the coming campaign.
Centre of attention: Perez is planning for the forthcoming F1 season
'I think at the moment it looks like Jenson has experience, has the team,’ said Perez. 'He's a great champion – the most experienced driver in the paddock now. So I think I have a lot to learn from him. And obviously I want to beat him as well. I will be disappointed if I don’t beat him. I am here to win.'
'If you don’t expect to win you should go home. I am here to win the championship. That is the target.'
That said, Perez is adamant he should be judged on his own achievements in his first season with McLaren rather than those of Hamilton, his predecessor having come close to winning the drivers’ championship in his debut year before clinching the crown in the following campaign.
Perez said: 'I fully respect Lewis. I think he’s a great driver. Not only that but a very special personality. He’s great. I’m not here to compare myself to him. What he achieved here is incredible – he is the last world champion the team has so he has a lot of respect here. And I wish him all the best at his new team but there’s no point comparing myself to him.'
All smiles: Perez wants to beat Button
Indeed, Perez conceded he will have enough on his plate dealing with the intense spotlight that is part and parcel of being a McLaren driver.
'When you come into McLaren you realise that everyone is watching you,' he said. 'Not only the journalists watching through the window but the whole world.
'As a driver you always dream to drive for McLaren. To be here sitting down and giving my first interviews as a McLaren driver is a very special moment.
'I am quite surprised about, how warm the team is. How together the team is. From the outside it looks as if it might be a very cold team – very strict and very cold – but when I came here I was surprised at what a great family it is.
'To be part of that family is great. And if they choose me it’s because they saw I can deliver what we all want here – to win the world championship. I have to respond to the trust they put in me.'