Tough going so far for Sergio Perez in first three races for McLaren
SAKHIR // For Sergio Perez, the heat has been on him in more ways than one this week.
The Mexican opted to wash away the disappointment of the Chinese Grand Prix by paddle-boarding in the Arabian Gulf, but despite preparing to take part in only his fourth race for McLaren-Mercedes this Sunday in Bahrain, he knows the knives are out as criticism is intensifying.
The 23 year old completed a surprise move from Sauber after only two seasons in the sport during the winter break.
After an 11th-place finish in his McLaren debut in Melbourne and a ninth-place result in Malaysia a week later, he struggled in Shanghai. Not only was he caught up in a trio of contentious incidents, which drew the wrath of his peers, he was also told by Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, to "toughen up", "be robust" and "use his elbows".
It has been, by all accounts, not the kind of start to the season he had hoped for at his new team - a marque that attracts substantially more attention than his previous - yet the flak has still surprised him.
"At McLaren, everyone is watching your performance - in every single practice session, every single race," he said Thursday.
"I find it quite amazing that after three weekends, when I had two good weekends in terms of maximising the car potential, that after one bad weekend, I received so much criticism.
"But I think this is quite normal and usual for a team like McLaren."
Part of the problem is, of course, that his teammate, 2009 world champion Jenson Button, has managed his races with far more aplomb.
McLaren may have provided a dud racing car, but Button has extracted the best from it, out-qualifying Perez at all three race weekends, finishing in the points in Australia and managing a remarkable fifth place in China.
Button was heard over his team radio last weekend asking whether to fight Lewis Hamilton or conserve his tyre performance.
Perez conceded he is still struggling to sufficiently make such judgements.
"It is difficult to know when you can be aggressive and when not," he said.
"When you are in a different strategy and mainly looking after the tyres, the worst thing you can do is fight someone next to you who is on a different strategy - two or three seconds faster than you.
"You are not fighting that guy, you are fighting someone who is behind you. It is a difficult balance to judge."
Published: April 18, 2013 04:00 AM