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The Likely Lads



31 MAR - 03 APR 2016

That was the title of a hugely popular UK sitcom some years back – but it applies to at least three of the young men on the F1 grid in 2013 who represent the sport’s ‘Generation Next’.

Sergio Perez: ‘The Biggest Challenge Is To Win'

He’s too immature to be in a top team – or is he? Ferrari’s Luca di Montezemolo said so, but McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh has taken a punt on the 23-year-old Mexican even though he concedes there are edges that still need to be smoothed.

Curiously, Perez’s early-season form of 2012 – remember his thrilling pursuit of Alonso at Sepang? – deserted him as soon as the announcement of his switch from Sauber had been made.

But he ended the year with three podiums in Malaysia, Canada and Monza, with his Montreal performance probably the highlight of his year, along with a fastest lap in Monaco.

Too often, though, the cameras caught him gesticulating frantically at other drivers when the going got a little too rough for his liking and that’s a trait ‘Checo’ will need to get rid of as he settles in alongside super-smooth Jenson Button.

There’s no lack of confidence: he has already said that in his first year as a Woking driver “the biggest challenge is to win”.

“I think definitely when you come into McLaren you are expected to win every race because you are in the best team,” he said. “And if you are not winning, there is something wrong.”

The last time a Mexican won in F1 was in Belgium in 1970, when Pedro Rodriguez starred for BRM: can former GP2 runner-up Perez, who was 10th overall last year, bridge that wide gap?

Nico Hulkenberg: Stealing A March

For much of 2012 Scotland’s Paul di Resta was the Force India driver being mentioned in high places, but in the end 25-year-old Hülkenberg is the one who has moved on.

Whether a move to Sauber represents a rise through the ranks remains to be seen, but the Swiss team and CEO Monisha Kaltenberg are determined to build on a 2012 season in which they frequently punched above their weight.

Nico finished the season in 11th place, just one shy of former Sauber star Perez, and broke into the inner circle of F1 statistics with his first fastest lap in Singapore.

This will be the third season of a Grand Prix career that started in 2010 with Williams, for whom he took pole position in Brazil that season.

That wasn't enough to keep him there, so Hülkenberg bravely gave up a race seat to be Force India’s test driver in 2011 and earned his return to the grid in 2012.

Former F3 Euroseries and GP2 title-winner Hülkenberg has yet to enjoy his first visit to an F1 podium, though he came close last season with a best result of fourth at Spa-Francorchamps – one of an impressive 11 finishes in the top 10.

Pastor Maldonado: 'A New Era Of Success'

You would think a race win would be a guarantee of a high placing in the Drivers’ World Championship but even success in Barcelona couldn’t help the 27-year-old Venezuelan to finish better than 15th last year.

That’s because he only scored points on four other occasions, and the first of those didn’t come until Japan – 10 races after that memorable day in Barcelona. That’s why Pastor finished the year with just 45 points altogether, but he is planning to change that this time around.

“I feel that Williams is close to making a real breakthrough,” he said when his re-signing was announced, “and I want to be part of a new era of success.”

Pole position and victory in Spain last season was a start – no Williams driver had come first since Juan Pablo Montoya back in 2004, and none of Sir Frank’s charges has won the world title since Jacques Villeneuve way back in 1997.

Going into his third F1 season, Maldonado will need first of all to eliminate the dark side of his on-track character. Last year he almost wore out his racing shoes on his way to and from the stewards’ room, earning a succession of reprimands for erratic and often controversial behaviour.

Perhaps the arrival of thrilling young talent Bottas in the other Williams will help bad boy Maldonado – a former GP2 champion – to remember how good he really can be.

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