Sauber Formula One driver Sergio Perez of Mexico speaks to journalists in the paddock ahead of the Singapore F1 Grand Prix September 20, 2012. The Singapore F1 night race will take place from September 21 to 23. REUTERS/Edgar Su (SINGAPORE - Tags: SPORT MOTORSPORT F1)

Mexican Sergio Perez will have every chance of winning races and fighting for the Formula One title when he replaces Lewis Hamilton at McLaren next season, the team said on Friday.

Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, is moving to Mercedes on a three-year deal in place of 43-year-old Michael Schumacher.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh assured reporters, in a conference call after the announcements, that Perez would have equal treatment to his new team mate and 2009 champion Jenson Button.

“I believe that Sergio will be competing to win at the season-opener in Australia next year and I think he is capable of doing that,” said Whitmarsh.

“With regards to number one status in the team, it is not how we work in our team and we will be in Australia next year with Sergio and Jenson competing for a win.”

Perez, 22, has been one of the revelations of the season.

He has scored three podium finishes in 14 races for his Swiss-based Sauber team.

He had been mentioned before Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix as a possible replacement for Hamilton but Whitmarsh said the deal was signed only in the past two days, after Hamilton made his decision.

“Our view was that Sergio is very intelligent, he is a very humble and pleasant individual. But he has clearly got the hunger,” said Whitmarsh.

“There was no fear as he has overtaken people like Fernando Alonso this year. He has got good race craft. When you speak to him you realise he is very young but that is exciting...we undoubtedly believe we can develop him into a world champion in fairly short order.”


McLaren have form over the years in bringing in young talent and turning them into winners, notably Hamilton in 2007 and Kimi Raikkonen - also from Sauber - in 2002 to replace another champion in Mika Hakkinen.

Whitmarsh said Button was looking forward to measuring himself against Perez as a team mate.

“I rang Jenson yesterday. He's in Japan. I informed him. He will miss the competition against Lewis which he enjoys but he was very excited about Sergio,” he said.

“Bear in mind that he has an involvement in management of some drivers. He believes McLaren had made the right decision with the selection of Sergio and is looking forward to working with him.”

Perez is currently a member of Ferrari's young driver academy.

He might have expected to move to the Italian team but said he was honoured to be joining McLaren.

“For more than 40 years McLaren has been a team that every racing driver has aspired to drive for - I was brought up on the great stories of Ayrton Senna's many world championship triumphs for McLaren - and I'm truly honoured that they've chosen me to partner Jenson from 2013 onwards,” he said.

Perez thanked Peter Sauber for giving him the chance to race in Formula One and McLaren for handing him the opportunity to take a big step up.

“I'm under no illusion that it is indeed a very big step - as it would be for any driver - but I'm ready for it,” he said.

“It's fantastic that all the sacrifices I've made are now paying off.”

Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo had said repeatedly that Perez was not ready to race for his team, who have Brazilian Felipe Massa out of contract at the end of the season, but Whitmarsh disagreed that the Mexican was too raw.

“I believe he is ready otherwise we would not be doing it,” he said.

“In 2006, I was sat in this office getting a lot of criticism about putting a young Lewis Hamilton into Formula One. People said there was no way he could possibly be ready.

“Sergio is young and undeveloped but it has been proven you can sculpt drivers and that will be a challenge for us.”

The Mexican's departure will now trigger a race to fill the vacancy at Sauber. - Reuters