Sauber’s Formula 1 driver Sergio Perez shows a satisfied smile when asked whether he has gained muscle tone in recent months: that is part of the training and the growth of a 22—year—old as he tackles his second season in motorsport’s top flight.

“In a way, I now have everything to be a bit more of a leader within the team and to take it in a better direction,” the Mexican told dpa in an interview during tests in the Andalusian city of Jerez de la Frontera.

This year, Perez seeks to consolidate his position at Sauber and to keep learning.

Beyond that, however, a Ferrari car appears to loom in his horizon for 2013. He belongs to the Italian brand’s driver academy, which follows his development closely.

His boss, Peter Sauber, told dpa that Perez was in for a tough season starting on Sunday in Australia, but he also stressed that the Mexican has already proved that he is fast and talented.

In comments to dpa, Sauber’s CEO Monisha Kaltenborn also highlighted Perez’s talent and the fact that he handled “very difficult situations” last year. Now, she notes, he has to keep growing as a driver and to get points in races.

“His behaviour shows that he is more mature and that he’s more professional,” Kaltenborn said.

Perez has his own interpretation.

“I feel more confident and more at ease in the team and with all the procedure there is in Formula 1,” he said to compare his current situation with that a year ago, when he was just getting started in the category.

This year seemed like eternity for him.

“It was super intense, with the accident and everything you go through. It is the longest year you live through in terms of learning, a totally different world, you have to get used to everything. And by the time you realize that, it’s over.” In 2011, Perez got 14 points. That was less than half the 30 points earned by his more experienced Japanese team—mate Kamui Kobayashi, whom Perez will seek to beat this year.

However, the Mexican’s season was marked by the May accident during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix, and his rushed, and failed, attempt to make a comeback two weeks later in Canada.

“Yes, we rushed it, but we had to try,” he says, looking back.

Time has gone by, and there are no after—effects from the crash.

Like Peter Sauber, Perez knows the second season in Formula 1 could be harder.

“It could well be, because more is expected of you. Now it’s more difficult because you probably have more pressure, but as a driver you feel more confident,” he said of the pros and cons of no longer being a rookie.

Amid the possible cons, he knows there will be less scope for indulgence.

“Obviously, people do not forgive everything, but because it’s the first year they forgive you a bit more. In the second year there is less room for mistakes. You are regarded as an experienced driver, you have to put that in practice,” he said.

Perez needs to keep proving that he is not in Formula 1 just thanks to the financial support of Mexican firms led by Telmex, the telecommunications firm owned by the world’s wealthiest man Carlos Slim.

Perez is thankful for Mexican support, and he hopes to give back some satisfaction in November, at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. Many Mexicans are expected to cross the border for the race.

“That’s the one closest to my home, and there will be lots of Mexicans. It will be very special for me,” Perez said.

When asked about the future, he keeps his mind off Ferrari and Maranello and he focuses on the present.

“I am very calm and focused on Sauber. Obviously it is motivating that people are talking about me in such a big team, but I’m realistic. It’s only rumours. My present is here, and I have to give everything here. If you don’t prove your worth on the track wherever you are, you don’t get to such a big team,” he said.

Perez knows that a potential chance in a bigger team depends on his ability to regularly rake in points for Sauber this year.

Keywords: Sergio Perez

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