From the scrapheap to hot commodity: Sergio Perez on 2017 and the fickle nature of F1

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A lot has changed for Sergio Perez in three years. Consigned to F1's scrapheap by McLaren three years ago, the Mexican driver has become one of the hottest commodities on the grid having revived his career at Force India.

His career turnaround has been so significant that he has been a major player in this year's driver market, even if he had a contract with Force India all along. Perez's unwillingness to publicly commit to another year came as his sponsors explored other options up and down the grid -- notably Williams and Renault. In Monza he said he had decided on what he wanted to do, and that it was "what I always wanted".

Speaking about his decision, Perez told ESPN: "It's not easy, especially not knowing where you're going to be in the future and so on. It's your career and you keep asking a lot of questions to yourself - can it be better, or worse? But I'm happy with my decision and I know it's the best one for my career."

The decision is expected to be another season at Force India -- putting Perez into an enviable position. That year will give him time to assess the lie of the land under 2017's big regulation changes at a team which continues to move up the pecking order and, as many observers have noted, put him in prime position for a 2018 seat at Ferrari without potentially damaging his current standing at a Renault team with no guarantees of being truly competitive next season.

Flavour of the month

Formula One can be a fickle business, something Perez encapsulates better than most of his peers on the grid. Dropped by McLaren after one disappointing campaign in 2013, a career full of so much promise and potential seemed to have stalled prematurely.

Vijay Mallya saved Perez's career in 2014, signing the driver who had been so impressive at Sauber in 2012. He scored a podium apiece in 2014 and 2015, but still seemed to be firmly in the shadow of Force India teammate Nico Hulkenberg -- who won the Le Mans 24 Hours for Porsche last season.

The 2016 campaign has changed all that. His podiums in Monaco and Baku are among the best drives of the season, a glimpse of what might have been had his first year at McLaren not coincided with the team's first year without a top three finish since 1980.

Asked if there was value in being "flavour of the month" in F1 when it came to the driver market, he said: "That's the case, definitely. It's a funny sport. But it's Formula One, you are racing against the best. We are 22, but there's probably ten of us who are a really competing on a very close level of racing.

"Only one tenth would separate us, you know, in those top ten drivers in the paddock. So it's not easy to stay here and carve out a long career. You have to work hard and give yourself a chance to work the best. If you don't perform quick enough you may not survive; it's very rare that people survive in Formula One without the results. I didn't have the results at McLaren and I didn't stay. I have the results now and people think differently of you - it's just the way the game works."

For Perez, McLaren's treatment of him in 2013 has played a big part in his career resurgence at Force India.

"I've grown so much after my McLaren period, that's been important in my career. I had a tough time there and managed to overcome those problems at McLaren. It was close to finishing me very early on in my career. So it was great to be able to come back stronger... what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That's what McLaren did to me, my time at McLaren, it just made me grow as a racing driver, as a person, right now I'm much more complete."

Right place, right time

Perez's own teammate is a good example of this changing nature of F1 driver perceptions. After winning the Le Mans last year, Hulkenberg's name was among those mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari along with Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo. Perez, who was part of the Ferrari Academy until leaving for McLaren in 2013, was never a part of the conversation.

Though a long shot for the Ferrari drive in 2016, Hulkenberg has frequently had to field questions about whether his best chance at a big move has passed him by. Despite being highly rated in the paddock the German is still waiting to stand on an F1 podium, something which has further magnified Perez's own success in the last three seasons.

But Perez thinks the constant pressure of thinking about big drives is something which can hurt a driver and says it is something he has had to learn to ignore.

"When I was a bit younger I used to be obsessed with that, what would be available and what would not, and not enjoy so much the moment. Right now I'm so bothered at all. My main focus is to enjoy the present... now I always know what I'm doing next year I try to enjoy the moment, you know? In life, it changes all the time, so the most important thing is to enjoy the present."

Asked if that obsession affected his driving when he was at McLaren in 2013, he said: "It wasn't that, but there's a lot of pressure, very big pressure. You feel that maybe you might be out of the business, you might have missed your big chance... what you have to do is just get on with your job, enjoy it and remember how lucky you are to be part of this life. That's it, enjoy life and get on with it."

In the hands of sponsors

His sponsors played a key role in the uncertainty around his future. The Mexican group of businesses have been with him since the start of his career and control his destiny, in conjunction with Perez's wishes. But Perez denies it is a case of business over passion when deciding his future - both he and his backers want to one day land in a car capable of winning a world championship.

"At the end of the day everything is down to the results, and results is the passion that drives us. The sponsors are here because they want to win with me, they have big ambitions, that's why we decide together. I'm lucky to have sponsors who understand the sport and that's why it's great we can decide together.

"It's important sponsors are happy and they're willing to support the project - and they are [for his 2017 decision]. I'm very happy because things are going in the right direction."

A move to Renault or Williams in 2017 would have been uncertain, while staying at Force India would see him remain at a team pushing hard to finish fourth in this year's constructors' championship.

When asked if Force India could maintain this year's impressive form in 2017, and therefore cope with splitting resources this year, Perez hinted at his final decision, saying: "No, I don't think so, I think we are going up. This team is going to keep improving and that's why it's a great place to be..."