Qualifying was a weakness for Perez last year and McLaren people were hopeful they could get the best out of him on Saturdays, but their success rate in this area has been patchy. Jenson has outqualified Sergio 8-5 to date. If you eliminate anomalous performances like Perez being whole seconds off Button in Q2 in Australia thanks to a gamble on slicks, there's an average deficit of less than 0.2 second, but again this can only be described as decent, rather than great. This concerns McLaren, especially as there are those who question whether Button is still bringing his A-game, week-in, week-out, now that a) he's no longer up against a teammate of Hamilton's pace, and b) he's driving a poor car.
Then there are the question marks over Perez's ability to see the big picture during races. After a series of mishaps in the final third of the 2012 season, he came into this season with his driving on a more conservative setting (despite his aim at the championship). Then, when told by team principal Martin Whitmarsh that he needed to get more aggressive, following a dire weekend in China, Perez did as bid in Bahrain finished sixth. He squarely outperformed Button there, but getting his elbows out in the direction of his teammate did raise eyebrows, and Alonso was another left unimpressed by Perez's on-track antics.
It was a similar story a month later, in Monaco, where his race was a mix of brilliantly well-judged passing moves and a few reckless ones, too. He eventually retired after contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and even the normally unflappable Finn was moved to remark, “Maybe someone should punch him in the face.”
While Perez has not made any extreme transgressions since, there have been a few further scrapes with Button, while at Spa he was given a penalty for forcing Romain Grosjean off the track. What McLaren is asking itself is whether Perez is destined always to be a driver who fluctuates between overly conservative and overly aggressive, without ever finding the happy middle ground. He's only 23 and in his third season so cannot be expected to be quite as measured as Button, but in younger drivers you tend to seek high points and expect these to increase in number and consistency as experience grows. Perez's high points have been high (again, in the context of his machinery) but not extraordinarily high, and that, more than anything, is what is worrying McLaren.
Sergio himself accepts he needs to do better and the as-yet-unconfirmed change in his management (family friend Adrian Fernandez will no longer be involved) may be a final attempt to build a support structure that allows him to maximize his ability. Perez is acutely aware that his situation is under review, the pressure on him is intense, and this may yet bring out the best in him. If not…well, it's fair to assume McLaren's hopes of drawing sponsorship from Telmex and associated companies is less of a priority now than it was before the Honda deal was done.
If Perez were to find himself ousted, while there would be little interest from other top teams, the strong possibility of a Mexican Grand Prix and his longtime backing from Telmex would surely mean less affluent teams would welcome Sergio with open arms. But they're not where he wants to be; he knows that driving for McLaren is a rare opportunity for any racing driver.
And that dream isn't over yet. Given the team's troubles and a vastly experienced world champion as his measuring stick, Perez is roughly where most would expect him to be. Whitmarsh said in Singapore that the McLaren lineup is likely to remain unchanged for 2014, which suggests that, unless Alonso becomes unexpectedly available in the next couple of months, Sergio's seat is reasonably secure.
But 2015 is quite another matter. Whatever the competitiveness of its cars each season, McLaren has established itself as a team that can provide its drivers with a solid support system, because it has so much manpower and technical resource at its disposal. If a driver is not perceived to be using those facilities in order to fulfill his potential and improve his results on-track, then this can only be regarded as a wasted opportunity.
Given that driver-team contracts are often agreed upon (if not signed or announced) long before they come into effect, Perez probably has the remaining six races of 2013 and perhaps ten more in 2014 in which to prove worthy of what remains one of Formula 1's most desirable seats. McLaren's high standards, together with Honda's imminent return, means that mere adequacy will no longer be adequate. It's time to use it or lose it.