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McLaren and Sergio Perez adrift in the F1 shadowlands
Perez knows he has nothing to worry about as long as Carlos Slim keeps writing a big check to McLaren
McLaren's chances of signing Fernando Alonso next season are virtually zero but if Perez interprets that as meaning he is a shoo-in to keep his place next season he is mistaken.
South of the border, down Mexico way, the story is that Sergio Perez is close to confirming another season with McLaren. In fact that is the popular notion on most of the raucous planet called Formula One. The reality is a little different. While Jenson Button's drive with the team in 2014 has been confirmed – McLaren will make an announcement about this shortly – the Woking-based team are taking a long hard look at his team-mate before confirming their lineup for next year.

McLaren's much talked about chances of signing Fernando Alonso next season are virtually zero, but if Perez interprets that as meaning he is a shoo-in to keep his place next season he is making an important misjudgment. McLaren might even turn to their rookie driver Stoffel Vandoorne to partner Button next season as they intensify their efforts to land Alonso in 2015.

These are difficult days for McLaren. The days, in truth, have become long, lean years. Their last constructors' championship was won in 1998 and they collected their last drivers' title in 2008. This year, though, they have fallen back into F1's midfield. Their struggle with Force India to secure fifth place in the constructors' table looks almost unseemly for Britain's most successful F1 team.

This is shaping up to be the first time since 2006 that they have gone through a season without winning a race. Even more damning, this could become the first season since 1980 in which they have not claimed even a podium place.

The loss of Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes at the end of last year was a major blow. But the disappointment this year – apart from their jalopy of a car – centers on Hamilton's replacement, Perez, and his lack of competitiveness. Three months ago Sam Michael, McLaren's genial sporting director, said that Perez was "stamping his authority on the sport". If that was the case Perez must have been wearing fluffy soft slippers because no one else noticed.

He is 12th in the drivers' championship, behind Force India's Adrian Sutil, and 30 points adrift of Button. It is McLaren's concerns over Perez, more than anything, which lent such credence to the link with Alonso.

When Perez arrived in Singapore this week he was asked about his future with McLaren. He said: "The contract is done but we are just finalizing the final dots. Everything is pretty much done."

Perez remains the most likely man to partner Button next year but there are still obstacles to scale. Martin Whitmarsh hinted as much when the McLaren principal said: "Sergio has a tremendous benchmark in Jenson, who is consistent, a great quality driver, a great team player and who brings a tremendous amount of benefits to our team. More at The Observer

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