A competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest. That is the definition of "underdog" according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and when an underdog and Formula 1 are mentioned together in the same sentence, my ears prick up immediately. We are currently living through a golden era in Formula 1 - never has the field been so competitive and reliable that the top 10 finishing positions (and the only point-scoring positions) are normally taken by drivers from McLaren, RedBull Racing, Ferrari and Mercedes leaving the small points for the mid-field.
Whilst this has left to some incredibly close racing it has meant that those teams and drivers at the back of the field seem rooted to that end of the grid more than ever. Back in the 1980s and 90s the attrition rate for cars in races was extremely high - engines failing, mechanical and electrical reliability was poor and even lower skilled drivers. These factors enabled teams at the back end of the grid to have their day in the sun more than once. For example, in the 1995 Australian Grand Prix only eight of the 24 starters finished the race with second placed Olivier Panis in a Ligier and Gianni Morbidelli in a Footwork - two teams who scored the bulk of their season haul of points at that race. Similarly, the following year at Monaco in 1996 Olivier Panis, still in a Ligier won that day when only seven drivers finished, and in 1998 at Spa Damon Hill won in a Jordan when only 8 drivers classified finishing at the end. In contrast, today's super reliable cars showed in 2011 most races had greater than 85% entrants finishing, and even one at the European Grand Prix had all 24 drivers finish.
So when Sergio Perez in his Sauber was hunting down Ferrari's Fernando Alonso on Sunday in Malaysia for the lead in the dying laps, I was screaming at the television hoping that the underdog would win that day. Sadly is was not to be - Perez finished still a very impressive second place but reminded me of F1 from yesteryear, but did give me that hope that 2012's underdogs will one day have their time in the spotlight.
In 2010 F1 welcomed three new teams to the sport: Team Lotus-Cosworth, (now Caterham-Renault), Virgin-Cosworth) now Marussia-Cosworth) and HRT-Cosworth (HRT stands for Hispania Racing Team...I know, bad choice of initials). To date, they still have not scored a single World Championship point. Some people ask why they are even in the sport - even Bernie Ecclestone has questioned that on numerous occasions, and Luca Di Montezemolo (Chairman, Ferrari) has suggested in the past that the top seven teams run three cars instead.
But there are also those who admire the determination of these three teams. Despite Ferrari's success on Sunday, I somehow doubt Luca would want six other teams fielding cars far better than what Ferrari can design in 2012...I wonder if he is eating those words now. Even the fans of the sport who on social media outlets and on forums easily slate these minnows being in the elite of motorsport, winning is not everything in F1 - unless of course your name is Ron Dennis (CEO, McLaren Group) who has said in the past that finishing second is the first of the losers. But regardless, if Caterham, Marussia or HRT finish in the top 10 of one race this year, to them, that will be like winning a race and the motorsport romantic in me will get a great kick from seeing them get that first point - and I am sure everyone else will.
So, congratulations Sergio Perez! It was great to see a new face on the podium, and it is a good story for Formula One. I expect the next time we hear the name Sergio Perez in the headlines will be his announcement as the new teammate to Fernando Alonso - and I look forward to the next great underdog story from Formula One.Suggest a correction