INTERVIEW-Motor racing-Perez needs more experience, says Montezemolo

MARRAKESH, Morocco, June 1 Fri Jun 1, 2012 4:47pm BST

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MARRAKESH, Morocco, June 1 (Reuters) - Mexican Sergio Perez needs to gain more experience before any move to Ferrari can become a realistic proposition, the Italian Formula One team's president Luca di Montezemolo told Reuters on Friday.

Speaking on the sidelines of an FT luxury conference, Montezemolo said it was too early for any decision on the future of Ferrari's under-performing Brazilian Felipe Massa and spoke out also against any expansion of the calendar beyond the current 20 races.

"We never take a decision before the second half of the season," he said of Massa, who has scored just 10 points from six races while Spanish team mate Fernando Alonso is leading the championship with 76.

Perez, who drives for Ferrari-powered Sauber and finished a close second to Alonso in Malaysia in March, is already part of Ferrari's young driver programme and has been seen as a possible replacement for Massa despite being in only his second full season in the sport.

Montezemolo played down the 22-year-old's immediate prospects.

"No. Perez is a good driver but to drive a Ferrari you need more experience," he said. "I think he is one of the potential best young drivers for the future but before putting a young driver in a Ferrari I need more experience and more results."

Montezemolo said Massa, who has been at Ferrari since 2006 and was runner-up in the championship in 2008 before suffering a near-fatal head injury in 2009, had yet to be ruled out of the picture. His contract expires at the end of the year.

"I'm sure that, because we are improving our car, the car will be less difficult to drive," he said.

"And I expect from Felipe better performances as I have already seen in Monte Carlo, because in Monte Carlo he was among the five quickest drivers on the track and in the qualifiers.

"So I hope he will continue like this. At the moment we are not taking any decision yet for the future, because it is too early."

Next week's Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal will be the seventh round of what is now a 20-race championship.

A research note this week from UBS, one of the joint global co-ordinators of Formula One's now stalled $3 billion planned IPO in Singapore, spoke of an expectation that the number of races would rise to 22 by 2015.

A first Russian Grand Prix is already scheduled for Sochi in 2014 while a new race in New Jersey, with the New York skyline as a backdrop, is due next year. France is also eager to return, but in alternation with Belgium.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters this week that he was also in talks for an eventual Mexican Grand Prix while a return to Argentina has also been mooted.

Montezemolo declared any expansion beyond 20 would not be a good idea, however.

"There are too many so we have to discuss about it. I will be totally against the possibility to increase the number of races," he said. "Twenty is the super maximum possibility. I will not be prepared to accept more than 20." (Writing by Alan Baldwin, editing by Mark Meadows)

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