Sergio Perez, T-Sport, British F3, 2008

Sergio Perez’s Route to F1

Route to F1

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One of Sergio Perez’s first team bosses described him as “totally unprofessional”. But Perez has refined his craft and now has five Formula One podiums to his name, the most recent coming just last weekend.

He is now set to become only the third Mexican driver to compete at his home event when F1 heads to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City later this month. Here’s how Perez made his way into Formula One.

Perez made his start in karting in 1996, four years after Mexico held its last round of the Formula One world championship. The six-year-old from Guadalajara’s motor racing achievements would eventually help bring about F1’s return to the Mexico City circuit.

Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg, Chris van der Drift, Formula BMW, Hockenheimring, 2005
On the podium with Hulkenberg in 2005
That lay well in the future when Perez headed to the USA to make an early graduation to full racing cars. His success in karting had bought him to the attention of Mexican telecommunications giant Telmex, who placed the 14-year-old in the Skip Barber National championship. Despite missing six races, he claimed rookie of the year honours, and Telmex decided to continue his racing education in Europe.

Although he finished on the podium in only his second race, Perez was still very much a rough diamond at this point. In a recent interview Peter Mucke, one of Perez’s first team principals, described the youngster’s approach as “totally unprofessional” during his Formula BMW years.

But his results steadily improved. At the end of 2006, aged 16 and with two years of Formula BMW behind him, Perez finished sixth in the championship, albeit without having won a race.

He was involved in a bizarre incident at the Norisring that year which began when he tangled with Sebastian Saavedra. His stationary rival then tried to resume his race by driving up onto Perez’s car:

Sergio Perez, T-Sport, British F3, 2007
Perez was British F3 National class champion in 2007
Perez gained more useful track time – some of it on Formula One circuits – as a practice driver for Mexico’s A1 Grand Prix team during the 2006-07 season. He made his sole appearance as a race driver at Shanghai, finishing well down the classification on the weekend which saw his future Force India team mate Nico Hulkenberg clinch the championship for Germany.

For 2007 Perez switched bases to the UK where he contested the younger National class of the British Formula Three championship. He won the championship against a less-than-stellar field, but this set him up well for a tilt at the main title the following year.

Sticking with the same T-Sport team but now in an up-to-date chassis, Perez was up against Carlin’s Oliver Turvey and the Red Bull-backed Jaime Alguersuari. In a stellar year, all three drivers arrived at the final double-header with a chance of winning the championship.

Perez was up to speed quickly, taking a maiden victory for himself and his team in the third race at Croft. However in the following race he tangled with future F1 rival Marcus Ericsson, triggering a major crash:

From there the championship moved on to Monza where Perez produced the performance of the season. Despite qualifying 14th for both races he romped through the field twice in tricky conditions to claim a pair of victories:

Sergio Perez, T-Sport, British F3, Monza, 2007
Two wins from 14th at Monza boosted 2008 F3 title bid
These disciplined performances showed Perez was finding the maturity to match his speed. It also propelled him into a healthy points lead, but the team were rarely as competitive again throughout the rest of the year.

He kept pace with eventual champion Alguersuari until a disastrous weekend on the streets of Bucharest. A blown engine in the first race torpedoed his title hopes, and a collision with Max Chilton in the second all-but finished them off.

The time had come for Perez to move up another level, and for 2009 Telmex backed his move into F1’s leading feeder series, GP2. A pair of wins in the 2008-09 GP2 Asia series showed he was immediately comfortable with the increased power of the first-generation GP2 machine.

However in the main series the teams were getting to grips with the second-generation car. While fellow rookie Hulkenberg won the championship with ART, Perez took longer to settle in with Arden and only scored his first points in the seventh race of the year at Silverstone.

Perez was on a clear upward trajectory in the second half of the season, however. He stood on the podium after both races at Valencia, taking second from sixth on the grid in the sprint race following this first-corner collision:

Sergio Perez, GP2, Addax, Monaco, 2010
Perez took his first GP2 win at Monaco
Perez returned to the championship the following year and made a strong bid for the championship against Pastor Maldonado – a considerably more experienced rival in his fourth year of GP2 prior to which he’d also spent two seasons in Formula Renault 3.5.

Perez kick-started his title bid at Monaco where he beat pole sitter Dani Clos away from the line to claim his maiden GP2 victory. He left the principality with a slender lead over Maldonado in the standings. But what started out as a promising weekend in Valencia turned sour: having started from pole position he was hit by Davide Valsecchi and finished out of the points.

Four consecutive podiums including a pair of wins at mid-season kept up the pressures on Maldonado. But even after a fourth win at Spa the pair were separated by 17 points, and Maldonado was poised to clinch the championship at Monza.

The title was decided in a rather unsatisfactory fashion as both drivers crashed out of both races. Maldonado hit Romain Grosjean in the first race while Perez tangled with Michael Herck:

Perez’s slim title hopes came to an end in the sprint race when he went off at Parabolica, triggering a crash which also claimed Maldonado.

He made amends for that with his fifth victory of the year in Abu Dhabi, securing his grasp on the runner-up spot in the championship. That brought him to the attention of Peter Sauber, who promoted Perez to F1 in 2011. Later that year he returned to his home town where over 150,000 fans assembled to greet Mexico’s first Formula One driver for three decades. Expect another massive turnout for him when F1 returns to Mexico at the end of the month.

Sergio Perez, Sauber, Guadalajara, 2011
Perez was mobbed when he drove an F1 car at home in Guadalajara four years ago

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 23 comments on “Sergio Perez’s Route to F1”

    1. That clip of Saavedra and Perez, what was Saavedra’s trying to do?! Never seen anything like it. His car mounts on top of Perez’s car, close to the latter’s head, and he still spins the wheels trying to drive off?? Over Perez’s head?! A life ban, surely?

      1. WoW That’s crazy! He’s driving IndyCar btw.

        1. The side-on view (after 3:12 on the video) shows just how scary a moment that was. Admittedly Perez caused the initial contact but what Saavedra did afterwards was appalling.

          The classification for the race shows both drivers were disqualified but I don’t have any further information on the stewards’ verdict on the collision. Can anyone fill in that blank?

          And yes, Saavedra has since gone on to race in IndyCar with even more spectacular results.

          1. @keithcollantine The first contact is on Saavedra. Extreme blocking led to that.
            It’s interesting to see that Perez at the last moment turned on Saavedra to cause a spin and then rammed his car and finally sarcastically clapped Saavedra. Saavedra’s answer is surreal. I agree with Simon, I would apply civil laws and put the man in jail.

        2. Yeah, I did see he’s still allowed near a racing circuit! The red mist totally descended, he even hurled his wheel at Perez afterwards. Though Perez did seem to kick it all off, pushing his car around dodgem-style.

      2. I Couldn’t believe that the first time I saw it, never mind being banned from racing, I don’t know how he wasn’t investigated for attempted murder! He quite blatantly decided to use his car as a deadly weapon.

        1. Fun apart, it seems intent of murder, since Perez is being sarcastic applauding and that seems to get Saveedra mad.

        2. Exactly this. The guy had no intention to “resume his race”, he clearly wanted to KILL Perez, just because the latter spun him out! Are we freaking serious here? No court for attempted murder, no racing and road driving life ban, not even a FREAKING STEWARTS INVESTIGATION!!! All of a sudden, Pastor seems like a baby playing and fooling around.

          ARE. WE. SERIOUS???
          Thank god Checo’s fine.

          1. And has a better future as F1 driver.

      3. Fortunately, the DW12 is unable to doing these kind of stunt.

    2. I remember watching an interview with Jo Ramírez just a couple of months ago where he described how no one liked him in Mclaren and they wanted to get rid of him, apparently he was still “unprofessional” (read lazy) even at that point of his career, granted there’s still bad blood between those two so who knows if that’s completely true. But he did admit that he’s improving a lot lately in FI.

      Anyway, reading this article it seems clear that Pérez is always a bit slow to settle to a new series or even a new team but after one season he does pretty well actually, he beat Kobayashi in his second year in Sauber and is doing the same to Hulk right now.

      1. @mantresx
        Yeah I feel like he’s steadily improved year-on-year, which is quite unusual. To begin with I wasn’t a fan of his because he was quite error prone, but he’s largely cut the crashes out at this point, and no one seems to be able to match his ability to run long tyre stints. I think with FI he’s found a good match for his talent too, it would be nice if he could pick up their maiden win somewhere down the line.

      2. He admitted he didn’t handled his McLaren days very well, but it seems he learned his lesson and its doing a great job in FI…. Sadly another shot at a top team seems unlikely..

        1. @joac21 well at least no full regrets I guess. McL was already only a midfield team by the time Checo arrived.

    3. Perez deserves a proper shot at a top team, he’s spent 5 years in midfield teams already (yes, McLaren have been consistently midfield ever since Paddy Lowe left them). I want to see him in a proper top car and what he can do.

      He has his occasional moments of brilliance where he can easily match anyone (Malaysia 2012, Monza 2012, Bahrain 2014). These kind of “explosive” drives would be even more entertaining to watch in a top car.

      1. @kingshark It’s amazing that Perez has driven for Sauber, Force India and McLaren and scored multiple podium finishes for two of those teams… and the odd one out is McLaren!

    4. Perez does owe his established F1 career to his Telmex backing, his junior career notably transects those of drivers who looked to be similarly talented but never got the same opportunity. Oliver Turvey, Álvaro Parente and especially Esteban Guerrieri would be good examples.

      However unlike his GP2 championship rival, Checo has done a tremendous job of justifying his place in F1 – the fact that he currently heads his esteemed teammate in the points is remarkable considering Checo managed less than a quarter of Hulkenberg’s 2009 GP2 winning tally.

    5. That F3 livery looks like how a car would be of F1Fanatic would sponsor a team.

      1. A splash more green maybe, but they’re on the right lines…

    6. shoutout to Checo!

    7. Showing that a good financial backing alongside some talent is still better than being in a junior program. (except that of RB)

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