Sergio Perez driving the Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 19, 2023.
© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool
F1

Sergio Pérez: F1 race-winner, national hero and trailblazer

He's now one of the sport's established stars with Oracle Red Bull Racing, but Sergio Pérez's F1 pathway is as circuitous and character-building as it gets. This is his story.
By Matt Clayton
14 min readPublished on
Sergio Pérez didn't know what he didn't know, which – in hindsight – was probably just as well. A keen and successful karter in his homeland of Mexico since he was first strapped into a kart at age six, Pérez knew what he wanted – a career in Formula One. Never mind that there hadn't been a Mexican driver at the pinnacle of world motorsport since well before he was born. Never mind that he was half a world away from F1's beating heart in Europe. Never mind that there wasn't a proven path to follow. Pérez wanted to be in F1 and that was all that mattered.

7 min

The Best Moments of Checo Pérez's F1 Career So Far

The 2023 Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix will be the 250th F1 Start for Sergio "Checo" Pérez, and all of us at Oracle Red Bull Racing are proud to be a part of 58 of those.

The roads to the highest-profile motorsport category in the world are many and varied up and down the 20-driver grid, and while many have come a long way, few have come from further than Pérez.
Little wonder that now, well over a decade into an F1 career that has seen him achieve success, fame and rewards beyond his wildest imagination, he can pause F1's incessant focus on the now and reflect back to where it all began. "No matter how crazy your dream sounds, it can definitely be possible," he says.
Pérez's career is testament to that, but how did he get from ambitious kid to F1 frontrunner? Let's fill in the gaps.
01

The beginnings

An image of Sergio Pérez sat in his Sauber F1 Team car.

The destination was always F1

© Getty Images

Every F1 driver gets their feet wet in karting. It's a rite of passage and Sergio Pérez was no different. As the youngest of three children of Antonio and Marilu growing up in Guadalajara, Checo was competing in his native Mexico as a six-year-old. He was often the youngest in each category he raced and usually one of the smallest as the karts got bigger, faster and more powerful. And while he won – early and often – some of his strongest memories are of karting being a family activity and the endless car rides to get from one place to the next.
"I was traveling all around Mexico with my dad and my brother, every city one race after the other," he remembered in a late 2021 interview with Oracle Red Bull Racing. "After the race we had to drive back home, sometimes a 10-hour drive. I would sleep in the car in my uniform to go to school. It's funny to think back that on Monday mornings my dad would always have to drive me back to school."
Karting success locally was one thing, but young Checo's ambitions lay far beyond Mexican shores.
"My older brother was racing in Formula Ford in the UK and I saw the level of competitiveness they had in Europe. I knew that if I wanted to make it into Formula One, then I'd have to go to Europe," he says.
Sounds simple, in theory. In practice? Not so much. But Pérez's naivety, combined with his tenacity, was more help than hindrance.
02

Taking the plunge

In those days, Checo was backed by Mexican magnate Carlos Slim for his karting pursuits, but Europe was a red flag. "He didn't want to do the jump into Europe because he thought I was too young," Pérez remembers. So Checo did what Checo has done since and took control. Never mind that he was 14 and never mind that his parents' phone bill was about to go through the roof.
"I just went onto the BMW website, found all the team contact details and I emailed them all to try to convince them to take me because I was a very good Mexican driver," he recalls.
"It was pretty funny because of the time difference with Mexico, I had to wake up at three or four in the morning to make phone calls. My parents were going mad at me because the (phone) bill was very expensive! In the end, I got a proposal from all the teams, but they were all too expensive. Then, all of a sudden, I found one that was very attractive, very cheap."
An image of Sergio ‘Checo’ Pérez driving an F1 car.

The path to F1 was not straightforward

© Getty Images

Barely 15 years old, Pérez arrived in Munich, Germany, in 2005 on a one-way ticket, no winter wardrobe, little intel of where to stay and less of an idea of what would happen next. He lived in a truck-stop hotel for a time and then a restaurant. But he had a ride with the 4speed Media team and that was all he needed to know.
"It was two mechanics and my engineer," he remembers. "They didn't speak much English and I didn't speak much English either, so we could hardly communicate to each other. Our first race, we were such a small team and only one car. Everyone was looking at us wondering 'what are you guys doing here?'
It was a question Checo often asked himself. Yes, he was close to F1's epicenter, but he was still a million miles away
03

Digging in

Two seasons in the Formula BMW ADAC series brought the occasional podium result and a chance to race at revered German circuits like the Nurburgring and Hockenheim, but they were intermittent distractions from the day-to-day. By 2006, there was a fork in the road. The old adage that adversity reveals character rather than building it? Without knowing it, Pérez had decided to live it.
An image of Sergio ‘Checo’ Pérez driving a Sauber F1 Team car.

Dreaming of the big time kept Pérez in the game

© Getty Images

"The racing wasn't going so well and I was too lonely. The life outside of the racing was very difficult," he remembers. "That really brought my performance down a lot. I was like, 'maybe I should just go back home and keep on with my studies'. But on the other side I was thinking, 'no, I can't give up. If I return to Mexico I'll never come back. Maybe it's worth giving everything and fight for it and try to make it.'"
It's a sentiment that could be applied to any of the various stages of his F1 career, which we'll get to. But for a 16-year-old to come to that decision and tread the path less travelled was a trait that held him in good stead – and came with a payoff...
04

The path to F1 presents itself

The 2006 season, where Pérez finished sixth overall in the Formula BMW ADAC series, was pivotal. Not because of the results themselves, as Pérez notes, but for what they unlocked.
"I knew if I did well in the season, I maybe get an opportunity with a bigger team," he remembers. "I called Carlos (Slim) and I could see they were motivated as well. They sent me to British F3 for 2007 and everything just changed. I came into a fantastic team, I had a trainer and they just made me a much better driver. Now it was getting serious, I was just like the other drivers."
Better? Yes. Like the others? Not quite. Checo won 14 of 21 races in the National Class of the 2007 British Formula 3 International Series to win the title at a canter and the GP2 Asia series beckoned.
Sergio Pérez celebrates his 2nd place win at the  2012 Italian Grand Prix.

Sergio Pérez celebrates his 2nd place win at the 2012 Italian Grand Prix.

© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Wins in 2008-9 saw a promotion to the 2010 GP2 Series proper (now Formula 2), which featured 10 drivers who would eventually make it to F1. In a crack lineup of future stars, Pérez finished as series runner-up to future F1 race-winner Pastor Maldonado.
Six years after arriving in Europe as a kid with a big dream and little knowledge of how to fulfill it, Checo was set for Formula One.
05

Starting out, then a stumble

Signing a contract to become part of Ferrari's driver academy in late 2010, Pérez made his F1 debut for the Ferrari-powered Sauber team in Australia in 2011. He finished in the points in seventh place after a tire-saving masterclass in Melbourne, before his car was disqualified for breaching a technical regulation.
An image of Sergio ‘Checo’ Pérez answering questions at an F1 press conference.

The spotlight starts to shine on Checo

© Getty Images

His rookie season was one of flashes interspersed with speed bumps. He missed two races with concussion symptoms after a heavy crash in Monaco and while a best result of seventh came at Silverstone, arguably a bigger day came when he tested a 2009 Ferrari car in September, another 'pinch-me' moment.
2012 was when Pérez really kicked on, coming close to winning in Malaysia as he hunted down two-time world champion Fernando Alonso in the closing laps, before settling for second and his maiden F1 podium. Further podiums in Montreal and Monza saw him finish in the top 10 in the championship, before an even bigger break presented itself. Lewis Hamilton was leaving McLaren after six seasons and the British powerhouse tabbed the 22-year-old as his replacement to partner Jenson Button.
It was an incredible opportunity on the surface – McLaren had won seven Grands Prix in 2012 – but 2013 began a downturn that has seen the team win just one race since. Pérez fared worse for McLaren than he had at Sauber and inked a contract with the Force India team for 2014 to partner German Nico Hulkenberg, winner of the Formula BMW ADAC series way back in 2005 when Checo first came to Europe.
06

Mr Reliable

An image of Sergio ‘Checo’ Pérez celebrating an F1 podium finish.

A regular face on the podium

© Getty Images

Checo spent seven seasons at a team that changed its name and ownership structure multiple times in that period and since – for the uninitiated, the Force India of then is today's Aston Martin. But as owners, backers and team-mates (Hulkenberg, Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll) came and went, Pérez was one of the most reliable storylines in the sport for that entire span.
On the podium in just his third race with the team, in 2014 in Bahrain, the Force India iteration of Pérez was always there. Every year, he finished in the top 10 in the championship. Every year, he'd sneak a podium or two against the odds. Every year, he got more out of a car than logic and budget suggested, with his ability to preserve Pirelli's fragile tires in races better than his rivals.
In a period where Mercedes did most of the winning, Pérez was always in the box seat to annex an over-achieving result with his combination of a sure hand and a soft touch that didn't overstress the machinery at his disposal.
By 2020, when the season eventually got started in July after being paused for the pandemic, Pérez's F1 story looked written. He was 30, had a bunch of podiums on his CV and his popularity was such that the Mexican Grand Prix – off the calendar since the early 1990s before returning in 2015 – was now one of the most popular events on F1's schedule.
His legacy, had things topped out there, was assured. But then, as has happened so often with Pérez, adversity arose... and opportunity knocked.
07

The result that changed everything

Sergio ‘Checo’ Pérez wins the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix.

That winning feeling

© Getty Images

That F1 was still racing in early December in the 2020 season – and having a second race at the Sakhir Circuit in Bahrain within seven days – was a by-product of the pandemic-curtailed calendar. Sakhir's outer loop, never used for F1 before or since, was deployed just to get the season to 17 Grands Prix. It was an unprecedented set of circumstances that provided the backdrop to a moment that changed Checo's career.
Rewind two months and the continuation of that career looked clouded. With Racing Point (nee Force India) now owned by Canadian businessman Lawrence Stroll and being rebranded as Aston Martin for 2021. Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel signed on and with team-mate Lance Stroll's father paying the team's bills, Pérez was the driver who became surplus to requirements.
Sergio Perez as seen at the Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain in 2020.

The first of Perez's six F1 Grand Prix wins

© BWT Racing Point F1 Team

Sakhir was the penultimate race of the season and Pérez didn't have a job for the following year. 'Nothing to lose' doesn’t even begin to describe his predicament.
Buffeted off the track on the first lap by Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, Pérez rejoined in his battered Racing Point machine with fresh tires and a steely focus. Fast-forward 86 laps and Pérez became a Grand Prix winner, taking the first victory for his team and becoming the driver with the most starts in F1 history (190) before achieving their maiden success.
His visage on the top step of the podium that night was one that mixed elation and disbelief in equal measure.
"I'm almost afraid to get too excited in case I'm dreaming," he beamed after becoming the first Mexican to win in F1 since Pedro Rodriguez in 1970. "I will never forget the moment of seeing the Mexican flag on the podium, it was an incredible moment for me and my family. I was crying behind the wheel and speechless for a while."
Two weeks later came a call that felt like another dream, but was just as real. Oracle Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner was on the phone and threw Checo a career lifeline at a team that had already won four world titles. Christmas presents don't come much better.
08

A key contributor

Sergio Pérez of Mexico driving the Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 26, 2021.

Sergio Pérez impressed on his debut for Red Bull Racing Honda in Bahrain

© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

The 2021 season was one where F1's long-standing suite of regulations were on their last lap and, as is so often the case with a mature F1 rule set, the field compressed. Mercedes's mastery of the V6 turbo hybrid era was being tested by a resurgent Red Bull Racing.
With Max Verstappen going toe-to-toe with Hamilton for a world title that would be settled in the Dutchman's favor after a dramatic Abu Dhabi finale, Pérez proved he belonged at the sharp end.
A maiden win for the team came in Azerbaijan, while he set single-season bests in podiums (five), fastest laps (two), points (190) and championship position (fourth, equal with 2020) at age 31 and in his 11th campaign.
Sergio Perez of Mexico crosses the finish line to win at the F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at Baku City Circuit on June 06, 2021 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Paying back Red Bull Racing's faith in him with a first win in team colours

© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Race winner Sergio Perez of Mexico celebrates with Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner after the F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at Baku City Circuit on June 06, 2021 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Celebrating with Team Principal Christain Horner

© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

While Verstappen prevailed in a last-lap showdown for the crown at Yas Marina, Pérez proved to be the perfect team player when he raced Hamilton hard at a crucial period in the first half of that race, allowing his team-mate to stay in the fight. "Checo is a legend!" Verstappen gushed over the team radio, with Pérez putting a new spin on the 'Minster of Defence' nickname that was bestowed upon him when asked about Abu Dhabi 2021 by this author the following year.
"I'd prefer the Minister of Attack," he laughed. "But I certainly feel I'm fair – I'm very aggressive, but I always normally give good space. I feel I'm someone you can race with and I think that's quite enjoyable. There are not many drivers out there you can go wheel-to-wheel with."
09

Raising his game

Oracle Red Bull Racing's RB18 propelled Verstappen to a second world title in 2022, but Pérez himself went to career-best levels. Assured victories at F1's most iconic old and new-school street tracks – Monaco and Singapore – were testament to his quality and further proof that his 'ultimate street fighter' reputation was entirely appropriate.
A first F1 pole position – in his 215th start, setting another record – came in Saudi Arabia, while 305 points and 11 podiums dwarfed the best he'd managed in one year as he finished third in the Drivers' Championship.
Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing walks to the grid prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on September 24, 2023 in Suzuka, Japan.

Checo gets his game face on

© Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Then there was the big one, for a driver so big on 'team': combining with Verstappen to secure Red Bull Racing's first Constructors' Championship triumph in nine years at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas was sweet for both drivers as well as Horner, the only team principal in Red Bull Racing's F1 history.
"It's been such a journey," Horner said. "We've had the tough years, we've had to keep picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off. The hard work, the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this – this one means the world to us."
10

A 'crazy' journey continues

With an Oracle Red Bull Racing contract in his pocket until the end of the 2024 season, by which time he'll be well entrenched inside the top 10 of all-time Formula One race starts, Pérez's immediate future is assured.
A kid sleeping in his school uniform after being driven through the night by his dad just to get to class seems like a story that happened to someone else, but Checo has never forgotten where he came from, those who have been there from day one and the gravity of what he's achieved.

8 min

Pérez's Nevada night out

What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. Relive an epic night with Formula One driver Sergio Pérez.

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It's a journey that's nowhere near the checkered flag, but one that nonetheless demands reflection.
"No-one told me how to really do things, it was all on my own," he told The Players' Tribune in 2023, reminiscing on his pathway. "It's unbelievable for a 14-year-old to think all of this. I just feel it was such an advantage, because I was a 14-year-old but I was thinking like a 30-year-old.
"You look back and take a moment to reflect on what you've done, how far you've come. I've been extremely lucky to have such a good career in Formula One. It just started from a crazy project from a crazy kid, ringing people at four in the morning, not speaking English.
"I'm just extremely proud of that kid."

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