Image Credit REUTERS, Story By Alan Baldwin Reuters
Sergio Perez was living the dream on Sunday after becoming the first Mexican Formula One driver to stand on the podium at his home race.
The 31-year-old Red Bull driver, who was looking for a job only a year ago, also wrote history as the first Mexican to lead at home before finishing third in a race won by team mate Max Verstappen.
With 138,435 fans packed into Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, and mostly there for the home hero, ‘Checo’ celebrated his third podium in three races – a first in his career.
“It’s an unbelievable day,” said the Mexican after chasing Mercedes’ seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton to the chequered flag.
“Being on the podium at your home Grand Prix is something very special. Obviously I wanted more, I wanted to win the race and obviously to finish one-two for the team would have been amazing, you know.
“We are such competitive persons that if we finish third, we really, really don’t enjoy it but today is one of those days that I must enjoy because of the crowd and seeing so many people so happy.”
Perez’s face has been on advertising hoardings around the city, the man of the moment on his return as a winner for the first time and to a circuit that was unable to host a grand prix last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A year ago he was talking about taking a sabbatical after being told by Racing Point, now Aston Martin, that his seat was going to four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel and running out of alternatives.
Then he won in Bahrain last December and was signed by Red Bull who needed an experienced and consistent driver to boost their challenge for the title and serve as a loyal sidekick to Verstappen.
Winning in Azerbaijan in June, after Verstappen had crashed out while leading, Perez has stepped up just when Red Bull most needed it.
The Mexican had never previously finished higher than seventh at home but he had also never had a car capable of winning.
“Checo has found his form in the last three or four races and that’s just presenting us with so many more options,” commented team boss Christian Horner, whose team are now only a point behind Mercedes.
“He’s totally in tune with that, he’s asking all the questions from the car as well and I have to say it’s probably one of the best if not the best team spirit we’ve ever had in this team.”