F1 » Sergio Perez
Despite once being a regular stopover on the F1 schedule, Mexico had to take a back seat for several years before the arrival of Sergio Perez on the world scene reignited interest in the sport.
Like the majority of his peers, 'Checo' Perez began his racing career in karts, winning various championship titles in both his homeland and the neighbouring USA, but perhaps the most important 'result' he took from those seven years was becoming a member of Escuderia Telmex, funded by the world's richest man, Carlos Slim.
At the age of just 14, Perez took the decision to advance his career by moving to the USA and graduating to car racing, choosing the world-renowned Skip Barber programme as his starting point. Despite his inexperience, Perez claimed two pole position in the 2004 Skip Barber National Championship, eventually finishing eleventh in the season standings.
Determined to pursue a career in F1 rather than on the US open-wheel scene, the Mexican then turned his attention to Europe, joining the German Formula BMW series with the 4speed Media team. Although he stunned the regulars with second place on only his second outing, the 15-year old's inexpereince told and he finished a lowly 14th overall, trailing future F1 drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Sebastien Buemni, who filled the top two spots.
Changing teams for 2006, to ADAC Berlin-Brandenberg, brought slightly better results, although two thirds were still as good as it got for the Mexican, who finished sixth overall, before an opportunity to taste a real step up in power came over the winter, when he was invited to drive for Team Mexico in the A1GP Series. The outing, in China, yielded a 15th place finish and a retirement, and marked Perez's only appearance in the series.
Still only 17, the youngster decided to move into F3 for 2007, joining T-Sport in the National Class of the British championship. It proved to be a clever move for the team swept the category, for older chassis, giving Perez both vital F3 experience and a title to show for his efforts, which included taking 14 wins in 22 races.
He remained in F3 with T-Sport the following year, but stepped up to the main International Class. Despite being among the minority in running the supposedly inferior Mugen engine, Perez led the points table in the early stages of the season, helped in no small way by a win at Croft and then two spectacular come-from-behind wins at Monza, where he overcame mid-grid starts through clever use of slipstreaming. His engine deficit eventually told, however, and, despite taking another win at Brands Hatch later in the season, the Mexican eventually finished fourth overall.
That was enough, however, to convince GP2 teams to take a look at him for 2009 and, with the help of backing from Telmex, Perez eventually joined the Campos Grand Prix team in time for the 2008–09 GP2 Asia Series, winning the sprint race in Bahrain and adding another victory, again in the sprint race, under lights in Qatar, leaving him seventh in the standings.
He then moved to Arden International for the summer season, but there was little to shout about in a mediocre season that yielded just two podium finishes, both on the streets of Valencia. Twelfth in the final standings did not hint at the campaign to come, however, and, after a couple of outings in the 2009-10 Asia Series with Barwa Addax (nee Campos), Perez returned with the Spanish outfit to launch a title bid in the main championship.
A strong start to the campaign produced a maiden feature race success - on the streets of Monaco no less - and four further victories followed at Silverstone, Spa, Hockenheim and Yas Marina, but even with bonus points for seven fastest laps and a pole position, it wasn't quite enough to overhaul eventual champion Pastor Maldonado.
Nevertheless, it was Perez who was able to announce his F1 graduation first, as his relationship with Telmex helped secure a seat at a Sauber team still emerging from a difficult incarnation as the works BMW squad. With a solid, if somewhat conservative, car underneath him, however, Perez was able to show his ability almost immediately, and it was unfortunate that both Saubers were disqualified from the points on debut in Melbourne due to a technical irregularity.
Although he did not return to the points until round five, in Spain, the Mexican's season seemed set for lift-off, especially when he made it through to the final phase of qualifying in Monaco. However, his run in the Principality was cut sickeningly short by an accident exiting the tunnel that had sombre similarities to that which left Karl Wendlinger in a coma in 1994. Thankfully, improvement in car safety meant that Perez was largely unhurt and, although he was unable to take part in the race, looked set to return in Montreal until lingering after-effects forced him to sit out after opening practice.
Thereafter, however, there were no physical setbacks and, while it took him a while to get back into the game, Perez appeared capabale of threatening for points almost everywhere. He kickstarted his account with seventh at Silverstone and added to it in both Singapore and Japan, ending the season 16th in the standings with 14 points.
By that time, both he and team-mate Kamui Kobayashi had already been re-signed for 2012, and would form an unchanged partnership as Sauber aimed to take a step forward and challenge for a top six constructors' place. With a better car in the C31, Perez immediately thrust himself on the F1 consciousness by chasing Fernando Alonso home at the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Mexican could feasibly have won the race had it not been for a minor mistake in the closing laps, but he raced back onto Alonso’s tail - and instantly became the favourite to partner the Spaniard at Maranello in 2013.
Similar performances in Canada and Italy confirmed Perez’s potential but consistent results were limited by the Sauber’s performance and, by Singapore, he was confirmed as on the move for next season. However, having signed to replace Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, the Mexican’s season went into something of a tailspin, as if he was trying too hard to justify the move, and he failed to add to his tally over the last six races, just holding onto a top ten spot in the standings.
Despite joining McLaren as, ostensibly, number two to Jenson Button, Perez believes that he can have a shot at the 2013 world title, but he will need to cut out the mistakes and impetuosity of youth that denied him better results in 2012.