Sergio Perez’s Formula 1 career started back in 2011 when the talented driver made his debut with Sauber. He made a name for himself in 2012, managing to finish on the podium three times. Voices at the time suggested the Mexican could have won the Malaysian Grand Prix as he was much faster than Fernando Alonso, however Ferrari, who supplied Sauber with their engines, put a stop to that.
After a tough year at McLaren, Perez found a home at Force India/Racing Point. He drove for the team for seven years before making way for Sebastian Vettel despite having a contract.
RacingNews365 spoke exclusively with Horner about Perez’s signing. One thing that made the Mexican stand out was his experience, having raced in 179 grand prix over 10 seasons, many of them with Mercedes engines.
“Checo has a lot of experience and has been driving in Formula 1 for 10 years,” Horner stated. “His performances last season were great, especially in races, where he was very strong.
"I think he can push Max more than [Alexander] Albon did last season. Hopefully that will make us stronger as a unit in our fight with Mercedes.”
Albon and Pierre Gasly, both inexperienced, were unable to leave their mark at Red Bull in 2019 and 2020.
Perez is a racer
Horner and Helmut Marko have always appreciated drivers with courage that attack and aren’t afraid to be controversial. In that regard Perez had a clear advantage over Hulkenberg, who is often rather anonymous. Albon had his moments while battling in the middle of the pack, however he lacked the pace to seriously push for a spot at the front of the grid.
In that regard Horner, who knows Perez from his days as a team boss in Formula 2, has a nice anecdote when it comes to the Mexican.
“I can still remember his year in Formula 3,” Horner stated. “Checo did a great job and won some races, including at Monza. He was very impressive and worked with Adrian Fernandez, and Carlos Slim was also in close contact with him.
“In his first year in GP2 he was always stronger in races than in qualifying. He had the determination to never give up. Sergio was like a young dog with a bone. I think that has become his trademark in terms of racing.
“It’s no coincidence that he managed to reach the podium in cars that didn’t belong on the podium,” Horner adds in reference to the 10 podiums Perez achieved during his time at Sauber and Force India/Racing Point.
“He is very determined during the races and his tyre management is very good. Sergio is now at a stage in his career where he is very well-rounded.”
Perez is the total package
The Mexican has never been known for his abilities in qualifying, but he’s still managed to regularly beat his teammate in recent seasons. Whether it was Hulkenberg, [Esteban] Ocon or [Lance] Stroll, Perez always seemed to find his way past by making the most of the opportunities presented to him during the race.
“He manages his tyres very well,” Horner added, stating it is one of his biggest strengths. “However we aren’t just looking at one thing, we are looking at the total package.
“We looked at his overall performance. Whether it was Istanbul (where he finished second) or both races in Bahrain (third before retiring followed by a win) his performances in 2020 were very impressive.”
Thanks in part to Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire, Perez’s signing also comes with significant sponsorship money. However Horner pointed out that wasn’t a deciding factor in Red Bull’s decision to bring him in.
“Red Bull don’t focus on that,” he stated. “Perez’s popularity in Latin America, and Mexico in particular, will be looked at in the coming months.”
It’s expected that Red Bull will take on one or more Mexican sponsors for the 2021 season given Perez’s signing resulted in the team’s website breaking records in terms of views. Tickets for the 2021 Mexico City Grand Prix are also being purchased at a feverish pace, with the event expected to be sold out.
“The interest surrounding his announcement was the biggest we have ever seen at Red Bull,” Horner added. “It’s great that Formula 1 is so popular, plus we have so many more (social media) platforms at our disposal than years ago. We’ve seen tremendous growth in traffic from Latin America, which is good for Formula 1."
Interview by Dieter Rencken