Drive To Survive: Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Perez On His Formula One Success Story

“Checo” talks tequila vs. mezcal, his finest F1 moment, and what it’s like racing in the the sport’s most dominant car.

(Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
(Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Just three years ago Sergio Perez was on the cusp of losing his seat on the Formula One grid. Beloved in Mexico, and most fervently in his hometown of Guadalajara, the world whispered that 2020 could be his last in the apex motorsport.

Then came the Sakhir Grand Prix, where “Checo” miraculously climbed from last place on the grid to first, securing his first checkered flag for Racing Point—and also breaking the record for the most F1 starts (190) before notching a win. It was the stuff of Disney movies and schoolboy dreams.

Steadiness, determination, patience and a fiery passion to win are what defines the career of Sergio Perez. That off-season Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner announced they were picking him up to match with Max Verstappen, and the rest has been a history of podiums—five in 2021 (including a victory in Azerbaijan) and a stunning 11 in 2022 (while capturing victories in both Monaco and Singapore).

And 2023 is going even stronger for Perez, after he captured his second checkered flag in Baku—also winning the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix and podiuming in Miami, Bahrain and Austria.

As of press time he stands 81 points back from teammate, current and two-time World Champion Max Verstappen. We sat down with the beloved Mexican driver to discuss his long road to the top, his favorite things to do in Guadalajara, and what it’s like to race every day for RBR alongside Verstappen.

Mexico doesn’t boast a robust racing ecosystem like Europe or the United States. What were the challenges stemming from that?

Yeah certainly it’s hard to leave your country behind, your culture, and to change completely to work from a new place. It was tough especially as I was pretty young [15 years old], but I did enjoy a lot the challenge. [But] ever since I was a kid I always started racing and it was always my dream to become a professional driver.

Are you fulfilling what you need to do? When it comes to your place in Mexico’s history, do you feel that your legend is growing there? 

I really believe that it’s growing and it’s something I enjoy a lot. And I’m really privileged to have this amount of support back home.

Was last year your most rewarding as a professional driver?

Not really, because my expectations are always to win. It was the highest I’ve reached so far, but I want to go higher than that—I want the World Championship and that’s my ultimate target. It was nice to win a few races, but ultimately I want to do another step.

What would you say has been your finest moment in F1 thus far?

My victories in F1 have all been very special, but just to look back and see how many years I’ve been in the sport—every single year it takes a lot of preparation out of you, a lot of commitment. It’s something that I feel proud of.

Was Sakhir one of those moments you felt like, ‘Hell yeah. All that work came down to this’?

Certainly. Getting my first victory was super special. It’s something that you always dream of and especially at the time that it happened, when I didn’t really know where my future was heading, it was really nice to win the victory. So whatever happened I already had the victory in the pocket.

Did it make you cry?

Not really. But then God I remember this, just when I was on the podium there are a lot of emotions and a lot of adrenaline going on at the time.

Some teams have a more established number one, and then usually the car is built more around their driving style. I’ve read [former RBR driver] Alex Albon talk about how Max [Verstappen] really likes the nose of the car to be hypersensitive, things of that nature. How do you as a veteran driver adapt to a car whose driving style might be slightly engineered towards somebody else, and how do you make it your own?

You always try to adapt yourself the best possible you can. It’s something that you work constantly weekend by weekend with your engineers to try to get the maximum out of it—to try to feel the most comfortably possible with the car…. [This year] it certainly seems to be a better car for me. I’m a little bit more happier and I’m enjoying it a little bit more.

You have aspirations to be World Champion. What’s it like both amicably and professionally to every day go to battle with Max, who many consider the fastest guy on the grid?

Well certainly Max is a very talented guy. He has a lot of talent and he’s shown a great talent through the years. So I’d say that at the moment he’s the driver most in form together with the team. I think he’s operating at a very high level.

OK a couple of Mexico questions because I’m a huge fan. Tequila or mezcal?

Tequila! Patrón Silver. With still water and lemon, on the rocks.

You’re like the Lionel Messi of Guadalajara, it must be a zoo when you’re there.

It certainly is. I mean you learn how to live with it, that is part of your job as well. But at the same time when you are off, you just want to be alone and be able to be with your kids. Just enjoy them and not being asked to do things you don’t want to do.

What are your expectations for the 2023 season?

Red Bull have a super fast car this year. I will give it my all. Every single race I will try my best to come out on top. That’s my target.