On his 2011 race debut, Sergio Perez Mendoza became only the fifth Mexican to make it into Formula One racing. And in 2015 - four seasons and two team moves later, and with his stock continuing to rise - he also flew the flag for his nation, as Mexico City returned to the F1 calendar for the first time since 1992.
Born in Guadalajara on January 26, 1990, Perez has been a member of Escuderia Telmex, which supports racing drivers in various categories, for a number of years, enjoying a close personal relationship with Telmex Chairman Carlos Slim Domit, who has taken a keen interest in his motorsport career.
Perez began his career in karting, where he won a total of five championships, before making his single-seater debut in the US-based Skip Barber National Championship in 2004. With Telmex backing, he finished 11th overall, as well as taking seventh in the Skip Barber Dodge Midwestern series.
For 2005 he headed to Europe and Germany’s Formula BMW ADAC series with Team Rosberg. A podium in only his second race, at Hockenheim, helped get him noticed en route to 14th in the championship. By the end of 2006 he was up to sixth, after another two podiums, this time with the ADAC Berlin-Brandenburg team, and had also made two appearances representing Mexico in the China rounds of the A1 GP series.
The next step in his racing education beckoned and it came in the form of the highly-competitive national class of the British Formula Three series. Driving for the T-Sport team, it brought Perez his first single-seater title and promotion to the international class for 2008, when he again excelled, taking four wins, seven podiums and one fastest lap en route to fourth overall.
That year also brought his first taste of GP2 in the Asia Series, partnering another future F1 star, Vitaly Petrov, at Campos, and again he was winning - two victories, three podiums and a fastest lap saw him finish seventh overall, ahead of his debut in the main GP2 Series with Arden International in 2009.
Driving alongside fellow Formula Three graduate Edoardo Mortara, Perez finished 12th in the standings, with two podiums, his best result a second at Valencia. In the off-season, he contested two rounds of the GP2 Asia Series for Barwa Addax, before a 2010 main series campaign with the team.
Five wins, seven podiums, one pole position and six fastest laps saw him complete the season second only to Maldonado in the standings, but before its end his eyes were firmly on Formula One for 2011. Sauber announced his signing before Perez had even tested with the team, something he did in November 2010 in Abu Dhabi.
Cynics suggested he only got the drive thanks to Telmex’s new partnership with the team, but Perez quickly proved he had the talent too as he crossed the finish line seventh on his Grand Prix debut. Things took a near tragic turn in Monaco, however, when he crashed heavily in qualifying and missed the Monte Carlo race as well as the subsequent Canadian round.
Though he was back for the European Grand Prix, he later admitted it took him several more races to fully recover, by which time Sauber’s 2011 car was falling behind in the mid-season development race. Despite all this, he finished the year 16th in the table with 14 points - a respectable enough rookie campaign and enough for Sauber to retain him for 2012.
Sauber’s faith in the Mexican would prove to be well placed as Perez made good use of the impressive C31 to score three podiums in 2012. He finished second to Fernando Alonso in a rainy Malaysian Grand Prix (though on another day he might have won), third in similarly slippery conditions in Canada, and second in Italy. Those results were enough to seal Perez a coveted drive at McLaren for 2013 - good timing as his form dipped dramatically over the latter part of the season and he failed to score any points after inking his new deal and ended up tenth in the final standings.
Unfortunately for Perez, it was McLaren's form that dipped in 2013, with the team failing to score a podium for the first time since 1980. His own best result was a fifth place in India, but with the Woking squad unconvinced by his form relative to benchmark team mate Jenson Button, Perez was dropped at the end of the year and moved instead to Force India for 2014.
The switch quickly bore fruit as he finished third in Bahrain for only the second podium in Force India’s history, and though he was out-classed by team mate Nico Hulkenberg over the course of the season, his performances were strong and consistent enough to ensure he was retained for 2015, when the dynamic between the two drivers swung around.
This time it was Perez who got the upper hand - not only did he secure the teams only podium finish of the season (in Russia), but his vastly improved qualifying performances, superb consistency and mature racecraft led him to a career best ninth in the drivers’ standings, 20 points up on his team mate.
That trend - and Perez’s podium form - continued in 2016, with third-place finishes on the street circuits of Monaco and Baku. He finished a career-best seventh in the standings and helped Force India to their strongest season showing to date.