Feature F1 Unlocked
PADDOCK INSIDER: Mexico is a special weekend for Perez – but it's also important for his Red Bull future
"These two weekends [Austin and Mexico City] for me are the most important ones, they are where I have the most people coming to support me – they are the most special ones," says Sergio Perez when we catch up.
These two weekends are also important for Perez’s future in Formula 1. The Mexican has a contract that runs until the end of 2024, but he is under significant pressure to prove he deserves to stay on at Red Bull for 2025.
The Japanese and Qatar Grands Prix weekends were, by his own admission, very disappointing. He managed just one point across the two mistake-laden races – as three-time world champion team mate Max Verstappen won both races in the same machinery.
Before Austin, Perez spent an extensive amount of time in Red Bull’s simulator in Milton Keynes, working with his engineers to try and understand where the form that yielded two wins in four at the start of the season has gone. "We’ve had a really good few days in the simulator, where we did a lot of good learning and understanding," he explains.
His form in Austin suggests that this was the case. While fifth (which became fourth after rival for P2 in the championship Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from second) was still not good enough, it represented a step in the right direction, on a weekend where he only had one practice session to put all his learnings in place to land a better set-up because it was a Sprint weekend.
He needs to build on that this weekend on home soil in Mexico City, where the format will return to its more conventional schedule of three practice sessions to refine the cars before qualifying and the race.
This is Perez’s 13th season in Formula 1, the Mexican having clocked up 257 Grand Prix weekends to make him one of the most experienced drivers on the grid – and he’s still only 33. It’s that experience, he says, that is helping him cope with this difficult part of his career.
"I’m really good at putting things behind me and also learning from them," he says. "It’s not good to ignore everything, it’s about making sure you put your energy into things you can control, things you can change. Then the rest – don’t even bother.
"I obviously get frustrated; this is my job. I’m preparing and putting a lot into it. So, when things don’t go right, I can get frustrated."
Red Bull management, including Team Principal Christian Horner and Motorsport Adviser Helmut Marko, are believed to have started turning up the heat on Perez to get on top of his drop in form. When we talk about the expectations on his shoulders, Perez grips the handles of the chair more tightly, but his tone remains the same.
"It’s about trying to get us into a good rhythm, into a good zone," he says. “Christian is aware of the limitations we have been carrying.”
But has Horner set him targets for the rest of the season? "We just have to deliver, there are no targets set whatsoever," he continues. "It’s all about delivering and making sure we finish the season on a high."
He adds: "It helps a lot to have the right support from the team, the team have been fantastic in that regard – all the engineers and mechanics, they’ve all been so supportive when I’ve needed support from them – and we are all in this together. We all want to succeed together."
There may not have been any specific targets set for him but failing to clinch second in the drivers’ championship – considering he has a car that has won 17 out of 18 Grands Prix this year – will hurt his chances of extending his stay at Red Bull beyond 2024. Even securing it might still not be enough – but it will buy him some respite to reset over the winter and attempt to come back a stronger and more consistent proposition next year.
How does he get back to the form he showed at the start of the season, when he was keeping Verstappen in sight and in close contention for the championship? "I need a good end of the season, I need to be able to close the gap, find a good pace," he says. "We have got lost in a few races. Just getting back to that pace would be helpful."
When I ask Perez if he still loves racing in Formula 1, his grip on the chair handles relaxes and he responds immediately: "Yes, I do. Even in the tough times, it’s such a challenge.
"The challenge never stops, whether you’re winning or having a tough time. There’s always different challenges. It’s harder when things don’t go your way.
"But at the same time, it’s a great moment. I’d rather be here in this position than being in a midfield team and probably not having this sort of pressure. Things are different. If you’re here, the pressure is different, but also the enjoyment is more.
"I still enjoy it so much. It takes a lot, but I think I’m in a good age, good moment in my career to go much further than [the end of 2024, when his current contract expires].”
He adds: "Yeah, I do [enjoy the pressure] – it’s a good challenge because you get to know yourself a lot more when you are in this sort of pressure, how you behave, how you handle it. I’m living great experiences."
He’ll have plenty of pressure this weekend in Mexico, with most of the crowd chanting his name and throwing all their support behind him. He’s finished third in each of the last two years, which has led to a party atmosphere in the Foro Sol Stadium section at the end of the lap.
What does he need to do to get a win that expectant crowd expects? "I need to be further up in lap one, as overtaking is difficult," he says. "I need a really good qualifying and be able to have a shot at it into Turn 1."