Sergio Perez will be racing for his Red Bull future alongside runaway title winner Max Verstappen when he drives in front of an impassioned home crowd at this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.
While newly-crowned three-time world champion Verstappen hunts another milestone victory at one of his favourite tracks, Perez seeks to shake off a series of lacklustre races and secure at least a podium finish in the champions’ second car in the rarefied air at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
“This is my most important weekend of the season and I can’t wait for my home race,” said Perez, who requested his noisy fans support not only him, but his team-mate who was booed after winning last Sunday’s United States Grand Prix in Texas.
“The support in Austin was crazy,” said Perez.
“So I can’t even imagine what Mexico will be like. It’s going to be very special. I am optimistic.
“I want Mexico to come out, but to support the whole Red Bull team — not just me.”
Perez won two races in the early stages of this season before his form faded, but he has finished third at the last two Mexican Grands Prix and, even with a contract for 2024, knows he is in sore need of the seventh victory of his career.
His relationship with Verstappen went through a stormy period last year, notably in Brazil, and his fan-base, who long to cheer him as the first Mexican driver to win his home Grand Prix, have not been slow to show their feelings, as in Austin.
“I don’t think Max is going to get the warmest reception in Mexico,” said team chief Christian Horner. “But it’s water off a duck’s back to him.”
Ever-pragmatic, the 26-year-old Dutchman will be focused on winning and conceded after a tough battle to win from sixth on the grid last Sunday that he faces another challenge this weekend.
“It’s great to be in Mexico,” he said. “We have a great history here, winning and taking a double podium in the last two years and it’s Checo’s home race too so it will be a big one for us.
“The atmosphere is always amazing and it is the highest altitude track of the season, which is stressful on the cars. Our RB19 has been faultless in most conditions so I’m looking forward to seeing how we perform.
“We revert to a normal race format this weekend, too, so that is good — and I expect more of a fight again. We’ll need to use our strategy and the aim is to keep winning.”
Norris chasing first win
Verstappen scored his 50th victory in Texas. Another win, which would increase his record for a single season to 16, would draw him level with four-time champion Frenchman Alain Prost.
It would also bring his record-equalling 18th podium, a total he set in 2021.
After winning four of the last five races in Mexico, Verstappen will be the man to beat, but knows that Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was close to catching him, before he finished two seconds behind in second place before being disqualified last weekend.
Hamilton has won twice in Mexico and finished second in 2021 and 2022.
Lando Norris of McLaren, who was promoted to second, is also capable of mounting a serious threat as he bids to avoid equalling German Nick Heidfeld’s record of 13 podium finishes without claiming a win.
Yet it may be Perez who emerges as his greatest rival now that, after his promotion to fourth last Sunday and Hamilton’s disqualification, he holds a 39-points lead in the fight for second in the standings—with Horner dreaming of Red Bull’s maiden one-two finish.
“It’s not ideal when you go through a difficult period, but I love the challenge of getting back,” said Perez. “The easiest thing would be to just walk out, but that’s not me.
“It’s not who I am and I will not give up.”
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