Sergio Pérez says the feeling of becoming a Formula 1 race winner is still sinking in, with the Mexican finally taking the chequered flag first in Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix in his one-hundred and ninetieth race start.
The BWT Racing Point Formula One Team driver says success in Formula 1 has been a rarity across the years, so to hear the Mexican national anthem whilst standing on the podium was a proud moment for the ten-year veteran of the sport.
“It’s still sinking in that I’ve won the race; I’m almost afraid to get too excited in case I’m dreaming!” said Pérez. “I’ve dreamed about this moment so many times.
“It’s taken 10 years to get to this point in Formula 1. There’s been a lot of hard work throughout my career and it’s not just been me, but my family and sponsors too. Success for Mexico in Formula 1 has been rare, so I will never forget the moment of seeing the Mexican flag on the podium, it was an incredible moment for me and my family.”
Pérez’s race was not straightforward, with the thirty-year-old facing the wrong way at turn four on lap one after contact with Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Leclerc locked up his brakes heading into the turn and hit the right-rear wheel of the Racing Point, but luckily Pérez was able to continue without damage, although now at the back of the field.
He pitted under the safety car as Leclerc and Max Verstappen’s cars were removed from trackside, and although he locked up on the new tyres, he was able to make some good gains on the medium tyre before switching to the hard compound for the final stint.
He managed to pass team-mate Lance Stroll and Renault DP World F1 Team’s Esteban Ocon to run third, and when the two Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team drivers endured nightmare pit stops and dropped down the order, he inherited the lead that he would not then give up.
“It was an unbelievable race,” admitted the Mexican. “We made such a good start to battle with Max [Verstappen] and Charles [Leclerc] and then I got hit and I was thinking ‘this can’t be happening again!’. We were lucky not to pick up any more damage too.
“We didn’t give up and we pitted to go onto the medium tyre. I then had a lock-up under the safety car and flat-spotted one of my tyres. The vibration became so bad it was hurting my hands to grip the steering wheel and I thought we might have to pit again – but the team told me to stay out. The feeling in the car got much better and the medium tyre stint ended up being crucial to our win.
“When we stopped for a second time and got onto the hard tyre, it felt like a limousine to drive! It was so smooth and we had some great pace. I was able to overtake Lance and then get past Esteban. Obviously, the Mercedes had some problems, but I think we had enough pace in hand to hold George off – our simulation showed that you needed to be significantly faster to get by.
“Luck or not, we had a tremendous race today and we won on merit. I was crying behind the wheel and speechless for a while but it’s an incredible result for the team. Well done to Lance for getting on the podium too.
“I can’t wait to celebrate with the team! We have one race left and we’re determined to hold onto P3 at the end of the season.”
“A little part of me is a bit disappointed” – Lance Stroll
Team-mate Stroll completed a good day for Racing Point by taking his second podium finish of the season with third place, but the Canadian felt mistakes on his part cost him the chance of his maiden victory in Formula 1.
Stroll felt he pitted a lap too late for his final stop and lost a place to Ocon, with Pérez then sweeping past them both after the Mexican had made his own stop. Stroll locked up heading into turn four which left Pérez an open door to get ahead.
“It’s a great result but a little part of me is a bit disappointed because I think I had the potential to win the race,” said Stroll. “After the first lap, we were in P6 and I knew we had a chance at a podium.
“I think we perhaps pitted a lap too late and that allowed Esteban [Ocon] to get ahead – but only after a really great battle until the exit of Turn 3 when he got the DRS effect.
“I didn’t have the pace to get by Esteban and then I was also a little late on the DRS, which helped Checo get by at Turn 4. I braked a little too late and he was then past me.”
Stroll says the result for the team was the most important thing on the day, and he was pleased to see Pérez finally secure that maiden victory that he deserves after such a strong campaign for Racing Point.
The twenty-two-year-old says first and third is a good way to bounce back after the disappointment of a double retirement from the Bahrain Grand Prix just seven days earlier, and it gives them confidence and motivation heading into the final race of the season next weekend in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s one of those things, but the important thing is the team result,” said the Canadian. “I’m delighted for the team and so happy for Checo. He’s been a part of this team for a long time. He’s been running up at the front so many times in his career and he totally deserves a victory.
“It’s an unbelievable result for the team to get both cars on the podium and it’s exactly what we needed to bounce back from last weekend. We’ve had a great car all season and it was really strong this weekend and we delivered when it matters.
“I’m really excited about our potential and we’ll be looking to end the season on a high in Abu Dhabi.”