MANAMA • Sergio Perez became the first Mexican Formula One race winner in 50 years on Sunday and he barely dared to believe it, demanding a pinch to prove it was not just a dream.
After 190 starts and in his penultimate race for Racing Point, the 30-year-old, whose future in the sport remains uncertain, was in fantasy land under the floodlights at Bahrain’s desert Sakhir circuit.
“I’m shocked. I don’t want to be too excited because I dream of this time so many times that when I wake up it hurts,” he said after going from last on the opening lap to taking the chequered flag.
“I have to make sure this is not a dream. I’ve been dreaming of this moment for 10 years.”
The last and only Mexican F1 race winner before Perez was the late Pedro Rodriguez, one of two brothers after whom the Mexico City circuit is named, in Belgium in 1970.
Perez had come close before, finishing second in Turkey last month, but without ever reaching that top step on the podium.
He did it the hard way on Sunday, pitting after a first-lap collision and fighting back from 18th and last spot in an astonishing victory that brought tears to his eyes.
Perez was helped by a rare Mercedes pit-stop blunder, the champions mixing up the tyres for Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton’s stand-in, George Russell, who also suffered a late puncture.
“When I got hit into the first corner, I thought not again, it cannot be us again,” he said of the incident that ended the race for Max Verstappen of Red Bull and Charles Leclerc.
The Ferrari driver will have a three-place grid drop at this weekend’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after he caused the collision by braking too late into Turn 4.
“After the first lap, the race was gone. But it was all about not giving up, recovering, going for it, making the best we possibly could,” Perez added. “The luck hasn’t been with us this year but we finally got it and I think we won today on merit.”
- SAKHIR GP
1 Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1hr 31min 15.114sec
2 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Renault +10.518sec
3 Lance Stroll (Can) Racing Point 11.869
4 Carlos Sainz (Esp) McLaren +12.580
5 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault +13.330
6 Alex Albon (Tha) Red Bull +13.842
7 Daniil Kyvat (Rus) AlphaTauri +14.534
8 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes +15.389
9 George Russell (Gbr) Mercedes +18.556 *fastest lap
10 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren +19.541
12 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
DNF Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull
DNF Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 332pts 2 Bottas 205
3 Verstappen 189 4 Perez 125
5 Ricciardo 112 6 Leclerc 98
1 Mercedes 540pts
2 Red Bull 282
3 Racing Point 194
4 McLaren 184
5 Renault 172
6 Ferrari 131
Calling his winning podium place “a moment in my life for my family, for myself” he was also adamant that he would stay in F1, adding: “After today, I’m determined to be here. My best option is to keep going next year but if I have to stop, it is not a disaster, I can come back in 2022.”
Racing Point owner Lawrence Stroll hopes that teams will take a chance on Perez, who will make way for four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari next season.
Speculation remains that Red Bull may drop Thailand’s Alexander Albon, who has yet to prove himself alongside Verstappen.
On the possibility of Perez remaining on the grid, Stroll said: “Checo has been a fantastic asset and he’s been an asset for this team a long time before I’ve arrived.
“He most definitely proves every weekend that he deserves to be in a car next year and I hope he’s in that Red Bull (car) next year.”
While Russell was “gutted” after finishing ninth, having appeared to be set for victory, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said “a new star has been born”, although he confirmed there was no place on the roster for him next term.
On the 22-year-old Briton, who finally got into the points for the first time following two years with Williams, he said: “It won’t have been his last attempt for victory. It’s just the beginning of a fairy tale that didn’t work out today.
“We have learned that Russell is someone we can count on in the future. He has the potential and the ingredients a future star needs.”
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS