Although reports floated out that Sergio Perez is bringing tens of millions in euros to his seat at Force India, team principal Vijay Mallya rubbished the suggestion that commercial interests are what made the decision to hire the Mexican.
“I’ve always said that Sahara Force India will not take pay drivers. I owe it to my team back in Silverstone, who dedicate all their energies and passion to designing and building a competitive race car, that I will not compromise that on the track. I need the best I can get. If you see our track record, we’ve never had pay drivers. We are committed to paying both our drivers. But signing Sergio opens up areas in Mexico and Latin America previously closed to us.”
Mallya added that Perez had stuck out enough on the track to be considered on merit, even despite a solitary single season at McLaren.
“Sergio is an exceptionally talented and quick driver,” Mallya said. “He has fire in his belly. He’s gutsy and he’s hungry. That’s what I need.
“It was a challenge to find (Nico) a teammate. We evalutated our existing two drivers, Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil. When Sergio became available, we necessarily had to evaluate him as well. In concentration with my colleagues in Silverstone, we decided to go with the Checo-Nico combination.”
“Paul is a wonderful guy and driver,” Mallya said. “Don’t forget we gave him his first opportunity in Formula One. We were happy to do so. We put him in the race car and he remains a very good friend. Personally I hope he stays in the F1 paddock.”
Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.
Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.