Sergio Perez heads to Formula One races in U.S., Mexico with a hometown advantage

Perez F1
Mark Thompson / Getty Images

After a one-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, F1 returned to the United States with fanfare provided by Red Bull Racing and Sergio Perez.

Fresh from his third podium of the season in the Turkish GP, Perez climbed behind the wheel of one of Mark Webber’s retired cars and showcased his talent in front of more than 10,000 fans on the downtown streets of Dallas, Texas. The event reaffirmed how important the Americas are to the team and series.

Last year, F1 spent nearly the entire season in Europe to minimize the risk of international travel and because many countries closed their borders to outside sporting events during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several countries still were not able to welcome the series in 2021, but the United States, Mexico and Brazil line up in the coming month for the first time since 2019 – and Perez sees that as an advantage.

As his teammate Max Verstappen retook the drivers championship point lead at Turkey over Lewis Hamilton in one of the most tightly contested battles in recent seasons, Red Bull Racing trails Mercedes by 36 points.

Fifth-place Perez is 42 points behind Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas for third in drivers’ points.

The importance of the Americas goes deeper than the marketing potential, although that is certainly a big part of Red Bull’s overall strategy. The next three venues give Perez a chance to contribute heavily to the constructors championship and win a personal battle over Mercedes’ Bottas.

For the next two weeks, Perez races close to home and if Dallas was a preview of things to come, chants for “Checo”, Perez’s nickname, will ring loudly enough from the stands to be heard over the roar of the engines.

“There’s going to be a lot of support for myself and the team,” Perez told NBC Sports last weekend in Dallas. “I look forward to pleasing a lot of people in Austin and also in Mexico of course.”

Perez has a solid record on the three upcoming tracks.

At the Circuit of the Americas, he earned a top-five for Force India in 2015. Six of his eight career starts there ended inside the top 10.

On his home track in Mexico, he’s finished worse than 10th only once in five starts.

In Brazil, he came up one position shy of the podium in 2016.

Arguably, Perez has not visited these courses in the same level of equipment he will pilot this week and he has a chance to set a personal best of four podiums in a season after finishing that well already in Azerbaijan, France and Turkey.

“We need to maximize everything from our side,” Perez said. “Mercedes has been very strong for the last four or five races – extremely strong. We haven’t been able to match them, but I really hope that turns. Austin and Mexico are very good tracks for us and we can be a bit stronger there.”

F1 Grand Prix of Turkey
Sergio Perez kept Lewis Hamilton at bay in the Turkish GP and helped minimize the damage of a Mercedes win by Valtteri Bottas. (Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

In the Turkish GP, Perez not only matched the lead Mercedes driver Hamilton, he kept him at bay in one of the most thrilling side-by-side battles F1 has witnessed this season.

Hamilton and Red Bull’s Verstappen have shown a tendency to be extremely aggressive around one another – aggression that has led to multiple on-track incidents and the loss of points for both drivers. Last week in Turkey, Hamilton may have thought he would make short work of Perez after starting near the back of the grid with a penalty for changing engines and pulling alongside Perez halfway through the race.

Perez proved the truism that catching a driver and passing him are two completely different things. Most importantly, he did not fall into the same trap as Verstappen at Silverstone and Monza. Even when he was pushed all the way into the pit entry lane, Perez kept from making contact with Hamilton.

Bottas won, but Perez’s battle with Hamilton minimized the points’ loss. Verstappen finished second and with Perez in third and Hamilton back in fifth, Red Bull gave up just three points in the constructors championship.

“I think those battles are good and worth taking,” Perez said. “It was one of those that was important for us – for the team race.

“I think if if he would have gone through, his race would have looked very differently, so we would have lost quite a lot of points for the team championship and also for for my teammate. It worked out, but there are still six races to go.”

And if Verstappen and Hamilton start worrying about one another at the Circuit of the Americas or the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriquez, Perez might well find himself in Victory Lane for the third time in his career and second of 2021. He won the Azerbaijan GP in a wild finish that saw both Verstappen and Hamilton finish outside the points.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).