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.”
¡Semana de GP! Qué bien se siente estar en casa, ¡ya no tendrán que madrugar tanto! #usgp
Race week! It feels great to be home.
You don’t have to be awake so early! pic.twitter.com/Cig2qVADb5
— Sergio Pérez (@SChecoPerez) October 18, 2021
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.”
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.