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.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing

Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.