He might not have a contract for 2020 just yet, but this summer should be a much less stressful for Sergio Perez than the last one was.
Twelve months ago, Force India’s future was bleak, and Perez had taken dramatic steps to give the team a chance of survival. He had been the catalyst for the team entering administration; an attempt to secure fresh ownership after Vijay Mallya’s financial troubles.
When he walked into the Hungaroring paddock a year ago, Perez had just pushed the team to the brink, but when he sat down with RACER at the same venue this time round, it feels a world away.
“It was a very difficult weekend, one of my hardest weekends personally and as a driver,” Perez says. “Coming to Hungary with so much uncertainty about what was going to happen with the future of the team was very hard. It was a very hard time, but luckily things went pretty smoothly and we managed to get the best out of it.
“I pretty much never thought it was going to be that hard, dealing with the team, with the mechanics and everyone involved. It came out in the media as if I was just trying to get my money, but it wasn’t the case. So it was a pretty hard moment.”
On this occasion, Perez is sitting on the roof terrace of the motorhome of the new team that emerged from that tough time – Sport Pesa Racing Point – and cracks a smile when he reflects on how the intervening period has panned out, even if the team currently sits eighth in the constructors’ standings.
“It has been great,” he grins. “Amazing. On track we haven’t had the results we hoped for – we knew that this year was going to be a transition – but I can see the big picture, and the future ahead looks very good and very strong.
“I knew it was going to be tough, but I thought, ‘not as tough as it is at the moment, and how it has been’. But I see how we are going to progress and how things are looking, and they are looking good.”
Perez can identify any number of tough moments from a year ago, but at the time he kept his feelings well-hidden. However, his frustration started to become apparent this season after he was eliminated as the slowest car in Q2 at Silverstone. At that point, he said Racing Point couldn’t continue much longer without seeing an improvement. He didn’t have to wait long for one though, as the car was much more competitive at the next round at Hockenheim.
“It was a surprise, but I think in Germany we showed that we can still bring an upgrade and it works,” he says. “We moved ahead, so I look forward to the next races to be up there.
“I think this team has retained its strengths of being able to maximize its potential. Good things and good moments are coming. I look forward to it; we’re working very hard and I’m optimistic. And not just from that upgrade. I know exactly what’s going on around the team, what things are looking like for the coming years, so it’s not just based on that.”
Perez has taken an active interest in Racing Point’s future plans. While he works on a new deal, the Mexican admits his ties run deep as a result of what he has been through with the team.
“What has happened over the past 12 months is one of the reasons I want to stay, but not the main one,” he says, “Obviously I feel I’ve been with this team a long time, but I also am aware that there is a lot of unfinished business and we haven’t got to our maximum yet.
“After what happened with the administration, I took a different responsibility with this team and with these people. So that’s why I want to stay, and also ideally get a long-term deal in place because I see that it can work out pretty well.
“To be honest, yeah (I’ve looked elsewhere). During the last couple of years I’ve always done single-year contracts, and thankfully there have always been opportunities here and there. In the end I always end up staying, and now I’m pleased that other teams have come and asked, and there has been some interest out there. But my main priority will be to stay. If I am able to succeed with that, I will be pleased. If not, then we will see what happens.”
Now 29 and a father, Perez has matured quickly but appears destined to be forever overlooked for a top drive following his tough year at McLaren in 2013. His ambition certainly hasn’t lessened though, and while he believes Racing Point offers him the potential to fight closer to the front once again, he’s also not willing to spend the rest of his career in the midfield.
“I’m optimistic because of the infrastructure, the capability to improve and the development rate we’re going to implement,” he says. “That’s all going to be very, very important.
“You never know what can happen in Formula 1. I certainly know I will not stay here for many more years – certainly less than what I’ve done in Formula 1 already. I’ve been here a while. So you never know, but I say to myself that if by 2021 I’m not in contention for podiums and I don’t see it that I’m going to have that opportunity, then I will not be here beyond that. But we are really optimistic, and we really want to do well for the coming years.”
It’s a bold statement, but one that tallies with Perez’s approach to the new regulations that F1 wants to introduce in 2021. He has been a big supporter of change and often outspoken in terms of what the sport needs to do to improve, and having been so central to an overhaul within his own team, Perez says he wants to have a similarly positive impact on F1 as a whole.
“I think as drivers we are taking responsibility, especially the ones who have been here for many years,” he says.
“We don’t do it for ourselves anymore, we do it for the sport that we love and also for our teams, to try to make sure that the day that we leave, we leave a great sport and we can see that we contributed, and it was worth us spending so many years here.”