Friday, June 21, 2024

Mexico City Grand Prix starts Friday with high expectations for Checo Pérez

Formula 1 racing roars into Mexico City this weekend and more than 110,000 people are expected to pack the racetrack on Sunday for the Mexican Grand Prix — with most of them rooting for Mexican Sergio “Checo” Pérez as he tries to make history.

After finishing third last year at the Hermanos Rodríguez Autodrome, and becoming the first Mexican driver to get onto the podium there, the 32-year-old native of Guadalajara is hoping to take it to the next level this week and finish first on his home soil.

With the crown in this year’s F1 championship series already secured by Pérez’s Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen, Pérez just might have a clear path to crossing the finish line first, but he doesn’t want anything handed to him.

“I don’t need to be given anything,” Pérez told ESPN this week. “I have achieved everything without any gift for so many years, [so] it is not necessary. In the end, I don’t think about it. I think about my work, about being perfect this weekend and looking for that victory.”

Checo Pérez celebrates his win with the Red Bull team.
Checo Pérez celebrates with the Red Bull team after winning the Monaco Grand Prix in May. Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

However, there is a motive for Verstappen allowing Pérez to take the checkered flag: It could give Red Bull a one-two finish in the season standings. Pérez is currently in third place behind Monte Carlo-based driver Charles Leclerc, and a win in Mexico City could put him one spot behind Verstappen.

“I give everything on behalf of the whole team,” Pérez said.

The race covering 305.4 kilometers (189.7 miles) on Sunday will be the centerpiece of a busy weekend that will include practice sessions at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Friday and 12 p.m. Saturday that are free and open to the public. Qualifying is scheduled for 3 to 4 p.m. Saturday, with Sunday’s racing activity scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. with a drivers’ parade, followed by a show on the main straight, vehicle inspections, an opening ceremony and then green flag dropping to start the race at 3 p.m.

Last year’s Mexican Grand Prix was won by Verstappen, a Belgian-born Dutch driver, followed by Brit Lewis Hamilton and Pérez. Verstappen, who has now won two straight F1 season titles, started in the third position last year; Pérez was in the fourth position.

This year’s Sunday race will consist of 71 laps around the 4.3-kilometer track at the Hermanos Rodríguez Autodrome, which has hosted the F1 Mexican Grand Prix since 2015. The facility is named for Ricardo Rodríguez and his brother, Pedro, Mexican race car drivers in the 1960s who died in separate crashes eight years apart.

For the entire weekend, more than 300,000 people are expected to pass through the turnstiles, and that’s a conservative estimate, considering last year’s total attendance was 371,000. With upwards of 1 million people predicted to attend Saturday’s Day of the Dead parade in central Mexico City, it’s going to be a busy weekend in the capital.

The autodrome is located in the Iztacalco neighborhood in Mexico City, east of downtown, next to Alfredo Harp Helú Stadium where the Mexico City Diablos play. 

One other side story in this year’s race concerns 37-year-old British driver Lewis Hamilton, an all-time great whose streak of 15 seasons with at least one victory is in peril. After Sunday’s race, there will be only two more races in the 2022 season: in São Paulo on Nov. 13 and the following week in Abu Dhabi.

Checo Pérez, right, with his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen.
Checo Pérez, right, with his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen. Formula 1

In an interview with the newspaper El Heraldo de México, Pérez was asked about being “the most famous person in Mexico right now” and what he likes (and doesn’t like) about that.

“I think that the dedication that Mexicans have is unmatched. There is no rider in the world who has more fans than me at the moment, without a doubt,” he replied. “Perhaps what I don’t like is that when I’m eating [at a restaurant], or when I’m having a moment with my children, they don’t respect that moment. Not all of them, but there are those who can’t respect the fact that I’m eating. But I also understand them. Many times they don’t know that I come from taking more than 300 photos a day.”

Pérez has made 232 starts in Formula 1 in his career, and he has four wins and 24 top-three finishes. His most recent win was in this year’s Singapore Grand Prix on Oct. 2, and he’s been on the podium four times this season.

In this year’s world championship standings, Canadians Lance Stroll (13th) and Nicholas Latifi (20th) are doing well, but no U.S. drivers are in the top 22.

Formula 1 is the highest class of international racing, and the cars, often described as “sexy,” are open-wheel single-seaters.

The race on Sunday will be broadcast around the world on various networks, including ESPN in the United States, TSN in Canada and over the air in Mexico on Channel 5.

With reports from El Heraldo de México and El País

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