You heard them too, right? With the champagne still drying from the podium ceremony at the United States Grand Prix last Sunday, a large group of fans were vocalising their support for a driver who had crossed the line in fifth place. “Checo! Checo! Checo!” they chanted, their enthusiasm spiking further when Sergio Perez came to greet them to acknowledge their unerring support.
Austin was once where Perez’s fans gathered in their masses, but it’s the Mexico City Grand Prix (October 27-29) where they do that most these days, and there’s a lot of them. Every race since Mexico came back onto the Formula 1® calendar in 2015 has attracted at least 333,000 fans; last year’s figure neared 400,000 – most of them seemingly seated in the unique Foro Sol baseball stadium section near the end of the lap.
Perez has been under the pump of late – he’s had just one podium in the past five races, four of which have been won by Red Bull Racing teammate Max Verstappen. He had some luck in Austin – no wonder those fans were happy – and this weekend would be the ideal time to keep the good times rolling.
Here’s three talking points for this weekend’s race around the circuit named after the two Rodriguez brothers, Pedro and Ricardo, who competed in F1® in the 1960s.
Checo’s big chance
If you believe some of the tabloid press out of Europe – go ahead, we won’t judge you – then Perez’s continuing tenure at Red Bull depends heavily on whether he finishes second in the standings this season to Verstappen, achieving something Red Bull has never managed in the seven seasons where it has won the drivers’ title.
Austin, then, had the arrow pointing in the right direction – eventually. Perez crossed the line in fifth place and 16secs behind second-placed Lewis Hamilton, seeing his advantage over the seven-time world champion slashed to an uncomfortable 19 points. Hamilton’s subsequent disqualification for his Mercedes failing a post-race scrutineering check and the points swing that sparked – Hamilton lost 18, Perez gained two by being shuffled up to fourth – means Checo now has a 39-point lead in his favour.
The points gain was against the grain, as Hamilton has looked clearly the faster of the two of late. Perez has finished third in his past two races at home, both won by – OK, you don’t need to guess – and going one better at a track where he feels the love like no other has to be the minimum acceptable result.
Ricciardo last, but not lost
The exclusion of Hamilton in Texas – as well as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for the same plank-wear infringement – had a knock-on effect that helped more drivers than just Perez; American rookie Logan Sargeant was promoted two places to 10th in the revised classification, the Williams driver finally scoring his first points on his 18th F1® weekend.
All of that means Daniel Ricciardo arrives in Mexico as the only one of 20 drivers yet to get off the mark; there’s extenuating circumstances there, given he’s only done three Grands Prix since November 2022 and was just starting to find his feet before breaking his hand at Zandvoort, but it’s a stat the Australian will want to squash.
Ricciardo admitted to some rust in Austin, and his Grand Prix was ruined by a piece of his AlphaTauri’s bodywork breaking and getting stuck in his front wing for the second stint of the race, his one-stop strategy unravelling as his damaged car went nowhere fast. Yuki Tsunoda took the sister AlphaTauri to eighth in Texas, so the car has pace; Ricciardo is always feisty in Mexico, meaning a result at the back-end of the top 10 is within reach as he gets back up to speed.
Charles in charge of pole curse?
Ferrari fans, avert your eyes; Austin was a continuation of the bizarre pole-to-victory stat that’s now the elephant in the room for Charles Leclerc, the Monegasque driver nailing qualifying for his 21st career pole but failing to convert that to victory for the 16th time in that sequence, including the last 10 successive occasions.
Leclerc – left out on a one-stop strategy none of the other top teams bothered with in Austin – finished a dispiriting sixth even before he was excluded, which brings up the old conundrum of whether he, or his team, are the primary problem in that hoodoo enduring. Is Leclerc putting the car in places it simply shouldn’t be on Saturdays, meaning there’s only one way things are going on Sundays?
Leclerc has been on pole in Mexico, in 2019 – spoiler alert, he didn’t win that weekend either – and it would surprise few if he was the one giving Verstappen the hardest time over one lap this Saturday. Whether that translates to anything other than anguish after 71 laps the next day? It’s a question we probably already know the answer to…