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Sergio Pérez, the Formula 1 pride and joy of his native Mexico

The race car driver sponsored by Red Bull is experiencing his most high-profile season in a 13-year-long F1 career. He’s appeared alongside Jimmy Fallon and Bad Bunny, while having also starred in dozens of commercials

Sergio 'Checo' Pérez y Bad Bunny
The Mexican race car driver Sergio “Checo” Pérez with the singer Bad Bunny, at the Monaco Grand Prix, on May 26, 2023.AFP7 vía Europa Press (AFP7 vía Europa Press)

The streets of Mexico City are covered with faces. However, beyond the endless political candidates plastered on walls and billboards, Sergio “Checo” Pérez is the one who stands out. His face — or, rather, his helmet — and his Red Bull uniform make up part of the urban landscape. He’s the Mexican sports idol of the moment.

There’s a special local connection with Pérez, 33, that has intensified over the last four years. In 2023, the driver has had a hectic year, with an agenda that’s been jam-packed with commercials and appearances. The winner of six Formula 1 Grand Prix races would need clones to be able to meet all the requests flooding in from journalists, influencers, friends, business partners and politicians.

Before Pérez, Mexico hadn’t had a Formula 1 driver since Héctor Rebaque raced in the 1980s with Parmalat Racing Team. Even further back were the legendary brothers, Pedro and Ricardo Rodríguez. In 2011, Sergio Pérez renewed Mexicans’ love of motorsport when he obtained a place on the Sauber F1 Team.

His godfather is Carlos Slim — one of the richest men in the world. The Slim family gave him their financial support, while the driver has clearly given them a good return on their investment. Although, in his first years in Formula 1, there was no “Checomania.” It wasn’t until 2015 — when the great motorsport circus came to Mexico — that he broke away from the pack. The boy from Guadalajara generated euphoria among the public. From then on, he aspired to be on a podium at least once every season.

Everything changed in December 2020, when Red Bull signed him. A Mexican, finally, could have a seat on a great team, with the possibility of racing for titles. If the big brands had ever been wary of sponsoring a young driver like Pérez, today, the multinationals are fighting over him. Since he’s been at Red Bull, he’s partnered with companies such as McDonald’s, Disney, Nestlé, and PepsiCo. In 2023, his appearances have multiplied, as we’ve seen him promote car insurance, bank accounts, coffee, chocolates, potato chips, oatmeal, phone service, internet providers, motor oil and even tourism in his homeland.

Checo Pérez has managed to attract the Mexican public not only in his own country, but also first, second and third-generation Chicanos in the United States. Red Bull took advantage of this by putting him in a video to advertise the Las Vegas Grand Prix on the city’s main avenue and outside all the casinos. Pérez has also been key to the advertising campaign put together by his F1 teams and Ford, the car company that — by 2026 — will manufacture Red Bull’s engines. As part of the publicity blitz, Pérez was invited on Jimmy Fallon’s program — along with Ford CEO Jim Farley — to race in a go-kart.

Weeks before the start of the Mexican Grand Prix, two songs were already playing on a loop across the country. Bad Bunny dropped his latest albumNadie sabe lo que va a pasar mañana — and, in the second song, MONACO, he dedicated a few lines to Checo Pérez: “Drinking a lot of champagne, we’re never dry. First Verstappen arrived, then Checo arrived.” The song’s music video shows the meeting between the Mexican and the Puerto Rican at this year’s Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Meanwhile, Mexican artist Carín León cast Pérez in his music video — Por la familia — where the race car driver plays a taxi driver in the desert.

The Mexican love affair with Checo Pérez caused Red Bull to display his car on the asphalt of Mexico City’s principal boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma, in 2021. In 2022, it was displayed in Guadalajara, the champion’s hometown. And, before this year is over, seven mayors of Mexican state capitals will organize small festivals, which will act as viewing parties for the Mexican Grand Prix.

Tickets to see the race sold out a year ago, just a few hours after going on sale. Online resale prices range from 6,000 pesos ($330) to 63,000 pesos ($3,500). The municipal government of Mexico City estimates that the economic benefit from the arrival of Formula 1 will be 15.6 billion pesos, or about $873 million.

For Pérez, the fanfare has already begun. At the Austin Grand Prix this past Sunday, he was the most-cheered by the grandstand, which was full of Hispanic Americans. When he arrives in Mexico on Wednesday, his routine will include giving a press conference at the Slim family headquarters, attending to requests from his sponsors and heading to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez — a major motorsport racetrack in Mexico City — for another session with the media. Then, it’s off to practice on Friday, with the qualifying round on Saturday. And, come Sunday, the race will begin, with the resounding cries in the air shouting for “Checo!”

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