SINGAPORE — No one can accuse Sergio Perez of taking shortcuts to success.
Emerging from Mexico - a country not known for producing top Formula One drivers - the 32-year-old has spent the last 11 years bouncing around good and bad teams, before finally getting his big break last year to race alongside Max Verstappen in the Oracle Red Bull Racing team.
Race wins and podium finishes came for the affable Perez, as he swept to victories in the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix and - more memorably - the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix this year. And with wins come fame, as he received a roaring welcome as he joined in the fun and games at ExxonMobil Asia Pacific's "The One Race Returns" event at SCAPE on Thursday (29 September), ahead of the weekend's F1 Singapore Grand Prix.
It has been a long climb to the top, but Perez has a mantra which he has even inscribed onto his race helmet, to remind himself to stay positive and hungry through everything: "Never give up."
"You'll go through many, many occasions in your life where you kind of think, maybe you're in the wrong place, maybe you should just do something else, or just look for an easier way," he said at the ExxonMobil Asia Pacific event.
"But it's always important to remember what you want to achieve. It's just so important just to stick to what you want to do, and just keep working hard. Bad things are going to be thrown at you, and it's important just to keep your target in mind all the time."
Many years of toil to earn racing chances
That "never give up" mantra must have served Perez well ever since he dipped his feet into kart racing at the age of six in 1996.
Even though he quickly became the youngest junior champion in Mexico's top karting competition, it was not until 2005 before he got his big break to head over to Germany to compete in the Formula BMW ADAC series. Another slow climb up the various Formula race series ensued before he finally earned his F1 ticket with Sauber in 2011.
After years of toiling under the radar, not knowing when he might have his chance at racing in an elite set-up, what advice would Perez give to his younger self making his debut in 2011?
"Don't try to control things that are out of your control," he said at the ExxonMobil Asia Pacific event.
Referring to his one-year stint with McLaren in 2013 - when he endured a difficult season with a team in decline - Perez added, "When I was a bit younger, I tried to control too many things, and things got too stressful as I tried to do too much, like what happened when I joined McLaren.
"But I would say to my younger self not to be too worried. There will be surprises along the way and you just have to make the most of the opportunities given to you, make sure you push yourself as much as you can when you're given the chance."
Mexican GP win will be 'magical thing'
Perez has certainly been given the chance to shine upon joining Red Bull Racing, and he has seized it with great success. Riding high in third place in this season's overall standings, behind Verstappen and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, the Mexican is on course to outdo his career-best fourth-place season finish last year.
He enthused that the biggest difference he finds between his current team and his previous ones is "the level of detail my teammates are searching for all the time", as Red Bull seek to regain the constructors' championship they last won in 2013.
Despite his recent successes, Perez feels he could have done better this year, as he struggled with a couple of team upgrades to the race car midway through the season.
"Once the team started upgrading the car, it got a bit out of my hands and it took me a few races to adjust to the improvements. I'll have to react better to these adjustments in the future," he said.
For now, Perez can enjoy the fruits of his long climb to the top as he joined ExxonMobil employees in a blaze-pod reaction challenge, and play a radio controlled car game with primary-school students from the South West District at the SCAPE event, which was also graced by Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Mayor of South West District.
But there are still dreams to be fulfilled on the tracks for the Mexican this season. While the drivers' championship may be virtually out of reach with Verstappen far ahead of the chasing pack, one race will particularly be of great interest for Perez: the Mexican Grand Prix at the end of October.
"It would be a magical thing if I'm able to win in Mexico this year," he said with a big grin. "The crowd would be insane, absolutely crazy, and I really hope I can experience it this year."
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