The King Of The Streets

By: Ixchel Gonzalez

As Sergio (Checo) Perez becomes the most successful driver to race in Baku, Azerbaijan, having the most wins and podiums than any other driver, he has undoubtedly become the king of the streets. I can say unabashedly that Checo Perez has been one of the reasons why I have come to be so intrigued in the sport of Formula 1.

Waking up as early as one in the morning on a Sunday to watch cars go around in weirdly shaped circles is the highlight of my week. What first began as casual viewing of Formula 1 race days soon turned into a frenzy of learning more about the sport’s history, learning about G-Force, and studying aerodynamics that make Formula 1 cars go at least 250 mph. I became fascinated with every aspect of Formula 1. From the race strategies teams use to undercut or overcut their competitors in pit stops to the type of tires used to gain optimal grid positions. The chance for any non-frontrunner team and driver to win a Grand Prix is slim to none,  but when the race gods give optimal winning conditions to back-of-the-pack teams, it makes the most exciting, invigorating, adrenaline-filled race. This feeling of watching the most action-packed races reminds me of why I fell in love with the sport, and reminds me of Checo Perez.

Even though Checo Perez only won 2 out of the 7 street races in last year’s 2022 Formula 1 season, he still has been labeled as king of the streets since those 2 races he won were his only race wins for the 2022 F1 season. His success was hard-earned as he was in Formula 1 for 9 years before finally winning his first grand prix, breaking the record for the number of race starts before a race win at 190.

In the world of Formula 1, it’s either swim or drown. Drivers are always at risk of losing their seat unless they are giving results for their respective teams. During the 2020 season, this philosophy was dangerously looming over Checo Perez’s head as his team at the time, Racing Point, had decided to take on a different driver (Sebastian Vettel) for the upcoming 2021 season. This left Checo to look elsewhere for a team that was willing to house his ambitious efforts in Formula 1. The talent was there, having placed second in the Turkish Grand Prix and accumulating 100 driver’s championship points. He outperformed  his teammate, Lance Stroll, who after the Turkish Grand Prix had 59 points. Yet many teams were reluctant to sign him, and by the penultimate race of 2020, he seemed to be without a seat for the 2021 season. 

During the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, Checo went into the weekend knowing he would have to pull a hail mary to save his career and stay in Formula 1. This would prove to be difficult due to starting P5 and being behind the most formidable teams in Formula 1. His race strategy needed a miracle after contact in the opening lap with Charles Leclerc that caused him to spin out. This incident triggered a safety car where Checo was able to change tires and rejoin at the back of the field. It is an understatement to say that he had a long way to go, seeing that he was in the back of the field and needed to overtake 18 cars. By lap 20, Checo had made his way up to 10th place, yet he still had a long way to go. He fought his way up to a podium position by lap 55 and would soon be leading the race after Mercedes fumbled the bag with their pit stops, giving one driver the wrong set of tires. This pit stop mayhem ultimately kept the drivers who were threatening Checo’s race win at bay and secured him his first maiden win in Formula 1.

Hearing the multitude of instruments playing out the Mexican National Anthem with trumpets blaring as Checo stood on the first place podium, was moving. I, too, shared these sentiments, not in the sense of driving at the cusp of glory, but in the sense of seeing someone who looks like me and is from the same place as me competing against the world’s most talented drivers, is a warm embrace of who I am and where I come from. 

His race win ultimately gave Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal, the confidence to take Checo in to drive for Red Bull Racing. His efforts had been rewarded with a seat in a frontrunner team. This Aaron Rodgers–type hail mary save ultimately interested many teams, but in a calculated career move, Checo signed a contract with Red Bull Racing.

He proved his rightful place in the team during the 2021 season where he was labeled “minister of defense” for assisting teammate, Max Verstappen, in helping keep 2021 title challenger, Lewis Hamilton, at an arm’s length, essentially letting Max Verstappen pull away and put a gap between them. This ultimately helped Max Verstappen win the 2021 World Championship. 

Being the fifth Mexican racing driver in Formula One history means that he is representing a whole nation– a nation that puts its collective spirits to support him and his racing. I distinctly remember my aunt going to the Mexican Grand Prix and showing us videos of the mass crowds chanting Checo’s name. From the videos she showed us and through the live coverage on TV, the atmosphere of a collective group of people showing support to the sport and to the driver that represented them as a whole country gave me an overwhelming sense of pride and tears to my eyes to see someone that looks like me, competing in the highest levels of racing.

Formula One gives the people underdog stories, amazing commentating, and redemption arcs, that all come full circle. And I’m here for it.


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