Good Crazy

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

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I have never been a fan of Monday mornings. 

When I was a kid, it was the worst time of the week. The problem wasn’t school, but that I showed up feeling almost dead. Sometimes I had barely slept. I hadn’t showered for days. I would sit there smelling of motor oil.

You see, every weekend I would compete in go-kart races that ended on Sunday evening. They could be 10 hours away by car, so it was nearly impossible to race and get back to school on Monday. But my family, well … we are not normal. We did it anyway.

When my friends were out having fun, The Team — me, my dad, my older brother and our mechanic — would hit the road. I would bring my books and my school uniform. My brother and I would fall asleep in the back seat, and my dad would drive through the night. When we got there on Saturday morning, we’d get changed in the car. Then I would have a “shower,” which was a cup of cold water I would throw in my face. 

That was it. I was ready. I’d jump into my kart and race. 

When my brother and I had finished racing on Sunday, my dad would drive through the night again to get us back home to Guadalajara. On Monday mornings he wouldn’t even take me home — he’d just drop me straight off at school. 

I think this “good” kind of craziness has helped me a lot.

Sergio Perez

Those Mondays were not fun, believe me. But we did it for the racing. If me or my brother had done well, those 10 hours felt like 10 minutes. And if we hadn’t, well, we would grab a bite at a service station, and we’d all be happy anyway.

I know this routine might sound a little mad. But to me, it makes sense of what would come later. There are countless drivers all over the world who want to race in Formula One, you know? Only 20 can do it at any given time.

To become one of them, for sure, you have to be lucky. 

Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty

But you also need to be a little crazy. 

I think this “good” kind of craziness has helped me a lot. There is definitely a streak that runs in the family. My dad, Antonio, has dedicated his life to this sport: He used to race before he became the manager of Adrián Fernández. My brother, also Antonio, is obsessed with racing. So it’s in my blood. But Formula One? As a kid, I never thought about it. There were no Mexican drivers there. I was just racing because I loved it. 

Suddenly, I only wanted to race in Formula One. 

Sergio Perez

At the start my idea was to stay in Mexico. But then one day, I got banned. When I was in my early teens, I had a special permit that allowed me to race go-kart against much older drivers. This one season the championship winner would get a test in formulas, so my plan was to win it and get signed by Escudería Telmex. I was leading the championship, but then I crashed with this guy who was very powerful within the Mexican racing federation. Long story short, they withdrew my license.

I was out. Championship over. I didn’t know it then, but that would be my last race in Mexico for more than a decade.

Luckily, Telmex found out about my situation and gave me a test anyway. When I was 14, I ended up racing for them in the Skip Barber National Championship over in the U.S. And I was happy. One day, though, I visited my brother, who had moved to the U.K. to race in Formula Four. I saw how professional things were there, and I realized that all the best drivers were in Europe. 

Suddenly, I only wanted to race in Formula One. 

Somehow, I had to get to Europe. 

This was very tricky. I would need a team to give me a contract. It was super expensive, so I would need a sponsor. My dad and my brother had some good contacts in racing, but they couldn’t fix it for me. I was on my own, and I had no idea how to do it. 

But now I was completely obsessed. So I began this crazy routine. When I was back in Mexico, I would wake up every day at 3 a.m. and call racing teams in Europe. Today it’s easy, right? You just find the details online. Twenty years ago it was much harder. I would cold call teams in broken English and beg for a chance. I would write emails. I’d send faxes in the middle of the night. Thanks to an online translation site, I put together a script that I’d paste into emails or read over the phone. 

I think my elevator pitch went something like this: 

Hi, I’m Sergio Pérez,

I’m a Mexican driver, VERY fast.

(Then the killer line.)

… and I have a sponsor.

That was it!! Pretty good, right? The sponsor was important, because if they knew I had money they’d be interested. Of course, I didn’t actually have one, but I could figure that out later. 

I kept up this routine for weeks. Then one day after school, I noticed that something strange was going on. My mom, Marilú, would come pick me up, and she would always be late. But then this one day she is right on time. She is earlier than all the other parents. 

I get in the car and expect something like, “So how was your day?” My mom is very easygoing. But as soon as I close the door, she starts yelling. 


I’m like, “Well, actually, I’ve been calling racing teams in Europe.…”


She was going berserk! I thought that maybe she was exaggerating, but when I saw the bill … wow. The calls cost like 10 times more than normal. I guess all the hours online and the midnight faxes didn’t help. So yeah, she was super angry. 

She didn’t understand what I was doing, you know? To her I was a kid wasting money playing with the phone. When I explained that I was pursuing this dream, she just made sure the calls to Europe were blocked. 

That was a nightmare, because now I could only send emails. Looking back, I guess I could have gone, Checo, this is crazy. Let’s do something else

But let’s just say that I stayed online. One day I got through to a guy named Günther Unterreitmeier, who ran a small team in German Formula BMW. His English was almost as bad as mine, but thanks to a friend of mine who spoke German, I understood that he was offering me a very cheap proposal. So, of course, I accepted. I wasn’t just on a small budget — I had no budget. 

I was in heaven. Finally I had a gateway to Europe.

Now I just had to convince Carlos…. 

I was very lucky. I had known Carlos Slim, the man himself, since I was a little boy, thanks to my dad and his work for Adrián Fernández. Carlos was also the guy behind Escudería Telmex, so he had always been very important to me. But getting him to send me to Europe was a different story. He hadn’t gotten rich by throwing away his money, and he had absolutely no plans to send a 14-year-old kid to another part of the world. I didn’t really like to ask him about it either, but I just wanted it so badly. So I kept going to him like, “Oh, please, pleeeeease could you help me get to Europe?” 

Every time he would say the same things. 

“Son, it’s too early.” 

“We don’t need to go to Europe.”

“The U.S. is great.”

“Let’s wait a bit.”

Blah, blah, blah. 

Every time I would disagree. 

When I got the offer from Günther, I called Carlos again. Did he listen to me? Naaaah. Not really. Hahaha. The only reason he gave in, I think, was that he saw a kid who just wanted it so much. I was desperate. I was willing to do anything. In the end he probably got so tired of me that he actually saw the value in sending me off to a different continent.

My family was ecstatic. Soon we were driving down to Toluca with a one-way ticket to Munich. I couldn’t sleep on the plane. I was imagining how I would hang out with all these great drivers. We were going to have so much fun. 

Mark Thompson/Getty

When I landed, I met Günther for the first time. I almost asked him, “Sooooo, where are all the drivers?” We drove for about 40 minutes to where I was going to live. As I looked out the window, I noticed that the places were getting smaller and smaller. The colors were getting greener and greener. Soon I was like, What? There are not even houses here?! 

We got off in a tiny village. This was my new home. 

Fields. Trees. Tractors. 

I was completely shocked. 

Nobody had explained to me that I would be living like this. You have to understand how hard this was for me. I was used to Guadalajara, a city with 1.5 million people. I was at my happiest when I was hanging out with my friends, like any other Mexican kid. I’m Latin, so I’m very close to my family. I need people around me. 

Now I was checking into this hotel, which was known as the place where all the truck drivers would stop. I was alone. I had nothing to do. Calling home was too expensive. I had my friends on the old messenger, but no Internet. Even if I met people, I spoke no German and very bad English. My only friend was Günther, who I saw only on the weekend. The rest of the week I’d be killing time in the gym. 

After three days I was already going mad. 

A month later, when the winter testing was done, I made my first trip back to Mexico. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to see everybody again. When I boarded the plane back to Germany, I didn’t want to go. I did it because it was an amazing opportunity for me, but I wasn’t happy. 

I stayed at the hotel for three months. It was really, really tough.

Thankfully, I managed to get out. One day Günther opened a restaurant and told me I could live in a flat above it. I was like, Surely it has to be better than the hotel? 

Well, it was. At least I was seeing people there, you know? Since I was not going to school in Germany, I slipped into the role as the chef’s assistant. Not bad for someone who had never liked to cook. And actually, I enjoyed it a lot. Compared to the hotel, the restaurant felt like paradise. 

Over the next few years everything went so fast. When I was 17, I moved to Oxford to race in British Formula Three. Two years later I was doing well in the GP2 series. 

After my second season there I got a deal at Sauber. 

Suddenly, I was in Formula One. 

This was in 2011 and it changed my life. It’s funny how you can race for years and be completely unknown, and then once you make it to Formula One, the whole world knows who you are. The news was huge in Mexico, because we hadn’t had a Formula One driver in 30 years. Suddenly you are stopped in the streets. You are praised, judged and criticized. You have more work, more pressure, more commitments.

On the track, you are in control. Off of it, Formula One controls you. 

Yet the hardest thing is to stay in Formula One. I’ve had some amazing moments, like going back to Mexico in 2015 — my first race there since I’d gotten banned. I’ll never forget the love and support I got from the Mexican people that day. I have learned a lot at all the teams I have raced for. But in 2020, when I knew I would not get another contract at Racing Point, I thought it might be over. I felt it could be my last season in F1, and it nearly was. It was very close. 

Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty

Actually, I was already thinking about my life without racing. Then Red Bull offered me a deal at the last race of the season, and of course I was super happy to accept. 

Competing for Oracle Red Bull Racing is a huge privilege, you know? With such a strong car you’re almost guaranteed a chance to fight for a victory every weekend, which is what you want. My profile was raised once I became part of the Red Bull family, because it’s such an important brand. A really crucial thing is that my relationship with the mechanics is so good. We’re obsessed about winning and we’re having fun, which is a big deal because we spend so much time together. I mean, I see them more than I see my wife! 

I feel so lucky to keep living this dream. As with every job, there are some things that I don’t enjoy. The training, the media, the racing — it’s very intense, and it limits the time I can spend with my family. On 1 January I know what I’ll be doing every single day of the year. One day you’re in Australia, the next you’re in Europe. I’ve been living like this for more than 10 years now, so I’m used to it, but every time I can go back to Guadalajara, I do. I travel with my wife and my three kids. I see relatives and hang out with my friends. I’ll just be a normal guy. Sometimes I even forget that I’m a racing driver. 

So the commitments you have around the racing are the price you pay. To some people it can feel like a lot. To me, when I look at the enjoyment I get — from the racing, from my amazing team at Red Bull Racing, from the people of Mexico — it feels like nothing. I have always been happy to pay it. 

Clive Mason/Getty

In a way, the price has always been there. It’s funny to look back now at my old routine, when we would drive 10 hours through the night and turn up to school on Monday morning. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t comfortable. My back would be aching from sleeping in the car. I’d be walking into class next to “normal” kids who were wondering what I had been doing. 

What about my grades?

Was this really worth it? 

Why was I putting myself through this? 

They had no way of understanding it. They were dreaming of becoming doctors and lawyers, you know? I would sit there, fighting to stay awake, smelling like the garage, still thinking about the race. And even then, in that moment, I just could not imagine doing anything else.