The Sauber team has finally confirmed long-standing rumours that it would receive major investment from Mexico, announcing that it had secured telco giant Telmex as a title sponsor and signed GP2 driver Sergio Pérez as Kamui Kobayashi’s team-mate for 2011.
The deal sees Perez (whose full name is Serio Pérez Mendoza), 20, become Mexico’s first F1 driver since Héctor Rebaque drove for Brabham in 1981. It also ensure Sauber’s future on the grid, amidst an equal amount of rumours that its future looked shaky without some forthcoming sponsorship.
Telmex is owned by the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, a keen follower of motorsport and a man who has pushed strongly for greater Mexican representation at the international stage. The Sauber team has confirmed that Telmex’s logos will have “significant presence” on the 2011 car.
Mexico’s new F1 representative: Pérez is a proven racewinner in GP2 (above left), and he becomes the nation’s first F1 representative since Héctor Rebaque drove for Brabham in 1981 (pictured above right).
Born in Guadalajara and currently living in Berlin, Pérez made his open-wheeler debut in the Skip Barber National Championship in 2004, finishing eleventh in the championship. In 2005, he moved to Europe and competed in the German Formula BMW ADAC series, contesting two seasons for Team Rosberg, and also contested a round of the A1 Grand Prix series in the 2006-7 season.
In 2007, Pérez won the British Formula 3 (National Class) title by a hefty margin, taking two-thirds of the class victories and finishing all bar two races on the podium. The following year, he graduated to the International Class of the championship, leading early on but fading to fourth overall.
The Mexican then joined the F1 feeder category, GP2, in 2008, contesting the 2008-9 Asian component of the championship with Campos Grand Prix, taking wins in Bahrain and Qatar. In the main series, he drove for Arden, finishing 20th overall in 2009.
This year, he was the runner-up in the championship to Pastor Maldonado, taking four wins for the Arden team. Maldonado himself was linked with the seat at Sauber, but now finds himself looking for a drive elsewhere on the grid.
The same applies to current stand-in Nick Heidfeld, who could feel rightfully cheated on being given enough of an opportunity to showcase his skills with the Swiss team, with announcement coming just one weekend after his return to racing, where he retired from the Singapore Grand Prix after colliding with Michael Schumacher.
The German veteran will now find himself casting for other driving opportunities on the grid, with Renault seemingly the most competitive (albeit unlikely) prospect.
And with Sauber having recently secured the services of Esteban Gutierrez as its reserve driver, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect an all-Mexican F1 team in the near future, particularly if the Telmex group sees an opportunity to buy into the team later down the line.