Pérez’ dismiss from Racing Point and how this is bad for Latin representation

Note: this is an opinion piece. Even so, I base my opinion on facts and these will be linked throughout the article. The text is the author’s sole responsibility and does not reflect necessarily the opinion of the website.

It is known and I’ll talk briefly about it in my opinion of Tuscany GP’s article, I decided to do my very first solo post about the telenovela around Sergio Pérez’s dismiss from Racing Point and Sebastian Vettel’s signing up with Aston Martin, announced last Wednesday and Thursday (9 and 10), respectively.

Racing Point revoked the Mexican’s contract that was guaranteed in the team for the next season. However, to give the new hired driver’ space, the “pink Mercedes” decided to sacrifice Pérez.

At one of the million social medias we have over the internet, there was a great mobilization from both sides fans – either celebrating that Vettel’ still safe in F1 or mourning Checo’s dismissal – and then, my inspiration to write this piece with my point of view came alive.

Even knowing this sport is moved by money, negotiations and political moves, it hurts to see a driver that, somehow, represents you in a mostly white and European space. I have many caveats related to this hiring, the hired driver to substitute Pérez and the way he was dismissed by his team so I couldn’t help but feel bad for Checo. At the end of the day, we’re talking about people that, apart from being athletes, have their own resilience stories and even more considering that Mexico isn’t historically known in Formula 1.

Pérez moved from Mexico to Germany when he was 15 years old, in order to start his career in Europe. Going through the feeder series such as Formula BMW, A1 Grand Prix, Formula 3 and GP2 (now known as Formula 2), he proved his talent and joined the Ferrari Drivers Academy until 2012. His career in Formula 1 is well-marked by traditional teams like Sauber – 2011 to 2012 -, McLaren – 2013, where he had a similar dismissal, compared to now days – and since 2014, he’s driving for Racing Point, once known as Force India.

His career was backed up by the then richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, nicknamed “Midas’ King of telecommunications”. One of his most known companies is Claro, which is a very popular mobile operator in Latino America and at least in Brazil, also provides broadband Internet, telephony services and even cable TV. Slim also owns Escudería Telmex, an organisation that supports and reveals latinxs drivers, such as Tatiana Calderón (the first latina to ever drive an F1, during Free Practice One at the Mexican Grand Prix in 2018), Pietro Fittipaldi and Pérez himself.

Calderón, Fittipaldi and Pérez: (one of the many) latinx drivers backed up by Escudería Telmex [1, 2, 3]

One half of the debaters that mourned over the lack of latinx representation on the sport introduced valid arguments, listing the difficulties faced by Latinx Americans and how much those countries lost their representers over the years. For example, the last Brazilian driver was Felipe Massa, who left the category in 2018. It’s worth mentioning that Brazilian’s biggest public station, Globo, won’t broadcast the races in 2021 (link in Portuguese). Another pinpoint is that Interlagos may be out of the 2021 season calendar (considering it only got worse after 2020’s cancelation after Covid-19 pandemic and our current situation), since its contract’s only valid until 2020, no forecast for renewal given the legal battle to build the circuit in Jacarepaguá, at Rio de Janeiro. The second race based on Latino America is precisely on Mexico, which has an almost certain forecast to be renewed for more seasons.

During his long career with Racing Point/Force India, in 2018, then Force India went through financial difficulties after filing for bankruptcy by the ex-owner and team boss Vijay Mallya, the Mexican brought action against the team, which he alleged “necessary” in order to save it and guarantee thousands of jobs. Right after, Lawrence Stroll bought the team and concretized it, becoming the known Racing Point.

After announcing his departure, Pérez didn’t hide his surprise with Lawrence Stroll’s decision, which was only confirmed – both the media and the driver – last Wednesday. Some websites affirm that Checo heard “through the walls” a talk between the businessman instructing their legal counsel on how to prepare the documents to sign up Vettel during the Monza Grand Prix. Imagine being on a team for years, helping with their financial recovery to avoid closing and listening through the walls that they were signing somebody else? I’d, at least, rage.

The Mexican didn’t hide his gratitude to the team on his official press release, posted on his social medias’ profiles, stating that he’d “keep in the memories of the great moments lived together, the friendships and the satisfaction of always giving his all”. Besides that, he wished good luck to the team, led by Lawrence, specially with the upcoming Aston Martin project. The full release can be read in his tweet, both in English and Spanish.

This isn’t the first time that a team terminates their contract with Checo, even having a year already guaranteed. In 2013, McLaren decided to fire him to hire the Danish Kevin Magnussen. The exit statement was also announced by Pérez, who thanked the opportunity to be part of the historical team. “It has been an honor for me to have been in one of the most competitive teams in the sport and I do not regret even a bit having joined them. I have always given the best of me for the team and still despite this I could not achieve what I aimed for in this historic team”, Pérez said. He also highlighted the many friendships he made within the team, the same said about Racing Point.

Mikey’s one of Checo’s mechanics and this was his comment on his goodbye post [4]

With all this repercussion and taking fans by surprise, reactions were quick on both sides, whether from supporters of Vettel or Pérez. The German’s fans rejoiced at the new opportunity, meanwhile the Mexican’s ones (and even those who didn’t consider themselves as his fans) were shocked by the way the negotiation went, as exposed by Checo. With that, the discussion mentioned at the beginning of this article began.

It is important to contextualize Sergio’s career, from beginning to the feeder series and the teams he’s been on at F1 until now to get to the point I want to focus: the latinx representation.  

As pointed out by a friend of mine, during the 2010 era of F1, we had many Latinx drivers such as the Brazilians Bruno Senna, Felipe Massa, Felipe Nasr, Lucas di Grassi, Luiz Razia e Rubens Barrichello; the Mexicans Esteban Gutierrez and Sergio Pérez and the Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado. Each one of them had their destinies in the sport and for different reasons, didn’t continued in Formula 1. Comparing today’s scenario, we realise how good it was having a bit of diversity in the sport! But since 2018, Checo is the only remaining latino. Isn’t that a bit weird?

Most of the drivers mentioned above suffered with media’s scrutiny, like for example, Pastor Maldonado. How many times did the Venezuelan was a laugh stock? How many memes were made mocking his “hit and run” fame? What about Rubinho? Until today, we see memes saying how “late” he is or how slow, putting him in the eternal spot of the “number two driver”.

When the latinxs united themselves to talk about how unfair this situation is through extremely valid arguments, of course some ‘unpopular opinions’ came alive. “But where is the Balkan representation?”, someone posted in a very sarcastic tone, meaning that “not only latinxs struggle with lack of representation”. “But what if Kvyat, who’s Eastern European, leaves F1, would you guys be upset like that too?”, another one questioned.

So everything went downhill from that point. The debate itself wasn’t about a driver but about representation. Just like Senna’s iconic career inspired many Brazilian children – and worldwide too, like our six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton -, to be drivers professionally. How many karting programs were funded in Brazil, thanks to Senna? Many, more than we can count. His nephew, Bruno, followed his uncle’s footsteps and he’s a professional driver, now competing for the World Endurance Championship.

Now imagine how a Mexican child, who saw Checo’s conquering his space in the sport, year after year, overcoming all difficulties, even the team’s bankruptcy he currently raced for, felt when they knew about the abrupt termination of his contract. Imagine knowing that the guy who looks like you the most may not even race for 2021. This goes beyond any driver “feud”.

Sauber, McLaren, Force India and Racing Point… which will be the next team for Checo? [5, 6, 7, 8]

What raged me the most about this whole tour was to know that someone else’s pain, who saw themselves represented by a driver who shares the same ethnicity is something to be mocked. Something to be used as comparison. What’s funny, in a tragic way, it’s to know that many people supported the Black Lives Matter movement and fervently criticised the drivers who never kneeled in respect to the black community and the only black driver on the grid. You can’t simply defend a community that always suffered with racism and when you have the opportunity to listen and learn with another ethnicity that also suffers daily with racism and xenophobia, you act like you don’t care at all.

As I talked with my closest friends, besides being a performative activism, it’s disgusting. Just for the sake of “being wokefor your “audience”. You question yourself if the anti-racist posture these people had were an actual thing or just for likes. I choose the latter,

One person, during the whole discourse, said they weren’t sad for the loss of a driver but for the loss of representation. This is all happening in the same year F1 created the We Race as One campaign to promote diversity – basically because they were pressured by Lewis, which I think he was right in doing so -, it’s hard to swallow this as a simple silly season kind of move. When you’re latinx, you know how we are discriminated against by standards and stereotypes forced by the media and this type of structural racism forces us to occupy a supporting space, reinforces the need to erase our narrative, keeps us invisible and prevents us from occupying spaces.

Since I started watching F1, Checo was always there so I felt a deep sadness to know about his departure. I consider him a talented driver, with the potential to develop his driving skills every season and I see in him the love for the sport. In my opinion, this move pulled by Racing Point was extremely truculent and Otmar’s statements were mere bluffs (which, by the way, were awful). [1, 2]

There are already rumours of McLaren wanting him at their Indy team and even Red Bull (video in Spanish). This information came from the same journalist that confirmed Alonso’s return to Renault, but everything is still rumoured. Formula E may be an interesting option for him as well, since the category already welcomed ex-F1 drivers such as Jean-Eric Vergne, Nelson Piquet Jr and Antonio Félix da Costa, that once were not so friendly dismissed from their teams or their formation programs, in da Costa’s case.

I hope Checo gets a seat in Formula 1 or any other category that treats him with the respect he deserves. After all, that’s not the treatment the “Mexican wunderkind” deserves.

As we wait for the next step, Checo’ll have the last nine races of the season to make all latinxs proud [9]

Photos

Note: None of the photos used in this article belongs to me. This site has informative intentions, not commercial. The links where I took the photos are indicated below. All copyrights reserved.

[1, 2, 3] Montage made from the photo found in:

1. https://twitter.com/alfaromeoracing/status/1230069607324618752

2. https://www.uol.com.br/esporte/f1/ultimas-noticias/2019/03/03/louco-pelo-verdao-e-farofa-pietro-fittipaldi-e-mais-brasileiro-que-parece.htm

3. https://www.gazetadigital.com.br/editorias/esporte/force-india-confirma-permanencia-de-sergio-perez-para-a-temporada-de-2019-da-f-1/553522

[4, 5, 6, 7] Montage made from the photo found in:

4. Screenshot from Sergio Pérez’s Instagram post

5. https://www.f1aldia.com/14101/presentacion-sauber-2012-c31/

6. https://themotorsportarchive.com/2013/01/31/mclaren-launch-the-mp4-28/

7. https://holatelcel.com/holatelcel/checo-perez-y-nico-hulkenberg-pasan-de-la-pista-a-la-cancha/

8. https://www.formula1.com/en/drivers/sergio-perez.html

9. https://www.portada-online.com/sports-marketing/sergio-perez-becomes-mexicos-most-accomplished-f1-racer/