McLaren F1 star Sergio Perez takes over as the latest Online Driving Instructor. Questions can be put to Perez beginning September 19. His answers will be posted daily starting October 7.
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Driver
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez will provide a unique opportunity for young drivers to receive top-level advice on their racing careers as he becomes the latest Online Driving Instructor for SAFEisFast.com.
Perez took to the wheel of a kart for the first time at the age of six and by nine was already racing in shifter karts having won in the junior categories. At 14, he moved up into single-seater cars, competing in the US-based Skip Barber National Championship. In 2005, he moved to Europe to compete in Formula BMW before demonstrating his talent in British Formula 3 by winning the National Class in 2007.
He then went on to GP2 where in only his second season he won five races, ultimately finishing runner-up to Pastor Maldonado. Both drivers graduated to Formula 1 and in doing so Perez became the first Mexican to compete in the World Championship since Hector Rebaque in 1981.
Following two impressive seasons with Sauber, he joined McLaren for 2013 to partner Jenson Button, scoring his first points for the team at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Sergio Perez answers your questions!
I’m turning 17 and I want to become a pro race car driver. I have the talent and race now in karts but I need to take the next step. Do you have any advice? And what’s it like to drive an F1 car? How do you deal with the pressure?
You should go to one of the small-formula categories. I think Formula Ford or Formula Renault are good series to start in. Pressure is a big factor in Formula 1. But it’s the same pressure that you always have in the junior categories. You have crucial times in your career where you have to succeed, no matter what, in order to move further up, and it’s the same in Formula 1. This is something you have to learn in the lower categories, to build your character, because once you come to a dip sometimes is when this will help you. If you never developed those skills, you will have big problems in Formula 1!
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Is it hard for you to manage your tires, especially when the FIA changes the weight, size and other important factors?
Hello Sergio, I am Indonesian and I am 17 years old. I am so passionate about this sport. I want to be a racing driver. Whether is it open or closed wheel. Must I have a lot of money to realize it? Is it too late for me start my career in my age? If no, how can I start it? Thank you.
If I’m honest with you it is late to start your career in formula car racing. You really need to start your career when you’re 5-6 years old with karting. This experience counts a lot. When you’re 17 you should already be in a Formula 3 series or something like that. I think in the formula cars it would be very difficult to succeed starting now. But I think maybe you have a better chance in closed-wheel racing so definitely you should try that.
Coming up through the ranks, how can you make people (team owners and others) take notice of your results and accomplishments?
I think it’s important to show success and have the results. I think it is also important to have the right people around you – people who can talk about you and about your results. And make sure you keep as many people informed about you as you can. All of that is important.
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First of all you are a huge inspiration for me. I wanted to know how prepared you are now for next season having gone through a fairly rough season so far. Do you think you will grow accustomed to the pressure and begin to thrive. Given that you are given a competitive car?
Yes, definitely. I am starting already in a much better position for next year and I think I will definitely be able to take the maximum out of the car that I get from the team.
Hey Sergio, I am taking part in the Skip Barber Series and I too have the intention of moving to Europe to race in formula series there. Can you explain how you made that transition? Do you have any tips for someone in a similar position?
Yes, definitely. First of all, enjoy Skip Barber as much as you can. I raced in Skip Barber and I remember I really enjoyed it. Together with my Dad we had great times and I think that’s important. You have to enjoy it, enjoy the driving, and learn as much as possible. Listen to the instructors. Ask them a lot of questions. Don’t worry if you ask stupid questions! It’s a good school that will help you, so that guidance and those questions that you asked there will help you when you come to Europe. So definitely enjoy it and ask a lot of questions.
Hi Sergio, thanks for the time. What were some of the most important things you learned while racing in Europe that would have helped you while in America?
A: Racing in Europe is much more aggressive, it’s much more professional and it’s a lot tougher. I think the best drivers in the world are in Europe, especially in the lower categories when they are trying to get into Formula 1, of course, so it helps you in every single way.
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Being a driver who has moved up the racing ladder fairly quickly, what has been the hardest aspect to adapt to in terms of driving?
There are a lot of things, especially in Formula 1. I came from GP2 to Formula 1 and that was the biggest step because Formula 1 is all about adapting. You have a car that you start the season with but then you are developing the car so have always to adapt, to understand every single piece of the car, and to always try to move forward from that. The very best drivers in the world are the ones who can adapt their driving style as their cars are developed.
Hey Sergio, I would like to ask you if this year’s McLaren is overall better than your Sauber from last year?
Overall it’s very hard to judge. The McLaren definitely has more downforce than what I had at Sauber, because all the cars this year have more downforce than last year, but I don’t know. The Sauber was quite good in tire degradation last year and there are certain things where the Sauber is still quite strong. Obviously, you see now, they look strong so I don’t know.
Sergio, you are an idol to me. I am 15 years old and I love to race. I am in karts right now but I do not know how to take the next step into cars. It is a dream of mine to make it into Formula 1. What should I do?
Once you have some good accomplishments in karting, you have to try to move up into formula cars and try to find a good series where you can show your talent to people so they will support you to move further up the ladder. Of course, it’s an expensive sport so you have to find some sponsors — or hopefully your dad might be able to help you at least to get started.
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With sponsor events, races, meetings, testing, manufacturer events and training, how do you manage to do things like book flights or even make time for a good meal or time to rest? Do you have personal assistants that organize these things for you?
Yes, I do, because as you say it’s nearly impossible as a Formula 1 driver to find any time for that. Your time, every second, is crucial and you’re always so busy, so yes, my PA takes care of all those things — all the logistics, the reservations and everything.
Jack Mitchell Jr.
What do you think gave you the extra edge over all of the other drivers who wanted to drive in Formula 1 too?
First of all my results, which is the most important thing, and then my age. I was always very young in whatever I was doing and beating people who were older than me. It helps you, because it proves you have more talent and a better future so I think that was a good advantage for me. I was always the youngest in every single series I was driving, and this really helped me to make it to Formula 1.
Hey Sergio, When you’re at a track for the first time, how do you go about working up to and finding the limit? Thanks and best of luck for the rest of the F1 season.
We do a simulator session beforehand and then when we’re here we do a practice to explore the limits of the track. That’s why sometimes you see a lot of drivers going off in practice sessions and taking more grass. It is quite normal – we as racing drivers are exploring the limits. The simulators are still very far from replicating the real thing so being in the car is really important.
Do you do any specific heat training to prepare for traditionally scorching events like the Singapore GP and Bahrain? As you know, everyone deals with heat differently. Could you elaborate upon what you do? Thanks Checo!
When you know that those races are coming you always try to prepare as best as possible. You know they are very tough races physically – very hot, humid, so you always try to prepare very strongly from a fitness point of view. I don’t necessarily train in the heat but rather do longer sessions, try to get your weight up because normally on weekends like that you tend to lose a lot of weight. So you try to add at least two kilos before the beginning of the weekend.
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What made you want to become a Formula 1 driver?
First of all I was a fan of the sport and then I realised how tough it is. But I want to be the best in the world at what I do so Formula 1 is a great option for me. I love racing and I want to become the best in the world at what I’m doing. I realised when I was 12 years old that I wanted to be an F1 driver and since then I have tried to make it happen.
Do you use reference points for braking, turning, accelerating, etc., or do you focus on visual memory?
No, I use most of the time the braking references. We have the marks by meters so I use them as a reference and once you brake, then you start to feel when you should turn, when you should go on power and so on.
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Are you a better driver than Jenson?
Well, for me it’s very hard to judge if I’m the better driver. I feel that I’m the best driver, of course, that I can do a better job than anyone else on the grid, but I’m sure if you ask the question to any driver, every driver thinks the same. I think Jenson is a very good driver, very complete with a lot of experience, but I think I’m better.
Are you looking forward to the new turbo charged V6 engines next year? Is this a step forward for F1?
I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a new era for Formula 1 and a big challenge for the teams, for the drivers to adapt to the new regulations. I’m sure it will require a different driving style and we will have to learn all the rules; everything will be different so you have to adapt to the rules.
Hi, I’m trying to make it as driver in the U.S., but I often hear that the best place to learn the trade is in Europe. How hard was it for you to move to Europe to compete at such an young age?
I was 15 when I first moved to Europe, to Germany first of all, so for sure it was quite difficult. Everything was different – the culture and everything. I had to live by myself, far from home, which makes it very difficult, especially at that young age. You have to sacrifice a lot and give your very best to succeed. It’s not easy because you have to succeed very soon so you can convince the sponsors and the people around you to keep investing in you.
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You once competed in A1GP, which had a race in Mexico. How was that experience and do you think F1 will be popular in Mexico if it returns there?
The experience in A1 GP was great and I think it will be amazing if Formula 1 definitely happens next year in Mexico. Formula 1 is very popular and it will be very nice to see Formula 1 in my country.
Can you identify a difference (apart from speed) in the drivers who make it into F1 and those who don’t?
Yes, for sure, it’s very easy to spot the difference between a driver who is going to make it into Formula 1 and who is going to succeed and a driver who is just going to be there for a couple of races or a couple of years. The speed is the difference. That’s it!
Firstly, it’s great that you are taking time to answer our questions. I would like to know, how do you mentally prepare yourself before a race? Is there a certain routine that you follow to help keep yourself focused?
No, I don’t use any routine. I just try to go in my zone by doing different things. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I chat with friends, sometimes I am on the phone. I always do different stuff but the most important thing is I try to get in the zone, understand where is the most difficult part of the race, how I have to interact with my engineers, and that way we can put a great plan together for the race. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t but it’s most important that you can focus.
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How difficult was it to join a new team with such a rich history as an ambitious young driver?
It was not easy, obviously. When you come to McLaren there’s a lot of pressure, you have to fit in straight away, and then I come at the worst possible time because the car was very, very bad at the start of the season and it has been very difficult, so it makes things even harder. But I believe I’m in the right team with the right people so I think we will have big success in this team.
If you had no sector times or any data at all, how would you find where you could be faster and where you are losing time? Thank you very much for responding.
I remember in my karting days I used to try to follow the quickest kart and see where I was losing time, but by doing that in Formula 1 you lose a lot of downforce from the car in front, so I think it would be very hard to see where you are losing the time without the data.
I’m interested to know about how you train. Do you spend many hours a week in the car practicing? How much time do you spend in the gym?
I spend quite a lot of time in the gym. It depends how busy I am. If I’m not so busy then I spend around five to six hours a day training. We base the training on cardio, strength and endurance. We do a lot of neck exercises to build up the neck muscles. It’s very important to concentrate on endurance in training.
What was the most important aspect in karting that helped you perform so well?
The most important thing in karting is to learn your basic racing skills – how to overtake, when to overtake, to start reading the tracks, how they are changing. All these little details will help you in your future.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career? What advice would you give others starting out now?
The best advice I received – and I would say the same to anyone – is just to never give up, no matter what conditions you have, always to give your best and be happy with yourself once you know you have done everything you could. No matter what result you get, the most important is that you’re honest with yourself and you do your very best, and don’t think about what would happen after that.
When you think you are driving a certain track reasonably well (brake points, early acceleration, etc.), what do you do to gain those extra tenths? Where do you start looking for that bit more?
Basically, once you get into the (qualifying) lap, when the lap is going to count, you memorize, you think about what you have done before that lap and try to improve that, and the way you try to improve that is by knowing where you can attack more the corner, where there is more grip. Obviously the track is improving, you will have new tires, so you think about where you can improve and then during the lap you try to do your best to improve in those places.
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How frustrating is it when you run out of KERS and another car comes streaming ’round the outside? Is technology too invasive in F1?
Sometimes it’s frustrating when you’re trying to overtake a car and then suddenly you don’t have any KERS. You have to wait for another lap and try to make the car in front run out of KERS, so it’s not a nice feeling but it’s all part of the strategy. I think it’s very interesting. Sometimes you get overtaken but sometimes you overtake other people. It’s not so easy to overtake, even with the KERS and DRS, as some people think. In Singapore, for example, you do not usually see many overtaking maneuvers but it still can be an interesting race.
What was the hardest thing you found when trying to get into F1?
Well, the most difficult thing is trying to get the opportunity to be in the right moment at the right time. To get into Formula 1 is always very difficult, there is not much opportunity, but then to succeed in Formula 1 is even more difficult because you have to go into a top team at the right time, at the right moment, with the right environment. It’s always very difficult to succeed in Formula 1 but I believe if you’re good enough, in the end you will do it by not giving up.