GULF WEEKLY : Sergio Perez became the first Mexican Formula One race winner in 50 years on Sunday after winning the F1 Rolex Sakhir Grand Prix and he barely dared to believe it, demanding a pinch to prove it was not just a dream.
After 10 years, 190 starts and in his penultimate race for Racing Point, with nothing decided for next season, the 30-year-old led his team to their first win in 17 years at the floodlit desert Sakhir circuit.
“I’m shocked. I don’t want to be too excited because I dreamt of this so much that when I wake up it hurts,” he said after going from last on the opening lap to first at the finish, also setting the pace for his team mate Lance Stroll, who came in third.
“I have to make sure this is not a dream because I’ve been dreaming of this moment for 10 years.
“It was an incredible race and a rollercoaster of a day, especially the collision at the start. But I am grateful the team didn’t give up, even though the vibrations got pretty bad and I had difficulty controlling the car.
“With a bit of luck with what happened to the Mercedes, we were able to score the biggest win of my career and I am extremely happy today. When I got hit into the first corner I thought not again, it cannot be us again.
“The luck hasn’t been with us this year but we finally got it and I think we won on merit.
“Even if I am not on the grid in 2021, tonight’s win has proven to me that F1 is where I belong and I will be back in 2022.”
The last and only Mexican F1 race winner before Perez was the late Pedro Rodriguez, one of two brothers after whom the Mexico City circuit is named, in Belgium in 1970.
Perez has come close before, finishing second in Turkey only last month, but without ever reaching that top step.
Even last week in Bahrain, he was in third place until the final stages before an engine fire forced him to retire.
He did it the hard way on Sunday, pitting after a first lap collision that ended the race for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
He then fought back from 18th, cutting through the track like a hot knife through butter, in an astonishing victory that brought tears to his eyes.
Perez was helped by a rare Mercedes pit-stop blunder, with mechanics mixing up the tyres for Valtteri Bottas and George Russell who also suffered a late puncture.
Perez said standing on the podium as a winner at the Bahrain International Circuit was incredible.
He added: “It’s such a moment in my life, for my family, for myself. Being there at the top of the podium, listening to the Mexican anthem and looking at the flag on top.
“It’s something very special. As a Mexican it’s not easy to get into Formula One.”