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Humble Perez retains F1 championship dream

April 17, 2012

Refueling ahead of his next race in China this weekend, Formula One’s rising star Sergio “Checo” Perez spent the past week in his home town of Guadalajara.

He may be competing in one of the highest paid professions in the world of sports, but Perez retains a strong sense of humility and has clearly not forgotten where he came from.

With a second-place finish in last month’s Malaysian Grand Prix, the Sauber driver became the first Mexican to claim a place on the podium in 41 years, earning comparisons with Brazilian F1 legend Ayrton Senna and fueling speculation of a move to team Ferrari. Days later, he was back home with his friends and family.

The returning prodigal son was presented to the local media in Guadalajara’s Centro Telefonico, just off Avenida Chapultepec. Clad in a short-sleeved shirt and a cap bearing the Telmex logo (Perez benefits from the sponsorship of the world’s wealthiest man, Telmex owner Carlos Slim), the 22-year-old fielded a range of questions on Formula One and his roots in Guadalajara.

“I believe in two or three years I can be competing for the world championship,” said Perez, who came across as an ambitious but down-to-earth individual. “I’m still the same as always. I have the same ambition as when I was six years old: to one day become champion of the world. This alone motivates me, I’m not interested in fame or money.”

An illustration of his self-effacing nature came last year, when he presented his C30 Sauber race car on Guadalajara’s streets before 215,000 adoring fans. Afterwards, a member of his team suggested going to eat in a fancy restaurant. “No, no, no!” Perez responded, “I know a place that does great lonches.”

Perez also spoke of his admiration for two fellow sportsmen from Guadalajara, soccer star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and boxer Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. “Chicharito has a great simplicity about him, I admire him a lot,” said Perez. “He’s what Mexicans needed … He’s a great sportsman, Canelo too, he’s a great boxer.”

Perez’s strong start to his second Formula One season has seen him win more championship points in two races than in his entire debut year. His performance in Malaysia even saw him compared to late great Ayrton Senna, the three-time world champion who died in a crash in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

“It makes me proud that people compare me to someone like Senna, but I’ve still got a lot to do in my career to receive that kind of praise,” Perez said. He also insisted for the time being there is no truth in rumors of a move to Ferrari, but admitted he would one day like to join a larger team.

“In the future my goal is to be in a big team and to be fighting for victories,” he said. “The most important thing is having a car that gives me the chance to win races.”

The most sensitive subject Perez touched on in the press conference was the recent death of his dog Frida, to whom he dedicated the race in Malaysia.

“I had her for 12 or 13 years and she was like a sister to me,” he said. Asked if he would support an organization to help the thousands of homeless dogs found on Guadalajara’s streets, Perez replied with enthusiasm, “Yes I would love to. I think dogs are great pets, they’re like friends or family.”

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