Was there another reason for Perez’s costly transatlantic dash?

2020 British Grand Prix

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Asked during Friday’s FIA press conference whether Formula 1’s Covid-19 code of conduct needed tightening up given that Sergio Perez had tested positive for the virus after visiting his family in Mexico since the Hungarian race, Racing Point CEO Otmar Szafnauer was surprisingly sanguine about the incident given the potential consequences on his team and driver.

“He travelled privately so he thought he took ample precautions, didn’t get on a commercial flight in between races so he was surprised,” Szafnauer responded.

“In between Hungary – because we had that weekend off – I think everybody went to wherever their families were. I think the Italian teams went back to Italy, probably the Swiss team went back to Switzerland, probably Pirelli went back to Italy and the drivers went to their home countries,” the American said.

“I don’t think Checo did anything wrong going back to his family. He takes all the precautions. I think it’s no different to Ferrari going back to Italy, for example.”

No one can begrudge a son visiting his mother, who had recently been discharged from hospital following an accident, nor criticise his desire to return home between events. There is, however, a world of difference between travelling across a European border or two within a ‘bubble’ as did the teams, and crossing the Atlantic to a country suffering the world’s third-highest Covid-19 infection rate.

The BBC this weekend reported that Mexico suffered at least 46,688 deaths, with a total of 424,637 infections, while local authorities claim that the true numbers are significantly higher. One wonders why the team did not dissuade him from making the trip given that it had been discussed internally.

Nico Hulkenberg, Racing Point, Silverstone, 2020
Hulkenberg’s return was approved just 15 minutes before practice began
A source with links to Mexico suggests Perez journeyed with the blessing of Racing Point given that his future is uncertain in the face of Sebastian Vettel’s availability after being cut loose by Ferrari for next year. The word is that Perez sought additional funding from benefactor Carlos Slim, reportedly the world’s fifth-richest man with various business activities in Latin America.

Racing Point – to be renamed Aston Martin from 2021 – runs what are effectively cloned year-old Mercedes cars and provides Vettel’s only realistic hope of a competitive drive in the 2021 F1 season. Were Perez to lose his seat to the four-times champion, he would likely return to Sauber, where he began his career, or accept a drive with Haas. Neither appeals for obvious reasons, and Perez hopes that a boost in Mexican funding would see him retained.

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Key to all this is BWT, the team’s primary sponsor, which insists that cars and kit be painted a particularly gaudy shade of pink in exchange for $20 million in annual funding. Team owner (and Aston Martin chairman) Lawrence Stroll is said to be concerned that the current livery clashes with the more macho image of the James Bond brand, and would prefer to drop the water treatment company after the name change.

However that would require alternate funding, and the hope is that Slim ups his support by at least $10m. Although a deficit of $10m would result, it could be plugged through the sale of space on the car. Inventory thus released would be worth at least $10m even in the current straitened times. In addition, dumping BWT would permit an Aston Martin livery, which is crucial as the brand will pay $25m per year for its five-year title rights.

Although Perez is under a three-year contract expiring at the end of 2022, there are believed to be option clauses that require him to match whatever alternative funding the team may obtain. Ask about option clauses on Friday, Szafnauer did not deny their existence, saying only: “That option that you talk about expiring today is not true, that’s not the case.”

If Perez, arguably the most underrated driver on the current grid, hopes to retain his seat with a team currently rated second only to Mercedes in the overall performance stakes, he and his sponsors will need to up the ante substantially. But it may well prove worth the expenditure: The RP20’s performance so far suggests they are virtually guaranteed podium chances in 2021 and could have the odd shot at victory.

On that basis, any driver with winning ambitions would travel halfway across the world to a known Covid-19 hotspot – recovering mother or not. Equally, given the stakes, any team would bless such a trip provided all reasonable precautions were respected.

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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39 comments on “Was there another reason for Perez’s costly transatlantic dash?”

  1. Sixth-highest behind the US, Brazil, India, Russia, and South Africa to be precise, but a hotspot nevertheless. Still a risky move, though. Couldn’t he have done these things via zoom or other similar methods?

      1. BBC is a known peddler of fake news and skewed data.

        1. Mexico is 6th highest in terms of confirmed cases but third highest in terms of deaths attributed to the virus. Dieter quoted third highest deaths, this is supported by John Hopkins, and is what the BBC are reporting. Whatever your view is of the BBC, this is accurate and the original poster just quoted a different statistic

    1. Depends on what stat you look at; infections or confirmed deaths. Mexico has the 3rd highest confirmed death rate.

        1. Yes, but more deaths mean more infections in general, even though the measured infection rate is lower. Deaths are a more accurate indication of the infection rate than positive tests. Simply because some countries do not have the ability to test everyone and some countries include all positive tests instead of positive persons. For example, Italy’s infection numbers are problably 10-15x as high, Germany is also measured to be at least 10x as high. Studies today state the death rate is about 0.5-1%: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-deadly-is-covid-19-researchers-are-getting-closer-to-an-answer-11595323801

      1. That would imply the infection rate is much in reality much higher than what is confirmed.

    2. @jerejj
      I thought so too. But since he was going there anyway, he might as well negotiate with Mr. Slim.
      I think that’s what he told the team as well.

  2. “Hotspot” or not, it is his country. There are people who aren’t British in this world. UK was one of the most extreme hotspots not a while back, yet I don’t think that F1 personnel were banned from traveling there. On the contrary, most of them were based in the UK at that time. But yeah, why would anyone want to visit some Latin American country… Of course a Mexican would never dream of that, not until the season is over (somewhere in December, possibly even next year).

  3. Excellent article, very insightful

  4. Interesting. Could well be. What’s Vettel’s funding like?

  5. RocketTankski
    2nd August 2020, 11:44

    He was filming a Mexican remake of Top Gun and was needed for pickup shots?

  6. The idea Stroll wants to ditch BWT and 20million in sponsorship because he thinks pink is girly is utterly hilarious. Masculinity threatened there is it?

    The pink cars are immediately noticable, recognisable and most of all colourful! Watching a grid of black/white/grey with a splash of red is so boring – just like at Formula E and their fleet of black/white/grey/red cars. Its so corporate, so bland, so boring. I hope if BWT get pushed out because they like a bright colour they take their sponsorship to another team so a pink car can stay on the grid.

    1. James Bond doesn’t drive pink…………..yet.

    2. @rocketpanda There are few things in the world as fragile as toxic masculinity when threatened by supposed ‘symbols of effeminacy or femininity’, such as the colour pink.
      I agree with you, the BWT livery is really cool, much better than some of the horrible colour-combination schemes of the Force India team in the past. Haas are in need of sponsors, maybe they could strike a deal with BWT for 2021? They also sponsor the HWA team in F2.

      1. I could certainly see a BWT-Haas or pink & blue Williams next year if they do change. I still am laughing at the idea of someone willingly turning down 20 million because they’re concerned over the colour pink ruining their masculine image. That alone is so silly.

        1. Perez with BWT go to Williams to replace either driver, in the case of Russell he goes to Merc as reserve or test driver, Latifi who knows.

      2. Utsab Biswas
        3rd August 2020, 8:49

        These are all hearsay. Dropping a future-facing enterprise such as BWT from title sponsorship just because of their choice of colour(s) doesn’t sound like a business decision Lawrence Stroll would make. The internet is awash with fan concepts where BWT features prominently with their logo as well the pink colour, with some sort of combination with the green of Aston. Looks perfectly doable.

        Btw, personally I have always found Force India’s livery concepts very appealing. Predominantly black livery with trims in traditional Indian colours of saffron, white, and green looked quite awesome. Earlier, even on whitish background, Force India liveries stood out.

        Bottom line is that the RP management has found Perez in a patchy situation and are trying to extort as much out of him as possible. If the BWT story were to be true, RP risks losing not only a stable sponsor that comes with big money, but also Perez taking Slim’s money to some other team. All RP/Aston will be left with are Vettel (brings no money to the table and charges more than Perez) and a green livery that doesn’t match up to the pink that the team has come to be synonymous with. I don’t think Lawrence Stroll is that stupid a businessman.

    3. It is quite a strange design. If it was a hot pink it could look quite striking, but it’s a pale pink with weird diagonal lines. They don’t flow along the lines of the car in the normal way.

    4. MB (@muralibhats)
      2nd August 2020, 15:34

      He could buy a team for his son, what surprises you to think he will not do this if he wants to?

      BWT did screw over FI with their terms and conditions and who knows what is the relationship with new owners. He may as well get few more sponsors if BWT leaves.

    5. The upsides of RP / Aston Marting ditching BWT though might be worth it for the fans – it means we can get Vettel with Perez in an Aston Martin and it would allow BWT to go to a different team, I am sure many of them would be happy to put up with a pink car to bag 20 million in sponsorship! Williams, Haas, or what about Red Bull PINK! :-)

    6. It’s not about his own personal masculinity being threatened, it’s absolutely correct that for general perception, bright pink wouldn’t be a good look for a brand like Aston Martin

      And in fairness I don’t think any garish colour would be, to be on brand it’s going to be a meh shade of green

      1. Am I wrong in remembering a pink Aston Martin GT car a decade or so ago? I know that we are talking about a manufacturer in F1 and it’s a bit different but I also know that the manufacturers retain a lot of control over their GT customers cars and they signed off on pink then

  7. Very interesting. Wish a speedy recovery for Sergio.

  8. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
    2nd August 2020, 12:46

    Red Bull should take notice here. Perez has what they need for their second car. Solid, fast, a team player and regular podium scorer.

    1. …and a powerful sponsor behind him.

      1. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
        2nd August 2020, 16:47

        I doubt whether that’s important to Red Bull. But hey, it’s not a show stopper either, is it?

    2. Yeah, stick him in a Red Bull. At least then we’ll finally see that he’s the most OVERrated driver on the grid, rather than underrated.

  9. Vettel would attract a lot of sponsorship to the tea, sponsors who would be happy with the traditional AM colour scheme. BWT may be happy to reduce the exposure on the car for a lesser amount, the injection from the AM company (Stroll) to Racing point (Stroll) to carry the marque as a team is at least partly new money.

    The point is that the arithmetic is not straightforward at all and all sorts of trade offs are possible. Vettel would provide more promotional dollars value than Perez in key markets and the object of the exercise is to sell more AM cars in those markets such as the middle East, Europe, China, USA. Mexico is well down the list.

    And perhaps the trip enabled Perez to brief Carlos Slim on the potential deal with RedBull for a seat there?

    There are so many possible scenarios and all fun to speculate about.

    1. not sure how Vettel would bring lots of sponsors, as he’s no longer a high-profile driver if you ask me nor an up-and-coming WDC… He’s still somewhat popular in Germany, but the interest in Germany for F1 seems to be fading, especially with no more Hockenheim races for next period. I believe RP are just using this ‘interest in Vettel’ narative in order to scare Perez into bringing more money from Carlos Slim.

      1. Vettel is a four times world champion. Perez has rarely been on the podium. Vettel is German and many people think German things are superior in technological terms. Mercedes reckon that the F1 team is worth literally billions of dollars in global promotional terms not least as they have a multiple world champion in the team. If I wanted to grown the Aston Martin sales I would go for Vettel every time if Hamilton wasn’t available. people who are not fans, such as my wife, know who Vettel is but look blank when I mention Perez.

        I doubt Perez brand support reaches much outside Mexico, not even to much of Latin America outside F1 fans and followers.

        1. Interesting, I read your note and I did a little experiment, I asked my girlfriend if she knows who Vettel is… she couldn’t tell me. I then mentioned Lewis Hamilton and she immediately said F1 !!

          The 4x “amazing” German superior technological WDC Vettel won his last championship 7 YEARS AGO!!! in a car that was far superior than the rest of the grid, since then has done NOTHING for Ferrari, he is being dumped by Ferrari and to add insult to the injury he is being outclassed by his own young Team mate, I think all that should be a big red flag to any Team.

          The reality is, that outside F1 fans, non F1 followers only know who is the CURRENT champion thanks to the media, if you are lucky they might remember last year or two…. definitely not 7 years ago.

          Want to sell AM cars? hire Jason Button to be on the Billboards and TV commercials. Following your logic He too is a not recent WDC, I am sure people also think something “positive” about English things (Stylish, Quality, Refined, etc) and might as well have the same commercial impact without disrupting the F1 RP/AM Team.

          AM should take note from Infinity and see how the Vettel project worked for them.

          1. Does Jenson Button know his brother Jason is being touted as option for Vettel’s seat?

        2. Is your wife ready to buy an Aston Martin car?

  10. When Perez initiated the move that eventually ended in Stroll taking over the team, I knew he would have problems down the line with that team.
    The move wasn’t just about saving the team, it was about complete takeover of the team and he played his part now if he has to be shoved aside he should understand it is in the interest of the team owners.

    1. I agree, and Perez himself has said so. He said he did it to save the jobs at the factory and for his future. From his comments it looks he is fully aware this is business and you only know you have a drive until you are at the grid waiting for the lights to go out.
      He said the Team doesn’t owe him nothing (for rescuing them) and that he is a Father too and he wouldn’t kick his son out of the Team. Humble and honest comments but some of them might backfire him… or maybe not?

  11. Just another number
    2nd August 2020, 18:35

    “No one can begrudge a son visiting his mother”

    Perez abused his privileged position: I couldn’t visit my mum (or uncle or friend) before she (they) died from a virus brought to Europe by an “unwitting” visitor. I can’t see my partner because they live in a different country.

    This whole “sympathy” for Perez has to stop. Perez knew the risk yet chose to put himself & his team in danger. He should not have been allowed to leave Mexico if the test there was inconclusive.

  12. I think Max wants to go to Mercedes, I think there is a good chance he is set for that already, no one wants him to do it but nobody can deny him, he is too good and marketable. Vettel wans to return to RB, Max dependant, in that case Hulk is a possibility as well. Vettel might instead barge into Aston as a 2nd more realistic opportunity.

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