Mexico’s Sergio Perez will race for Sauber next season, the Swiss-based Formula One team said on Monday as they announced a new partnership with the firm run by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man.
The 20-year-old rookie will join Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi, whose contract has already been extended, in next year’s driver line-up.
Perez was runner-up in this year’s GP2 support series and has been supported for some years by Telmex, the Mexican telecommunications company run by Slim, who has an estimated net worth of US$53.5 billion according to Forbes magazine.
Sauber, who faced an uncertain future when previous owners BMW pulled out of the sport at the end of last season, will also have Mexican teenager Esteban Gutierrez as their test and reserve driver next year.
The car will have “significant” Telmex branding on it from next year.
“Telmex is an outstanding company and represents a strong partner for our team. We are looking forward to a fruitful partnership,” team principal and owner Peter Sauber said.
The arrival of Perez, while seemingly assuring Sauber’s financial health and putting lucrative branding on what has been a plain white car this year, spelled the end of Nick Heidfeld’s hopes of staying with the team.
The German, who raced for Sauber last year, was called up as a replacement for Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa for the final five races of this year.
“Sergio has been on a continuous upward curve over the past few years,” Sauber said.
“He demonstrated his fighting spirit in races over the course of last season and proved that he’s ready to take the step up into Formula One,” he said. “I look forward to working with him and am in no doubt that, in Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, we will have a strong driver pairing.”
The last Mexican to race in Formula One was Hector Rebaque for now-defunct Brabham in 1981.
The country’s most successful F1 racers were the Rodriguez brothers Pedro and Ricardo, both of whom died in motor racing accidents.
Pedro won two grands prix with Cooper and BRM, in South Africa and Belgium in 1967 and 1970 respectively, and Ricardo made five starts for Ferrari before being killed in practice for his home race in 1962.
Mexico City also hosted 15 Formula One races between 1963 to 1970 and 1986 to1992.
“Formula One is the dream of every young racing driver, and now this dream is about to come true for me,” Perez said in the statement.
“Although I’m very much aware that this is also a big challenge and responsibility, I’m happy to accept that and am proud to be representing my country in the highest category of motor racing,” he said.
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