He graduated to the main Championship class with T-Sport in 2008 and took the points lead by winning during the second weekend at Croft. A double victory in the next round at Monza cemented that place but he was eventually overhauled by a phalanx of Carlin Dallara-Mercedes drivers. Pérez won again at Brands Hatch but had slipped to fourth overall by season end.
GP2 title contender
Pérez joined Barwa Campos for the 2008/09 GP2 Asia Series and won sprint races in Bahrain and Qatar on his way to seventh in that off-season championship. A switch to Arden International for the main GP2 Series in 2009 began with questionable qualifying performances that restricted results. However, his best weekend came at Valencia’s harbour side where he qualified a season-best fourth before finishing third and second.
GP2 Asian performances on his return to Barwa Addax (formerly Campos) did not bode well but Pérez truly delivered during his 2010 GP2 campaign. He qualified on the front row for the first two weekends – winning Monte Carlo’s feature race to head the standings. Three sprint race wins and victory in the feature at Abu Dhabi followed as Pérez finished as runner-up behind veteran Pastor Maldonado.
Formula 1 with Sauber – close to victory
With a race winning history in the junior categories so far, and healthy budget from TelMex and others, Pérez joined Sauber-Ferrari for the 2011 Formula 1 season. He finished seventh on his debut in Australia thanks to a one-stop strategy and impressive tyre management before both Saubers were excluded due to a minor rear wing infringement. Forced to miss a couple of races due to concussion sustained in a crash at the chicane while practising for the Monaco GP, he returned to finish a fine seventh in the British GP.
The promise shown during that rookie campaign was confirmed in 2012. Now a member of the Ferrari academy, Pérez was closing on Fernando Alonso’s leading Ferrari in the rain-effected Malaysian GP only to run wide and lose the chance of victory. Second that day was one of three podium finishes (third in Canada and second at Monza) and he qualified an impressive fourth in Belgium. Unfortunately, hopes of another strong result were lost when a wayward Romain Grosjean crashed into him (and others) at the start.
Disappointment with McLaren
Rather than Ferrari, it was McLaren-Mercedes that offered the still raw Pérez his major opportunity as Lewis Hamilton’s replacement for the 2013 F1 season. But pre-season optimism soon evaporated as the team struggled to sort its new car. Pérez and team-mate Jenson Button clashed during the Bahrain GP (prompting Button to tell the team to “calm him down”) disputing fifth rather than the race wins Pérez had hoped for. He finished fifth in India but it was not enough to retain his drive for 2014.
Rebuilding his reputation with Force India
Pérez moved to Force India for the 2014 World Championship when paired with the highly rated Nico Hülkenberg. Third in Bahrain was a welcome return to form and Pérez challenged Nico Rosberg for the lead in Canada. However, he crashed heavily with Felipe Massa as they disputed third position on the final lap – a high speed collision that drew fierce criticism from the Brazilian. Hülkenberg and Pérez finished ninth and tenth overall as the team claimed sixth in the constructors’ points.
Force India retained the same line-up for 2015 and Pérez showed improving form during the campaign, especially when the “B” spec car was introduced in Austria. He qualified fourth in Belgium and Abu Dhabi to equal his best F1 grid position thus far during an impressive second half to the season. Briefly alongside leader Hamilton on the opening lap at Spa-Francorchamps, third in Russia was the highlight as Pérez shaded Hülkenberg in the points to finish ninth overall.