Red Bull’s Sergio Perez says fans kept him motivated in a difficult 2020 F1 campaign undercut by COVID-19 infection and contract negotiations.

Perez fell ill with COVID-19 early on in the F1 season, the first of the paddock to do so after returning to Mexico between the Hungarian GP and British GP rounds. Forced to miss the latter as a result, it would later be confirmed that the 30-year-old would also have to miss the 70th Anniversary GP as well.

Further misfortune plagued his efforts later in the season, with untimely DNFs among other factors inhibiting him. His fortunes improved thereafter, the Mexican securing himself a win in the Sakhir GP and a fourth place finish in the F1 drivers’ standings.

“I certainly had a very tough year,” Perez confessed in a recent Red Bull interview. He goes on to admit that his positive COVID test made him feel as though he was reckless. “With corona, being the first driver to get the virus – now it’s like a bit more normal [that] people get it – but at the time it was like, ‘you’re the most stupid guy on earth, because you got the virus.’

“It was very harsh for me to deal with it,” Perez said. Missing two Grand Prix’s was particularly troublesome at the time, when his contract was under threat. He lost his seat with his team of Racing Point at the time, leaving his future hanging in the balance. The Mexican would only be confirmed at Red Bull in December.

“When that happened, I was pretty relaxed, I thought, ‘well, I’ve had a tremendous career already and I’m pleased with myself, but I just have to give it all weekend after weekend and see what happens’,” Perez said. “When the Red Bull opportunity opened up, it was sometimes looking better, sometimes looking worse.

“But then in the end, it worked out. So I think these opportunities, [they] only come once in your life. I know that, and I’m ready to make it work,” said Perez, who also credits his supporters with willing him own at a time of demotivation in his season.

Perez says he now cannot wait to drive for Red Bull at the 2021 Mexican GP, before a crowd of his fellow citizens. “I was not losing motivation, but it [losing the Racing Point seat] was a tough blow,” he said. “I’ve given everything to that team in a way, and I wasn’t expecting that. But straight away I got all that support from my fans, from my people in Mexico.

“That was certainly something that kept me very motivated and I cannot wait to drive a Red Bull in the Mexican GP; it’s gonna be tremendous, and I’m sure there are a lot of Mexicans who love Red Bull now.”

Prior to the confirmation of Perez’s drive at Red Bull came his win at the Sakhir GP. An event to which his eventual acquisition of the seat, his win at Bahrain was not a deciding factor, Perez insists. Instead, he says, ten years of prior F1 experience demonstrated his worthiness of the seat.

“I think it definitely had a bit of influence, but I’ve been in the sport ten years; people by now know what I can do,” said Perez. “It’s obviously a new challenge and a new opportunity, so it’s my chance to prove it to myself that I can take the next step. I have to make sure I make it work.

“[The win] certainly helped but I think the consistency I’ve shown over the years [was more impactful. Last year I had a better package and was able to show it more, but hardly ever does one race in Formula One change your life.”

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