Sergio "Checo" P�rez finished in the top 10 Sunday at the U.S. Grand Prix, raising the spirits of thousands of Mexican race enthusiasts who came out to support him in spite of his recent troubles with McLaren.
The 23-year-old fan favorite finished in seventh, capping an overall solid showing that he has told reporters was not motivated by his looming departure from his Formula One team.
P�rez, who is in his third year in the elite division of the motor sport, last week confirmed he would be dropped from McLaren next season after only one year within its ranks. Kevin Magnussen, 21, will replace him next year.
McLaren "is a good team, but it's not the only team," said Juan Aceves, a 26-year-old Toluca native who sat with two friends near Turn 10. Engineers, fascinated by the science behind racing, the men said they would support P�rez in whatever move he took next.
Nearby, Roberto Blanco Lugo, 31, and Marisol Villarreal, 29, said Checo was young and had not had good luck but still had a bright future ahead.
Support for Checo and Mexican driver Esteban Guti�rrez of Sauber had not waned among Mexican fans in the second U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, where dozens donned P�rez racing shirts, Mexican flags in hand or draped over their shoulders. They loudly chanted his name from the grandstands even after the race was over, rushing onto the track to capture his race car in photographs.
"He just did not have good communication with his teammates," Guti�rrez, who finished 14th, said of P�rez's run with McLaren. "I felt some disillusionment by his announcement. It was a great team and I had already bought all the souvenirs."
To Diana Sanchez, who owns a marketing and advertising firm in Austin, the most important thing is that Mexican drivers like, P�rez and Guti�rrez, have a solid representation in the sport.
"I support both Esteban and Checo, even though they drive for different teams now," said Sanchez, 32, who hails from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, and has been following the sport ever since she was a girl.
On the track after the race, mechanical engineer Raul Marin, of Tabasco state shook white and orange pompons and blew a whistle as his group of four friends chanted "Checo, Checo, Checo."
"It was unjust how they ejected him from the team," Marin, 44, said.
But not all Mexicans at the race were Checo supporters. Andres Esperza, 45, drove from Monterrey to see champion Sebastian Vettel and Spanish driver Fernando Alonso.
"Checo did not do a good job," the businessman said. "The team he is on is out of his league. He needs much more time to mature as a racer."
Formula One, which has traditionally held a largely European following, is increasingly gaining popularity in Mexico, where government officials are discussing renovating a racetrack in Mexico City in hopes of making a bid for a grand prix.
Even if a Mexican race were added to the F1 calendar, several Mexican fans Sunday said they would keep coming to the race in Austin. "It would still be cheaper and closer for us to come this race," said Pedro Hernandez, 37, who traveled 12 hours by car from the state of Chihuahua in Northern Mexico. "We are very happy to be here." ___