Sergio Perez has admitted he felt like the “most stupid guy on Earth” when he became the first F1 driver to contract COVID-19 last year.
The Mexican tested positive following a trip across the Atlantic to see his family after the Hungarian Grand Prix in July and had to miss the next two races at Silverstone on back-to-back weekends.
In his absence, the Racing Point team brought in Nico Hulkenberg for the first of two ‘guest appearances’ during 2020, the second being when Perez’s colleague Lance Stroll also suffered an illness which turned out to be the coronavirus.
Whereas it was originally thought Perez had picked up the virus on his visit to Mexico, Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer subsequently revealed it was believed a personal chef hired by the driver had passed it on instead.
Speaking during an interview for his new team Red Bull, Perez described the embarrassment he felt at becoming the first of what has since become five F1 drivers to have tested positive for COVID-19.
“I certainly had a very tough year, I will say,” said Perez, who was told a few weeks after sitting out the two Silverstone races that he was being released by the team in favour of hiring Sebastian Vettel.
“With corona, being the first driver to get the virus – you know, 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, you know, for me to deal with it.”
— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) January 21, 2021
After it was revealed he was leaving Racing Point – who have now become Aston Martin – Perez’s hopes of staying in F1 began to look bleak for a while.
But he was putting together a very strong season of consistent points finishes and after that was capped by his first F1 win at the 190th attempt in the Sakhir Grand Prix, news came through that he had been chosen by Red Bull to replace Alex Albon for 2021.
“It was a very critical time in my career because there was the contract thing,” added Perez, quoted by Motorsport.com.
“In the end I lost the seat with my team but it worked out really well. But I never knew what was going to happen.
“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’.
“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 only come once in your life. I know that and I’m ready to make it work.”