Resurgent Sergio Pérez hits brakes on row over nationality comments | Sergio Pérez

Sergio Pérez has acknowledged that he was talking emotionally when he said the negative press surrounding him in the lead-up to his victory at Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix was “probably because I’m Mexican”.

But, speaking exclusively with the Guardian on Thursday, he insisted that many of his critics don’t fully grasp the difficulties that come with being defending world champion Max Verstappen’s teammate at Oracle Red Bull Racing.

Pérez had finished on the podium just once in the five F1 races before Singapore, something which had inspired heavy criticism from some journalists. That led to him questioning after his victory whether some of the negativity was due to his nationality. “I think it was a bit of emotions,” Pérez said on Thursday of his post-race comments in Singapore. “You know, I just feel like sometimes people don’t really understand the type of challenge I’m facing – you know, in terms of how difficult the position I’m in is.

“It’s just that if I get two bad races in there, all these sorts of analyzes start to come in place where – I mean, people forget that I was fighting for the championship in the beginning of the year in the first few races, but I think that’s just part of Formula One.”

Pérez, whose victory in Singapore was the fourth of his career, and the second this season, didn’t name any media outlets to whose coverage he objected.

But Pérez’s Mexican following – including F1 journalist Luis Manuel Lopez – took particular note of a series of articles and videos from digital outlet The Race that declared the driver was a growing problem for Red Bull, who left Singapore with a huge 137-point lead in the constructors’ championship.

The outlet also questioned whether Red Bull may be better served pairing Verstappen again with Williams Racing’s Alex Albon, who lost his seat to Pérez in 2021 after a run of unimpressive results. Albon is currently 19th in the drivers’ championship.

One of The Race’s columnists this week said that any criticism of Pérez was due to his performance rather than his nationality.

Whatever the case, Pérez’s victory in Singapore has relieved some of the pressure that had been mounting on him.

The 32-year-old started the season with six podiums during the 13 races held before F1’s summer break. Those included five runner-up finishes and a victory at Monaco in late May.

More recently, Red Bull switched the set-up of the RB18 that Pérez and Verstappen are driving this year, modifying its weight distribution to load up more on the front wheels.

Verstappen prefers that configuration, and he had won the five races leading up to Singapore, helping the Dutchman sixteen a virtually insurmountable 104-point lead atop the drivers’ championship with five rounds left.

Meanwhile, Pérez doesn’t prefer his car’s new set-up. And his only finish on the podium during that stretch – at August’s Belgian Grand Prix – had a tinge of disappointment after Verstappen overtook him for victory despite starting the race 14th on the grid.

But on Sunday, Pérez qualified second and Verstappen started eighth on a soggy circuit that, even in dry conditions, is notoriously difficult to overtake on. He beat pole-sitter Charles Leclerc to the first corner, navigated a half-dozen safety car periods, and registered his second win in 10 races after fending off a few late lunges from the Ferrari driver.

Pérez on Thursday insisted the message he broadcast over the radio team immediately after crossing the finish line in Singapore was spontaneous, and was meant to praise his engineers, including Hugh Bird, who had helped him to victory.

“This is how we do it, man,” Pérez said on radio Sunday after receiving congratulations from team principal Christian Horner. “We shut our mouth, and we work hard – this is the Mexican way.”

But a number of Pérez’s Mexican fans were interested in how Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko would approach the driver.

Marko joked earlier this season that Pérez had perhaps been drinking tequila before the French Grand Prix and therefore missed out on a top-three finish following a slow reaction to a late restart in that race. Days later, Marko characterized Pérez’s recent absence from the podium as the kind of “ups and downs” that are “typical … of a South American” driver trying to hack it in F1.

Mexico is, in fact, in North America. And Marko didn’t mention notable exceptions like Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio and Brazil’s Ayrton Senna, who won five and three driver’s championships, respectively.

Yet Marko embraced Pérez after his victory in Singapore, telling reporters he’d raced well and had every chance of passing Leclerc in the drivers’ championship and finishing in second place. Pérez was only trailing the Ferrari driver by two points after Singapore.

Furthermore, Pérez revealed, Marko arranged for him to make the seven-hour flight from Singapore to Japan – where the Suzuka International circuit is set to host this Sunday’s race – on his private jet.

Pérez said the gesture better reflects his true standing in the eyes of Marko and Red Bull, despite the noise in some corners of the media.

“We’ve always had a great relationship since day one,” Pérez said. “We do have … a high level of respect for each other.”