AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Mexico's Sergio Perez is nowhere near the top of the points standings, yet he might be the most popular driver at the U.S. Grand Prix because it's so close to his native country.
"I feel very happy to be so close to home. I left Mexico at a very young age. All these (other drivers), they always do a race to two during the year in their own countries and they have done all their careers in their countries," Perez said.
"I will have all my family, even my grandmother is coming here, my friends ... plus lots of Mexicon fans. I feel very emotional about this weekend," Perez said.
Driving for Sauber, the 22-year-old Perez is quickly gaining fame in his native country. He's the first Formula One driver from Mexico to reach the podium in 40 years and is 10th in the drivers' standings heading into the final two races of the year. He will move to the famed McLaren team in 2013 to replace former F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, who has signed with Mercedes.
On Friday, there were signs of Perez fans all around the track.
Juan Carlos Garza was one of a group of nine Perez fans to make the six-hour drive to Austin from Monterrey, Mexico. The group wore red, green and white cowboy hats and on Thursday they walked the track with a nine-foot Mexico flag. Perez' father and brother stopped their car to take a picture with them.
"He's always in Europe where there's not a lot of Mexican support," Garza said. "He's going to see a lot of Mexican flags. This is going to be like the Grand Prix of Mexico."
Mexico was one of the top-selling countries for tickets sold outside of the U.S., race organizers said Friday. Perez is also likely to have fans among Texans in the crowd given the state's deep cultural ties to its southern neighbor.
Mexico isn't the only international presence at the race. A walk through the grandstand revealed conversations in Spanish, Italian, German and French. Race organizers say they sold tickets in 46 countries for the first grand prix in the U.S. since 2007
But the race also has a distinctly Texas flair with barbecue at the concession stands and cattle grazing just yards away from the road on the drive to the track. About 75 miles south is the Alamo in downtown San Antonio
Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone said this week he may not have time to see the famous mission.
"I'm sure other guys will, whether I'll get time, I don't know," Ecclestone said.
SPENDING CAP: Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner remains opposed to the idea of a spending cap in Formula One to help control spiraling costs.
Cost control is an important issue, but "doing it through a budget cap is absolutely the wrong way to do it," said Horner, whose team currently leads the chase for the constructor's championship. Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel leads the driver standings with two races to go and could win his third consecutive championship Sunday
"Every team is different, every structure is different, every operations works differently," Horner said.
In 2011, Formula One teams mutually agreed to a Resources Restriction Agreement, but there was a split amid unresolved questions about whether Red Bull adhered to those agreed restrictions.
"Part of the challenge of Formula One is designing and building the most competitive car and then having the best drivers and working as a team. It's actually the biggest team sport in the world. You've got 500-600 people, certainly on the top teams, designing and building two cars that are always evolving and changing," Horner said.
"The cost controls that came in by limiting the engines, limiting the testing, allowed an independent team owned by an energy drink company to take on Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes Benz, which I think is healthy for independent teams," Horner said.
USA! USA!: At every turn, Formula One officials and drivers are bombarded with questions about just how important the return of Formula One to the U.S. could be for the global sport.
Former world champion McLaren's Lewis Hamilton said he's glad to be back. He won the last U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis in 2007 and said he was shocked to see more than 65,000 fans at Friday's practice sessions.
"It feels fantastic. I've spent a lot of time here in the U.S. so I feel at home. When we had the last grand prix in Indianapolis, I don't think we had this many fans, even on race day," Hamilton said.
Horner called the U.S. a critical market for Formula One and predicted Austin will be a popular race on the circuit.
"To be a true world championship," Horner said, "you've got have a race in America."
A concern for the teams is this weekend's conflict with the season finale in NASCAR, which enjoys a huge fan base and television exposure in the U.S.
"I think the major problem is that whatever weekend you stick a Formula One race there's going to be a NASCAR race," Horner said. "They seem to race every single weekend."