By Alan Baldwin
MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - Mexico's return to the Formula One calendar in 2014 after more than 20 years' absence will be one of the highlights of the season, the country's leading racer Sergio Perez said on Thursday.
The McLaren driver, who will be hoping to have a car capable of winning his home race after a lacklustre season for the British team this year, told reporters at the Italian Grand Prix that it would be huge.
A draft calendar circulated to teams before Sunday's race at Monza had a record 21 rounds and Mexico listed for a November 9 date, the week before the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, subject to track approval.
"I'm very excited. It's not confirmed yet, it's just a pre-calendar but I feel there are very big chances now of this happening," Perez said.
"It will be great for my country, great for the sport. Formula One will be amazed how popular this grand prix can become...it will be huge for Formula One as a sport to go there."
Mexico last hosted a grand prix at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in 1992, when Nigel Mansell was triumphant for Williams who were a top team in those days.
They have scored just one point this season, however, and that is not the only way in which the sport's landscape has changed with new venues like Russia and India opening up.
Last year's inaugural race in Austin drew a strong Latin crowd from both sides of the border and Perez agreed having the two races together would be like having two home grands prix in succession with big crowds at both.
He said he had been kept abreast of developments in Mexico City and was there a few weeks ago to watch his brother race.
"I know how good the racetrack is," Perez said. "Obviously they need to rebuild it but there is time enough. I really hope for the good of the sport and my country that it happens."
The Mexican reckoned a few flat-out months of work would be required to upgrade the pit and paddock facilities but the layout was good.
"Looking at it, they have to change the pits to make them proper for Formula One, (improve) a few corners maybe and apart from that it's just a matter of time what they can do," he said. "But I think they don't have to do big things for the racetrack to be ready."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)