CIRCUITS: MEXICO CITY (AUTODROMO HERMANOS RODRIGUEZ)

Name: Mexico City (Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez)

Graham Hill, Mexican GP 1967

Graham Hill, Mexican GP 1967 

 © The Cahier Archive

As has happened in many countries, it was the arrival of a topline driver in Formula 1 which motivated the Mexico City authorities to invest in the construction of a racing circuit. The driver was Ricardo Rodriguez and in 1961 he drove a Ferrari at the Italian Grand Prix at the age of 19 years and 208 days. This made him the youngest ever Grand Prix driver to make at least a dozen laps in a race (Mike Thackwell being involved in a multiple collision after the first start of the 1980 Canadian Grand Prix). Rodriguez was quick. It was a tragic race as Ferrari team leader Wolfgang von Trips and 13 spectators were killed on the first lap but the race went on and Rodriguez briefly ran in second position before retiring with mechanical failure.

The Mexicans decided to build a 3.1-mile track in a public park and aimed for a World Championship Grand Prix. For 1962 they were not successful but pushed ahead with plans to run a non-championship event. That year, as work went on in Mexico, Rodriguez won the Targa Florio, sharing a Ferrari Dino 246SP with Willy Mairesse and Olivier Gendebien. At the end of October many of the Grand Prix teams gathered in Mexico, having sent the cars down after the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Ferrari did not attend and so Rodriguez rented Rob Walker's Lotus 24 for the race. In qualifying he crashed and was killed.

The Mexicans were distraught but Ricardo's elder brother Pedro was already racing sportscars at international level and at Watkins Glen the following year he made his Grand Prix debut in a rented factory Lotus. Three weeks later he was in action again at the first World Championship Mexican GP. It was won by Jim Clark who equaled Juan-Manuel Fangio's record of six wins in a season.

In 1964 Rodriguez scored his first major international victory, sharing a Ferrari 250 GTO with Phil Hill to win at Daytona. There was much excitement for the Mexican GP as there were three drivers fighting for the World Championship: Jim Clark, Graham Hill and John Surtees. Hill was soon out of the running after a collision but Clark looked to be on his way to another World Championship when his Lotus developed an oil leak in the closing laps and Dan Gurney was able to overtake him to win the race in his Brabham. Surtees finished second and snatched the title for Ferrari in a dramatic championship showdown.

A year later Mexico City hosted the last race of the 1.5-liter World Championship which proved to be an extraordinary triumph for Honda and driver Ritchie Ginther. It also marked the first victory in Grand Prix racing for Goodyear. In the late 1960s Mexico became the tradition end of season event and while Rodriguez began to enjoy major international success with his first Grand Prix victory in South Africa in 1967 and victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours the following year in a Ford GT40, he was never able to win his own race, victory going to John Surtees in 1966, to Clark in 1967 and to Graham Hill in 1968.

The track suffered serious crowd control problems and after the 1970 event the FIA refused to give the Mexicans a new World Championship date because they were unable to guarantee that the crowd would not invade the track.

In July 1972 Rodriguez was killed in an Interserie sportscar race at the Norisring in Germany. The Mexicans no longer had a hero. In 1980 the CART series, looking for new venues after its split with USAC, decided to use the old Mexico circuit and races were held in 1980 and 1981, both being won by Rick Mears in Penske machinery. The track needed work and the Americans turned their back on it and it was not until 1985 that Mexico was again mentioned as a possible venue for international events. That year FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre visited the old track with local businessmen Jose and Julian Abed and reviewed their plans to rebuild the track. The Abed Brothers founded the Vitesse 2000 organization and took over running all motorsport activities in Mexico. The circuit was rebuilt and in 1986 the F1 team returned. The track was bumpy but they all agreed it was a great challenge, particularly the final curling banked 180-degree corner called the Peraltada. There were modern pits and high fences and ferocious guard dogs ensured that the crowds did not get too close to the track. The event was to produce a big surprise with Gerhard Berger scoring his and the Benetton team's first F1 victory with a clever tire strategy, his Pirelli tires proving to be better than the Goodyears used by the other front-runners.

In 1987 the bumpy surface resulted in Derek Warwick having a huge accident in his Arrows and the race had to be stopped with victory going to Nigel Mansell. There was an even bigger accident the following year in practice when Philippe Alliot cartwheeled his Larrousse Lola at the exit of the Peraltada, but crawled unhurt from the wreckage. The race was won by Alain Prost.

In 1989 the race was moved to the Spring to be twinned with the new United States GP in Phoenix. Ayrton Senna won. That year the World Sportscar Championship had a round in Mexico City which was won by the Sauber-Mercedes of Jochen Mass and Jean-Louis Schlesser. Mass repeated the win the following year, sharing his car with Michael Schumacher, the event being Schumacher's first major international victory. The 1990 Grand Prix was won by Alain Prost's Ferrari but each year the bumps became worse and in 1991 Senna turned his McLaren upside-down in the Peraltada in qualifying. Riccardo Patrese won the event in his active Williams-Renault. That year Peugeot Sport was unbeatable in the sportscar race with victory going to Keke Rosberg and Yannick Dalmas.

Formula 1 returned for the last time in 1992. The bumps were getting worse and Mexico City was becoming more crowded and more polluted. It had lost any glamour it might have had in the 1960s and became a chore for the teams. It was a Williams 1-2 with Nigel Mansell leading Riccardo Patrese home.

After that Formula 1 turned its back on Mexico and it was not until 2002 that international racing returned after CART team boss Gerry Forsythe went into partnership with the Mexican entertainment company CIE to rebuild the track and promote a CART race. The event was a big success.

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