Mexico has held 15 world championship races in the past and is among the most likely forthcoming additions to the F1 calendar.
Local interest is growing thanks to Sergio Perez, Mexico’s first F1 driver for 30 years. Perez is entering his second season in F1 after an impressive debut campaign which included a test for Ferrari, whose driving development programme he is part of.
Hot on his heels is fellow countryman Esteban Gutierrez, who won the GP3 championship in 2010 and is expected to contend for the GP2 crown with Lotus GP (formerly ART) this year.
Both enjoy backing from Mexican telecommunications giant Telmex. Carlos Slim Domit, son of Telmex’s chairman (and the world’s richest man) Carlos Slim Helu, is an enthusiastic supporter of bringing F1 back to Mexico.
Domit, an FIA Senate member and patron of the Asociacion Mexicana Automovilistica (Mexican Automobile Association), believes a Mexican round could connect with the existing races in Canada and Brazil and forthcoming two rounds in the USA.
He told the FIA’s InMotion magazine last December: “Linking races in Canada and the US with a Mexican round would perfectly consolidate Formula One’s footprint in North and Central America and provide a viable bridge to the race in Brazil.”
On a recent visit to Mexico FIA president Jean Todt said: “Today, Mexico is an economically strong country and I am convinced that in the future [an F1 return] is possible,
“However, we know that the races have a cost, [and] there are also a number of criteria for the approval of an event, especially in terms of safety.”
The best of both worlds
Mexico previously held F1 races between 1963 and 1970 and again from 1986 to 1992 at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. Domit calls the circuit the “obvious choice” for a revived Mexican Grand Prix.
It’s not hard to see why. Most F1 circuits can be broadly divided into two categories: permanent facilities built outside of city centres, and temporary facilities built within city centres.
Both have obvious compromises: Circuits built on public roads have restricted layouts and while some can produce excellent tracks (Monaco, Long Beach) others turn out less well (Valencia, Phoenix). Permanent facilities do not have this problem, but they lack the key advantage of holding a race in the middle of a city – immediate access to a large population.
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez potentially offers the best of both worlds. The circuit is already built, though it would undoubtedly need updating to modern standards.
And, like Interlagos in Brazil, it has the advantage of being situated in a very large city. Mexico City is home to 20.4 million people, making it the world’s third-largest metropolitan area, outstripping current and future F1 venues Sao Paulo (Interlagos) and New York (New Jersey) respectively.
Domit called the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez an “obvious choice” for a race. But, like Todt, he stressed the need to bring the circuit up to F1′s safety standards: “This would of course need remodelling to bring it up to the standard of the circuits now gracing the F1 stage, but several design agencies have been consulted and the possibilities for the circuit are good.”
Last year FIA safety delegate Charlie Whiting inspected the circuit to examine its potential for upgrading to FIA Grade 1 status.
Domit added: “The circuit also has enormous heritage value and features such as the legendary banked Peraltada corner (the 180-degree right-hander at the end of the lap) would make the track a fine addition to any calendar.”
But when it comes to modernising old circuits while retaining their character, F1 does not have a great track record (excuse the pun). Hockenheim’s conversion has not proved popular with fans and the circuit now hosts races on alternate years. Fuji Speedway was emasculated with a seemingly endless series of tight, slow corners – and held just two F1 races before being dropped again.
It’s unrealistic to expect F1 drivers to be allowed to tackle the Peraltada in its current form without either drastically reducing their entry speed or adding extra run-off (unlikely as there’s a public road behind the retaining wall). Hopefully much of its simple layout and sinuous curves could be retained without resorting to the usual Tilke tricks of making the lap excessively long and infested with hairpins and chicanes.
At a time when many F1 circuits are suffering from falling spectators numbers, the potential popularity of a Mexican Grand Prix is an exciting prospect. Last year over 150,000 people turned out to see Perez drive his Sauber in his home town of Guadalajara.
Domit adds: “The 2005 Champ Car race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez reportedly attracted a race day crowd of some 159,000 people and an event weekend total of 271,000 fans. These are figures that would be the envy of any F1 circuit.”
There are rival new-build projects competing to be the home of a new Mexican Grand Prix. No doubt these would offer pristine tracks, gleaming pit buildings and somewhere fancy for the Paddock Club denizens to quaff their champagne, nibble their amuse-bouche and ignore the inconvenient din of racing cars.
But none of them could rival the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for heritage, nor its proximity to such a vast audience. F1 would be crazy to consider going anywhere else in Mexico.
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