A Brief History of the Mexican Grand Prix

The podium of the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix
The podium at the 2015 Mexican GP – photo by Luis Urquiza

With the Mexican Grand Prix coming up this weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the history of the Mexican Grand Prix. Constructed in Mexico City, the track was the first international circuit for Mexico. Originally called the Magdalena Mixhuca circuit, it featured a challenging 180-degree slightly banked turn called the Peraltada turn. The track was also notorious for bumpy roads and a 7,000-foot elevation. The track would later be renamed Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez following the tragic death of two Mexican racing drivers and brothers. They held the first Mexican Grand Prix in and 1962 and have only held 20 races in total. The track has had a tumultuous history since the beginning with safety and funding concerns leading to its removal from the calendar for years. Funding issues are again a concern, and the race might not occur after the 2022 season. 

The 1960’s at the Mexican Grand Prix

Ricardo Rodriquez racing
Ricardo Rodriquez – Bilsen, Joop van / Anefo / neg. strips, 1945-1989, 2.24.01.05, item number 913-9364

The first race occurred in 1962 and was a non-championship race on the F1 calendar. The race opened with tragedy on the first unofficial day of practice. Famous Mexican F1 racing driver Ricardo Rodriquez was testing a Lotus when his rear suspension failed, killing him in the dangerous Peraltada turn (the 180-degree turn mentioned above). He was a promising young driver who is still the youngest ever Ferrari driver. He earned four points for Ferrari in just six races. His older brother Pedro would become a full-time F1 driver the following year. Jim Clark took the first pole, but a flat battery and an illegal push-start led to him receiving a black flag on lap 10. He would replace his teammate and pilot his car to a win. Clark would win two more times and is still the most successful driver in Mexico.

the original track layout
The original layout. Note the Peraltada turn 14

The Mexican Grand Prix would become an official points-earning race in 1963 and would close out the F1 season until 1970. Jim Clark would win in 1962, 1963, and 1967. American Dan Gurney won the 1964 running, and Jacky Ickx won the wild 1970 race. An immense, uncontrollable crowd of over 200,000 turned out to see Mexican driver Pedro Rodriquez whose younger brother died during practice of the first race. Fans were everywhere, cramming against guardrails and running across the track. One driver hit a dog and damaged his suspension. The event was almost canceled but continued with Ickx taking the win. Local driver Rodriquez placed 6th. Pedro Rodriquez died in Germany the following year. They canceled the Mexican Grand Prix after 1980 and renamed the circuit Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in honor of the Rodriquez brothers.

Return of the Mexican Grand Prix in the 80’s and 90’s

The Mansell Curve at the Mexican GP
The Mansell Curve at the Mexican Grand Prix – photo by ProtoplasmaKid

The Mexican Grand Prix would return in 1986 with a slightly modified but still bumpy circuit. Senna would take pole position by nearly three-tenths of a second but dropped back to third place. Alain Prost finished second, and Gerhard Berger won the race in his turbocharged BMW car. In 1988, the race was moved from its traditional spot in October to May then again to February in 1992. Driver complaints and FIA concerns over bumpy track conditions combined with funding woes led to an end to the Mexican Grand Prix after 1992. During this span, Nigel Mansell, Aryton Senna, and Alain Prost each won two times. The Peraltada turn continued to be difficult for drivers catching out many of the best, including Senna. The 180-degree banked turn proved too tricky for F1, and this would mark its last appearance.

Current Stretch of the Mexican Grand Prix

The current layout minus the Paraltada turn
The current layout minus the Paraltada turn

Formula 1 would return to Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in 2015 after significant changes and upgrades occurred. Gone was the challenging Peraltada turn, and even the esses were modified. The race again moved to the fall, with the 2015 race occurring on November 1st. Nico Rosberg won the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix finishing nearly 2 seconds ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton. Lewis would win the following year, but Max Verstappen has won the last two races in Mexico. Can Max match Jim Clark’s record of three wins in Mexico? It will be tough, Max has two retirements in the last five races and hasn’t won since Germany. Still, it will be a special moment if he can win it and tie Jim Clark.

Unfortunately, it looks like we could be seeing another hiatus of the Mexican Grand Prix. Concerns over the $20 million to host the race could lead to cancellation after the 2022 season. The mayor stated that this year would be the last race. Let’s hope we don’t get another decade’s long break in Grand Prix races in Mexico. This year, Lewis Hamilton has a chance to secure his sixth championship, passing the great Juan Manuel Fangio for second. Due to its place in the calendar, Mexico tends to be the place where they decide the Driver’s Title. This year it looks to be the same.

Masa trying to hold off Rosberg in Mexico 2015
Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg at the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix – photo by Christian Ramiro González Verón

Conclusion and Looking Ahead

Another interesting fact that I was able to track down, the idea of building the track can originally be traced back to the Rodriquez brother’s father. I need to try and get to the Mexican Grand Prix before the race goes on hiatus again. One of my friends went to Mexico City this year and said it was some of the best food he ever had. He also stated that it is incredibly safe, and he had a lot of fun. He is a travel writer, so I’ll trust his judgment. You can check him out here. He also put together a little travel guide for his time in Mexico. Of course, Formula 1 also has its travel guide to help you enjoy the race. Next year I have to decide between either the US or Mexican Grand Prix.

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