08 Mar 16

INSIGHT: Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez

Another chapter will be written in the long and illustrious history of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez when it plays host to the fifth round of the 2015/2016 FIA Formula E Championship this weekend.

Since it was opened in 1962, Mexico’s premier racing facility has been the venue for some thrilling and dramatic races, won by some of the world’s greatest and most famous drivers and created many heroes of local racers too.

The facility suffered a tragic start when Ricardo Rodriguez was killed in practice for the inaugural Mexico Grand Prix. The circuit is now named after him and his brother Pedro, who died at the Norisring in 1971 (click here to learn more about the Rodriguez brothers).

Despite the accident the non-Championship race went ahead. Jim Clark stalled on the grid, but swapped cars with team-mate Trevor Taylor following a mid-race pitstop and went on to victory, leading home Jack Brabham by over a minute.

The following year the Mexico race was a fully-fledged part of the world championship and once again it was Clark and Brabham to the fore, with a dominant Clark romping to victory by over 100 seconds.

For the next seven seasons Mexico City was a staple on the F1 calendar, with Clark racking up two further wins and Richie Ginther scoring Honda’s first F1 victory there in 1965. In the 1970 event Jacky Ickx led home Clay Regazzoni for a Ferrari 1-2, but the 200,000 strong crowd proved too hard to control, and for safety reasons the event was dropped from the F1 schedule.

CART held two races at the circuit, which by now had been to honour the fallen Rodriguez brothers. A deal was signed to bring back the grand prix for 1986 and major work was carried out to modernize the facility. This included a significant alteration to the track layout, which reduced its length by over half a kilometer.

At over 2200m, the circuit is one of the highest in the world and the highest ever used in F1. The thin air at this altitude not only presents less wind resistance, it also meant the fire-breathing turbo-charged engines had even more power than usual. The BMW engine in Gerhard Berger’s Benetton that won that 1986 race had almost 1500bhp in qualifying, and top speeds reached over 205mph down the long straight.

For the next eight seasons the Mexico Grand Prix produced some classic encounters, with Nigel Mansell’s pass around the outside of Berger through the fearsome fast and banked Peraltada corner one of the most memorable in history. That corner was also the scene of a huge crash for Ayrton Senna in 1991, while Alain Prost’s win in Mexico in 1990 from 13th on the grid was one of the best of his career.

The final race of the second era of the Mexican GP took place in 1992 and featured a 1-2 for Williams as Mansell headed Riccardo Patrese. In third place was a young German called Michael Schumacher, scoring the first of his record 155 podiums.

Following the demise of the grand prix, permission was granted for the construction of a baseball stadium on the inside of the Peraltada, making the old GP layout effectively redundant. But the track was still able to attract top level racing, with Champ Car hosting races there from 2002 to 2007, with the venue usually the setting of the season-closer.

NASCAR’s second tier Busch series raced on a version of the track for a few years from 2005 to 2008, while Grand Am was also a regular visitor to Mexico City in the mid-2000s. An oval track was constructed using the Peraltada and the start/finish straight, but looped back after the pits to create a one-mile circuit, and hosted a series of NASCAR Mexico races for various categories.

This track forms the basis of the layout that Formula E will be using for the Mexico City ePrix. But it also takes in the stadium section, which utilizes the enormous grandstands that formed a part of the now-defunct baseball stadium. When Formula 1 returned for the third chapter in the Mexico Grand Prix story in 2015, this arena was the scene of some of the most amazing crowd reaction in the championship, with Sergio Perez’s every move receiving a huge ovation.

Local hero Salvador Duran will be hoping to give his fans cause to be equally euphoric when all-electric racing becomes the latest form of motorsport to grace the hallowed asphalt of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on March 12.

To buy tickets to the Mexico City ePrix click here