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GP Week : Issue 158
Mexican Moises Solana retired in his home GP when the engine powering his Cooper-Maserati T81 overheated on the 10th lap. Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, 1966. T he most effective revolutions start with a whimper, gain grassroots traction, and then explode into the public sphere as an inevitability. Instant fanfare is no guarantee of longevity. When Sauber first announced that Mexican racer Sergio Perez would be given a drive with the team, few suspected that it was the beginning of a Mexican revolution. The accepted wisdom was that Formula One – and Bernie Ecclestone in particular – was looking east, not west, in the attempt to secure the long-term future of the sport. But the problem with Formula One’s eastwards push is two-fold. First, the number of races in that geographic region is reaching saturation point, both with regard to fan interest in the area and the number of grands prix televised at hours less than desirable to the sport’s demographic heartland in Europe. Second, the lack of an existing fan base and the lack of grassroots motorsport in Asia means that local interest is limited, even in those countries that have hosted grands prix for more than a decade. Looking westwards, recent F1 calendars have seen only two races held in American time zones – Canada and Brazil. This year will see the addition of Austin, with New Jersey joining the roster in 2013. The time difference crossing the Atlantic means that races become prime-time viewing in Europe, and the more races the commercial rights holder can schedule in American time zones, the greater the brand exposure for F1’s sponsors. The Americas – North, South, and Central – already have a strong tradition of grassroots motorsport; while stock-car racing is generally more popular than the open-wheeler variety, there is a cultural understanding of motor-racing that is currently lacking in the generally under- developed Asian market (Japan being a notable exception). So why a Mexican revolution, and not a revolution of the Americas? Brazil might lay claim to a popular grand prix, passionate fans, and a long list of F1 drivers past and present, but what that really means is the country is already established in motorsport terms. As far as Formula One is concerned, Brazil is a mature market. Mexico, on the other hand, has slipped through our fingers in the past, and now is the time to take advantage of the opportunity to develop a secure foothold in a country whose economy is expected to triple by 2020. By 2050, Mexico is expected to be the fifth-largest economy in the world. In a financial climate which has seen F1’s traditional heartland teeter on the edge of a precipice, Mexico has decreased its share of foreign debt as a proportion of their GDP. Formula One has history in Mexico – World Championship races took place at Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez from 1963 to 1970, and again from 1986 to 1992. In its first incarnation, the Mexican Grand Prix saw a number of local participants. Moisés Solana’s F1 career, which ran from 1963 to 1968, was primarily comprised of drives at his home race, while Pedro Rodríguez (elder brother to Ricardo, who died before the inaugural Mexican Grand Prix) spent the first three years of his F1 career driving only in the Mexican and US events. The second attempt at bringing Formula One to Mexico was short- lived in part due to the decaying track at the Mexico City circuit, and the lack of willingness to make the necessary repairs. But the lack of a home-town hero for the crowds to cheer on was also a factor – Héctor Rebaque’s F1 career was over before the race was revived. With no race, no team, and no driver on the grid, the 1990s and 2000s were a difficult time for Mexican racers. And with no federal funding for grassroots motorsport, it fell to drivers to find their own funds if they wanted to pursue a racing career. But Fourth placed Jackie Stewart, Matra JS80, leads the race in the opening laps of the 1969 Mexican Grand Prix. 32 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> FEATURE