The week before last year’s Russian Grand Prix pictures appeared of the reopening of the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, and these images did not transport me back in time just because Jo Ramirez & Hector Rebaque were present to remember Mexican legacy in the sport during 60s, 70s and 80s. What really took me back in time was seeing that distinct early morning sun light appearing from the end of the main straight. Closing my eyes, I can still picture that early morning brightness, with an image of a loud symphony of a Lamborghini V12, spitting sparks, as a car comes flat out from The Peraltada to complete another lap. Oh, that screaming noise!
These personal and vivid memories of Formula One, shaped my passion back in the 80s & 90s, when as a boy then growing up in Mexico City, my Dad used to take me to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez to witness those Mexican Grands Prix held between 1986-1992. Today names of those legends like Mansell, Senna or Prost, sound more iconic to those of gladiators, rather than most drivers of today.
The passionate Mexican crowd always embraced the event, on which a true “macho” instinct, that much loved Mexican bravery element, needed to tame that machinery flat out around the legendary Peraltada turn. Like Tamburello in Imola or Parabolica in Monza, the banked 180º Peraltada, in Mexico City was one of the few corners in the world on which you could pick the men out of the boys.
Sadly, the Peraltada is now gone, and that in 1992 was the last Grand Prix held at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Unfortunately, the Autódromo and its mighty Peraltada no longer met the safety standards required by the FIA, nor did the small garages, nor team hospitalities or media center. The new circuits of Catalunya in Spain and Magny Cours in France, both opened in 1991, had raised the standards early 90s, and made the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez look obsolete.
After a twenty-three year hiatus, flying back to Mexico City for the return of Formula 1, I knew the Peraltada was no longer the same. A permanent baseball stadium (Foro Sol) stood inside of the turn, with the circuit now flowing into the arena before exiting to the final section of banking.
This new section included a chicane in the middle, properly named after Nigel Mansell, hero of past editions of the race. I also knew that purpose-built Tilke facilities at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez met modern requirements, with the brilliant idea of placing podium inside the stadium. However, the question most of us had was; how the atmosphere inside the Nigel Mansell section of Foro Sol – packed with a 26,000 crowd during the podium ceremony held in front of thousands was going to be like?
The much-anticipated return of Formula 1 in Mexico City and the result of placing circuit inside the Foro Sol, with podium included, turned out to be magic in every sense of the word. Organization of the event ran perfectly in hands of the dedicated and committed volunteers, who cared in every detail of the proceedings. In a time of new races in soulless venues, with dropping audiences in both attending and television spectators, what happened in Mexico City was a reminder of how a Formula 1 race should be, and how essential fans still are for the sport.
Twenty years have passed since Formula 1 last raced in Mexico City. The sport has changed much since and the mighty Peraltada in its old configuration is gone but the soul and atmosphere of the race in Mexico City remain intact.