Considering my tally of race weekends attended this year is pushing 30, if not exceeding it, generally speaking I enjoy race weekends at home when I can.
That said, for the first time this year, I actually had envy of a track and an event that I wasn’t at, that I wanted to be at.
Because Mexico City absolutely rocked this weekend. And all it took was merely watching on TV and on social media.
Unfortunately I wasn’t around in the ’80s for the most recent incarnation of the Mexican Grand Prix, from 1986 to 1992.
Still, I at least understood the history of the race – and the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit – going back as far as the days growing up when I’d play the old brilliant “Grand Prix Legends” computer game, which chronicled the 1967 Formula 1 season.
The track was a challenge then, trying to balance the mastery of the super-long front straight, the esses coming off the hairpin at the top of the course, and then nailing the balance through the Peraltada back onto the straight. All with no aero and skinny tires.
So as a kid, I knew the names Rodriguez, and the passion the Mexican fans had for this race.
When Mexico City made its re-appearance on the CART calendar in 2002, it just seemed otherworldly compared to the other races that year.
That race had three Mexican drivers in the field – race winners Mario Dominguez and Michel Jourdain Jr. and then-CART debutante Luis Diaz filling in for the country’s national hero, a then-injured Adrian Fernandez. Yet the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of thousands of fans managed to out-roar the scream of the turbos at times, particularly when Jourdain led that first year on an off-sequence strategy before fading outside the top-10 by the finish.
Take that energy that had been present back in the day, combine it with the desire for the Mexican Grand Prix to return after the 23-year hiatus, and stir in a helping of a native son returning home (Sergio Perez) and the prospect of a second driver returning next year (Esteban Gutierrez), and suddenly the Mexican Grand Prix atmosphere was mental. Bonkers. Ridiculous. Pick your superlative.
Some quick thoughts from the ground from NBCSN’s Will Buxton – linked below, via Twitter – said all you needed to know in a series of 140-character spurts.
But don’t just take his word for it. In the “Piranha’s Club” that is F1, you rarely see all teams noting how incredible the atmosphere is, all in unison.
Yet they all did. It almost became a competition to see “who best captured the awesomeness.”
Taken on the whole, the atmosphere was incredible, the race less so. However, to be fair, the combination of a low grip track, a conservative tire choice (Pirelli had to make its call weeks in advance) and the fact there was little at play in the grand scheme of things – Lewis Hamilton had clinched the title last week in Austin – were all factors that conspired to make this less than the most intriguing Grand Prix from the off.
And the passion and fervor of the fans made up for it.
Compared to the dull, often soulless Tilke-dromes that have sprouted up over the last, say eight or nine years, the fact F1 returned to a country where it had proper roots meant there was bound to be a greater reaction to the homecoming.
What Mexico featured is something that India, Korea, Turkey, Sochi, and perhaps Abu Dhabi, among others, have lacked: soul.
Baku’s debut next year is unlikely to match the flare, and the fact it enters the calendar clashing on the 24 Hours of Le Mans weekend has already given it a black eye in the court of public opinion.
The return to Mexico showcased a sport that can still ignite a fan base when a motorsports-starved country gets the chance to properly eat it up. Tavo Hellmund’s efforts must be hailed to have made this happen.
And F1’s better off for having a race of this passion magnitude return to the calendar.