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Mexicans pour into Austin for F1, but may get their own race soon
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Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Nov 2012   |  11:39 am GMT  |  37 comments

The US immigration officer at Houston Airport was in no doubt, “We’ve had half of Mexico coming through here heading for the race,” he said.

Mexican fans are expected to form a significant percentage of the 120,000 fans in the Circuit of the Americas on Sunday. Austin is just 200 miles from the Mexican border and it’s a short flight from population centres Monterrey and Mexico City. But if Tavo Hellmund, the man whose idea it was to bring F1 to Austin, has his way, Mexico will soon have its own Grand Prix. And he believes it will be the best attended race in the world.

Hellmund sold the Austin idea to Bernie Ecclestone, but then fell out with the other partners and investors in the project. He will be at the track this weekend to see his vision realised, but he has no stake in it. Instead he is lobbying for a Grand Prix in 2014 at the Hermanos Rodgriguez circuit in Mexico City, which last hosted a race in 1992. The track needs a £50 million revamp to bring it up to modern F1 standards, but this is more achievable in a short time frame than building a circuit from scratch. And with Sergio Perez about to hit the big time with McLaren next season and Esteban Gutierrez tipped to replace him at Sauber, time is of the essence to get F1′s flag planted in Mexico.

Hellmund told the Austin Statesman newspaper that he has partnered with Mexican entertainment giant CIE, owner of Ticketmaster in Mexico, which has a lease on the Hermanos Rodgriguez circuit and the funds to revamp it and promote the event. Ecclestone will be conscious that Hellmund was not able to deliver on the original vision he had for Austin, which fell to Bobby Epstein and Red McCoombs.

But there is no doubt that following the money and the audience is something F1 has done successfully over the years with Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso opening up big new markets and fan bases for F1.

“It’s totally the right time,” said Hellmund.” No-one wants to waste the opportunity of having these drivers.”

Perez seems to think Gutierrez’ deal at Sauber is as good as done, “It will be good to have two Mexican drivers after so much time without a driver,” he said emphatically on Thursday. Sauber do not wish to be drawn on the matter.

Carlos Slim Jr, whose Telmex business has backed Sauber this season, is also a powerful voice in the background for Mexico, not to be underestimated. Once his driver gets ensconced at McLaren, Ayrton Senna’s old team and they see the quantum leap in attention and impact that will bring, things may well start to move.

And it does seem logical to rework an existing circuit close to the nation’s capital rather than start from scratch in Cancun, a concept that has been mooted for several years.

Mexico faces competition to get on the calendar, of course. Russia is due to come on stream in 2014/15, New Jersey is aiming for 2014 for its inaugural race and there have been efforts going on within F1 circles to get a race in Cape Town, South Africa (it was mentioned several times in F1′s flotation prospectus) so that F1 would cover every continent.

But the new Concorde Agreement envisages a maximum of 22 races, so there is room for expansion, especially if European events continue to struggle financially. Noises from Nurburgring don’t sound too encouraging and Hockenheim has struggled to fund a race ever year.

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37 Comments
  1. Guillermo says:

    I fell in love with the sport when, as a child, my dad took me to the Mexican GP, so personally, I would love to see F1 return. Can you imagine the current generation of cars taking on the fearsome “peraltada” corner?

    James, it’s interesting that you hint at how much interest there is for the sport in Mexico. In my experience, more than in some European venues (past and present). For me, it makes expansion of the F1 calendar more justified than, say, adding races in Turkey or Korea, where the fanbase just isn’t there.

    1. Matt Devenish says:

      I seem to remember Champ Car running a few races at the track and peraltada was bypassed and the cars diverted through a baseball stadium!

      I’ve no idea what the infrastructure is like now and what would need doing to it, but always thought it was a super circuit.

      1. Mario says:

        Cham Car was running in Monterrey, not in Mexico City.

      2. Mario says:

        Upsi… I’m sorry, I didn’t follow CART very often at the time and believed only Monterrey had a race. Thanks for the correction.

    2. kovi says:

      agreed. i was at hermanos rodriguez in 1991-92 and was a full house. nice track and lots of fans.
      Let’s not forget that mexico has a huge racing heritage, with the likes of clark, hill, surtees to name a few, fighting for the championship there.

    3. Jack says:

      Would be great to see racing back at Mexico city – a classic 80s track. I just hope they don’t choose to let Tilke improve it by adding 34 hairpins where there used to be corners. I think the Peraltada would need to be tightened to make it a challenge – surely like Eau Rouge it would be flat out in a modern F1 car, but then I guess if it is flat theres a chance they might not ruin it…

  2. Tim says:

    Not too distant future Scenario?:
    2 U.S. GP’s
    Canada
    Mexico
    Brazil
    Argentina?

    F1 could string together 6 GP’s &
    develop a TV audience that
    could capture a lot of eyeballs in
    the western hemisphere.

    Tim

    1. Jorge Lardone says:

      Argentina? no way, I think. the government corruption is very high, and it is not good for F1 bussines.

      1. Matthew says:

        And Mexico, with the ever-present danger and corruption presented by the cartels, is good? If F1 returns to Mexico, the race organizers would have to pay ‘protection money’ to the cartels. Formula One paying money into the drug trade – what a positive story that would be!

      2. kovi says:

        they had a very good f3 series in the past in mexico, and of course drougs money was there. Nobody seem to bother at the time.
        Mexico is another world.

    2. Tornillo Amarillo says:

      Argentina’s future circuit only with a maximum speed of 270km/h?

      http://velociudadba.com/en/news01.php

      1. kovi says:

        with your president screwing repsol in front of the world, i think argentina will have a tough time getting a mayor motorsport event in the next decade. Moto gp is not going, and f1 is even less likeky.

      2. Tim says:

        The image shown is a
        concept layout and will not
        reflect the final design.
        Design and construction is
        expected to take two years.

        Tim

  3. Simmo says:

    Surely if half of the fans/spectators are from Mexico then if there was to be a grand prix there then there would be a very quiet grandstand in the US, especially as there is to be a new grand prix in New Jersey…

  4. Wade Parmino says:

    Slim should (just as a gesture of kindness and generosity to the Mexican people) fork out a couple hundred million dollars to make the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit world class and F1 quality. He is the richest man on the planet afterall.

    Emerging Latin American countries are prime candidates for hosting successful Grands Prix. Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina along with the ever faithful F1 nation of Brazil. True fans are guaranteed, and with improving economic circumstances, can afford it so they will attend.

    If South Africa can host the World Cup, they should have the capability of bringing the Kyalami circuit up to world standards.

    I would hate to see any more street circuits on the calendar. New Jersey should be scrapped and Valencia abandoned. Catalunya can alternate with Jerez (which is a great track with a lot of history). I would like to see Imola again. The Tilke tracks have been ‘hit & miss’ with regards to how good these are. I don’t really like the Valencia or Korea tracks.

    It’s sad to hear that many European races are struggling. I cannot understand this (there is such rich history and passion there). Has interest in motorsport declined in Europe or is it that the cost of hosting races has increased so much as to be uneconomical? And if so, why? Please tell me it is not to do with greed.

    1. Blade Runner says:

      If the rest of Europe’s GPs are as expensive to get into as the British GP at Silverstone I can fully understand the trouble some European countries have making the events pay.

      Even Silverstone is borderline financially for the owners. It is only because F1 has such a massive fan base in the UK that it fills its stands.

      The BRDC have signed up to a long term contract with annual increases in fees paid to Mr Eccelstone/ FOM, if in the future, we dont have any top flight drivers then it could end up losing a fortune.

      This is the basic problem, the cost of entry to the events. The entry to the US GP this weekend is far, far cheaper and would not require family’s to miss a 2 week holiday to be able to afford, ie, sensible.

  5. Daniel MA says:

    I think a Mexican GP is probably the safest bet Bernie has at this moment, Russia, New Jersey might be popular in the first year or two, but Mexico is a proven market for F1 even before Pérez and Gutiérrez came in. In the end though money will be the deciding factor as to wether it happens or not, it’s effectively in Slim and Co’s hands.

  6. Davexxx says:

    James what IS the ‘ruling’ concerning the number of races in a calendar? Can Bernie simply increase the number of races and the teams have to abide, or do they have any clout to block it? (Are you saying the new Concorde agreement stipulates the max number?) It IS sounding like there needs to be more races per year, with all these extra sites being planned (and talk of USA needing several races itself), and it would be a shame if some (Europe) sites are allowed to fall by the wayside to make room.

    1. James Allen says:

      No, there’s a maximum in the Concorde Agreement. Currently 20 rises to 22 in next Concorde

      1. Blade Runner says:

        James do the crews, with the exception of drivers personal engineers, rotate between going to GPs and working nearer home?

        Or is there talk of such happening if indeed the calender goes up to 22/year?

      2. James Allen says:

        No, they get worn out. Also have to do winter tests and found driver test. A very, very tough schedule.

  7. Andy says:

    It’s good that F1 is moving into new markets and revisiting old ones, even if it is at the expense of some european races.
    However, F1 doesn’t look good when a circuit is less than half full of spectators. Bernie is happy because he gets his hosting fee but as a world spectacle, I can’t help but feel that it does F1′s image no good at all.
    The FIA should step in and tell Bernie, “you can go where you want but if you don’t achieve a minimum of 75% attendance, we’re not going back”.
    I find it a bit ironic that as Bernie shifts away from Europe, new venues such as Texas, are forced into holding the event at a local time to suit the european tv audience.
    So it seems that Bernie’s media revenues are mostly from Europe, while he can ask almost what he wants of new venues to host a race, countries that are keen to be seen on the calendar. The fact that some are very poorly attended seems immaterial.

    1. Ski says:

      Qualifying is on at 1 pm (13:00) and the race tomorrow is at the same time. That’s not exactly a punishing start time for drivers or fans and I wouldn’t call that forcing the time to suit the European audience.

      1. Simmo says:

        Ah but one reason these races have been chosen as the season close is because it is the best time for Europe – in the evening after dinner when nobody is at work ;)

      2. JEZ Playense says:

        Most Eupropeans dont work on Sunday…

  8. Mike from Colombia says:

    Perez could by lying to the media again?

  9. rich gibbs says:

    I believe a Mexican F1 race to be a very valid consideration. unfortunately, I also see that addition to the calender as being a death-knell to COTA. I hope I am wrong, but I have very serious doubts…

  10. Colin says:

    If / when Perez starts winning with McLaren (which i’m sure he will) it will be a natural progression to include a race in his home country. Schumacher dominant = 2 gps in Germany; Alonso dominant = 2gps in Spain. Perez could make F1 massive in Mexico so yes go for it!!

  11. I love F1 and I can’t be happier that we have a track of this standard and class in Austin! http://www.atxbeat.com/Formula1USGP2012/kzDSC_0716.jpg

  12. A key benefit for a Mexican race as I see it is the time zone being in line with the USA

  13. Nigel says:

    I’m all for global expansion but as the new Team Principal at Caterham, Cyril Abiteboul, said in the Press Conference at Austin, passion for motor sport has to be part of the equation. Mexico clearly has that! I don’t see the likes of Bahrain, Korea, China, even Malaysia staying as governments in these countries change.

    I believe we should also have sacrosanct, “Classic” races to maintain the passion balance. My view would be Germany, Italy, Britain and France, they also all happen to be major, G8 economies. Monaco is already in this sacrosanct category and it’s a bit suspicous that 3 out of 4 of the “Classic” races have all run into financial difficulty apart from Italy when it has the worst economy of those four, any comments James?

    Anyway, it beats me why the big Teams do not insist these countries stay in any Concorde Agreement.

  14. kovi says:

    and let’s not forget central and south america. Lots of fans there. Is a garanteed sell out.

  15. red Rider says:

    Sunday Morning – North America – The race is about five hours away. On the internet news sites of the USA I see no mention of the F1 race anywhere. On most news sites here the sport section does not even have a F1 section. I see pro football, college football, golf, basketball, boxing, horse racing, Nascar, but no F1. On the TV channels I usually use to watch F1, they are not showing the race live. The Saturday trials were shown in the middle of last night.

    F1 has a long way to go here. Even Indy open wheel racing isn’t what it used to be.

    Imagine, J. Villeneuve even tried to make a go of racing pick up trucks here.

  16. Can Mexico afford a giant annual subsidy like Texas’ gift of 25 million a year?

    If France can’t afford the F1, how is Mexico supposed to?

    Moving cars by truck makes more sense than flying them across continents. That is reflected in the significantly lower cost of Indy and Nascar tickets.

  17. Kay says:

    For two years now, Lotus has been pushing for a race on the moon.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvZpqJG4KRY&feature=relmfu

    When is BE going to make that happen? :D

    1. Red Rider says:

      When there are enough people with too much money in their pockets there. Cheers

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