Hometown hero Sergio Perez falls short, but doesn’t affect the Mexican fiesta
Mexican doesn’t make the podium in first Mexican GP for 23 years
Mexicans celebrated the return of Formula One after a 23-year wait on Sunday, with a fiesta atmosphere of mariachi music, sombreros and wild cheers for favourite son Sergio Perez.
While Perez fell short of accomplishing his dream of climbing the podium in front of his home crowd, the nearly 135,000 fans roared when the Mexican driver’s Force India car passed the finish line in eighth place.
“It’s very exciting. We’ve been waiting for this moment for many years, especially now that there’s a Mexican driver,” said Monica Martinez, a 52-year-old owner of a clothing repair shop standing in front of the starting grid with a black sombrero on her head.
Many were just happy to be there for Formula One’s grand return to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez track, which hosted its last race in 1992, when Mexican officials dropped it over concerns it was adding to the mega-capital’s contamination problems.
“It doesn’t matter whether Perez wins or not. He won by just being here for the historic return of Formula One to Mexico,” said Martinez’s Spanish friend Conchita Pedrajas, 48, a technology firm executive bedecked in the same wide-brimmed Mexican hat.
A mariachi band serenaded the crowd with classics such as “Cielito Lindo” before the fans and Perez sang the national anthem while a giant green-white-red flag of Mexico covered a section of the grandstand.
Beer flowed around the track as fans munched on tacos under a scorching heat in the city perched almost 2,250 meters (7,380 feet) above sea level.
“I have never seen a crowd like this. It’s like a football game,” said British driver Lewis Hamilton, the 2015 champion, who finished second behind Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Mexico first hosted official races from 1963 to 1970.
It was dropped out of the Formula One calendar due to safety concerns for the fans and drivers.
The race in 1970 was memorable for its incidents, with the crowd invading the track and British driver Jackie Stewart having to abandon after hitting a dog.
Carlo Alazraki, a renowned publicist, remembered how in the past people could sit on the grass “like in a picnic.”
The Grand Prix returned in 1986 and British legend Nigel Mansell won the last race in 1992.
The track was renovated for this year’s return, with stands that can hold 120,000 people.
Ticket prices ranged from $115 for the general entry stands to $1,715 for the main grandstands and $3,499 for VIP packages.
For Alazraki, Formula One’s return is “very important because it puts us in front of the world again. ... It’s a very cheap advertising campaign and a great investment.”
The Mexican government estimates that this year’s event will bring in $400 million. Formula One has signed with Mexico for five years.
Juan Carlos Acosta Castaneda, 54, and his wife Blanca, 48, were happy that they finally got to see a race in their home country after having to travel abroad every year to see the sport they love.
Ten members of their family attended the Grand Prix, waving a Mexican flag and wearing Sergio Perez hats as they sat in front of the starting grid.
“It was a shame to have to leave our country to see a show like this,” said Juan Carlos, a metals company owner.
For Blanca, the atmosphere in Mexico “is not comparable” to the races they saw elsewhere.
“In Europe, people are stiffer,” she said. “Here, people are full of joy.”