Following last year’s cancellation Mexico City joins the W Series schedule in 2021 as the final round of the series.
The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is without a doubt one of the world’s classic circuits, with a history that stretches over six decades. It has enjoyed three distinct spells as an F1 venue.
Built in parkland, in its original guise it featured a high-speed banked final corner. That was now gone, but the circuit has always been noted for its long pit straight and the impact that its high altitude has both on drivers and machinery.
Mexico City first hosted a non-championship F1 race in 1962. Sadly local hero Ricardo Rodriguez was killed in qualifying, and the track was subsequently renamed in honour of both the teenager and his brother Pedro, who died in a crash at the Norisring nine years later.
The circuit hosted World Championship events from 1963-’70, and there were several memorable races. In 1964 John Surtees clinched the title for Ferrari, and the following year Richie Ginther gave Honda its first F1 win at the venue.
The 1970 race was marred by safety issues after spectators climbed over the barriers. The fallout from that and the death of Pedro Rodriguez brother Pedro the following June led to the Mexico GP falling off the calendar.
The circuit hosted Indycar races in 1980 and ’81, but it wasn’t until 1986 that F1 finally returned. Gerhard Berger gave Benetton its maiden win at the first event, while Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna all logged victories before the race was dropped from the calendar after 1992.
A1 GP and Champcar both visited Mexico City in the early 2000s, but F1 remained absent.
However, a resurgence in Mexico motor sport led by Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez and backed by entrepreneur Carlos Slim and saw the Grand Prix returning for a third time in 2015. The circuit underwent a substantial upgrade programme, and a complex of corners through a baseball stadium was created at the end of the lap.
In its current form the Mexican has proved to be a huge success, attracting enormous crowds. Nico Rosberg won the first race at the revised track, and subsequently Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have logged two wins apiece.
Formula E and the World Endurance Championship have also visited Hermanos Rodriguez in recent years, underlining the venue’s importance.
The history of women at Mexico City
Mexico City was not on the World Championship calendar when Lella Lombardi was racing in F1, but the circuit did see one of the three unsuccessful attempts to make the cut made by her compatriot Giovanni Amati in 1992.
Having raced in F3000 on and off from 1987 to ’91 Amati graduated to Grand Prix racing with struggling Brabham outfit as team mate to Belgium’s Eric van de Poele.
With no testing behind her she failed to make the grid on her first appearance in South Africa. Next time out in Mexico City neither she nor Van de Poele qualified, with Amati not running at all in the first session. After one more failed attempt in Brazil she was dropped by the team and replaced by Williams test driver Damon Hill. He eventually qualified the difficult car at Silverstone, and subsequently embarked on a highly successful career.
The stop-start nature of F1’s association with Mexico City is reflected by the lack of regular visits by other major international series, and thus a relative dearth of appearances by women drivers.
Champcar had a brief association with the venue, and Britain’s Katherine Legge made two appearances. In 2006 she qualified 13th of the 18 contenders with her PKV Racing entry, before finishing a delayed 16th in the race. She returned the following year with Dale Coyne Racing. She qualified 16th and was classified 15th after retiring with a mechanical issue.
In recent years the circuit has been a regular stop for the FIA Formula E series. On the championship’s first visit in March 2016 Switzerland’s Simona de Silvestre qualified 11th and finished 14th for the Amlin Andretti team.
The Formula E support race series, the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy, has seen several women participate in the Mexico City round.
In 2019 and competing on a very different version of the track than the one she knew from her last Champcar visit 12 years earlier Katherine Legge proved a worthy victor from pole position, while France’s Celia Martin was a mid-race retirement.
In the 2020 edition W Series star Alice Powell showed well, but finished a delayed eighth after twice suffering punctures.
In the early 2000s NASCAR visited Mexico City with its second division Nationwide series. In 2005 local stock car ace Maria Reyes was invited to take part in the inaugural event in a Ford run by Jay Robinson Racing. Reyes had been runner-up in the local truck series, and the previous year had taken a pole at a local NASCAR race in Mexico City. In a Nationwide field that featured many current and future stars of the main NASCAR Cup series she was classified 35th.
Mexico has always had a thriving domestic racing scene, with Hermanos Rodriguez at its heart. Aside from Reyes many other women have competed at a high level locally – especially in the stock car and touring car series – but not had the opportunity to expand their careers in other countries.
Among the most successful is Gisela Ponce, while others to make an impression in recent years are Estefania Reyes, Regina Sirvent, Majo Rodriguez, Martha Tapia, Nancy Gutierrez and Pamela Esquivel.
One driver who has travelled is Alexandra Mohnhaupt, who in 2018 became the first woman to win an F4 race when she triumphed in a NACAM series round in her home town of Puebla, having also earned podium finishes in Mexico City. She has also competed in the British F4 series.