Mexico – “… and I realised that he was consumed by an inner fire that his family fed with fuel rather than water.” This powerful and emotive phrase was used by Enzo Ferrari to describe Ricardo Rodriguez de la Vega, a rising star of Mexican motorsport who died all too soon at the age of 20 in 1962. Both he and his brother Pedro, who died nine years later at the Norisring, drove for Ferrari.
And today, coming in on a direct flight from Austin, the Scuderia is back in the city with the circuit named in honour of the two brothers. It was also the venue where John Surtees clinched the 1964 World Championship for Ferrari and Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell secured a one-two for the Prancing Horse in 1990. In this its third year of its third incarnation, the Mexican circuit still features some of the original layout, even if, instead of the Peraltada that cost Ricardo his life, today we have the stadium section, which is spectacular but very slow.
The track first staged an F1 race in ’63 and was back on the calendar from 1986 to ’92 and then again from 2015, each time getting shorter in length, from the original 5 kilometres to the current 4.304 kms. Its most striking feature is what happens to the air here, because the Mexican metropolis sits at 2300 metres above sea level, so that air density is around a quarter less (leaving aside the matter of pollution) than at sea level.
Today’s turbocharged engines deal with this deficiency thanks to the compressor, but the level of aerodynamic downforce required is very high, precisely because the air doesn’t “push down” on the cars as it would do at a lesser altitude. Here again, and even more so than at most tracks, the setting for the fans is spectacular and support for Ferrari is not restricted to the circuit itself, as the minibuses used to transport the Scuderia team members to the track are soon spotted and mobbed with affection.