Formula 1

MEXICANS DANCE ON DAY OF THE DEAD

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ON the Grand Prix track and in the boxing ring, much to celebrate south of the border, writes PETER COSTER:

THE Mexico City Grand Prix on Sunday was hot and humid, but also the beginning of the end of the ICE age. Or the end of the beginning.

Not the melting icebergs and rising ocean levels caused by global warming, but the Internal Combustion Engine.

Formula One does not allow more than three ICE changes in a year and will continue with the 1.6 hybrid-turbo engines next season.

But for how long as the FIA tries to adapt to a fast changing world? There is already a Formula E for battery-electric cars, which are silent, except for a whine from the mechanical gearboxes.

In F1, there is also the MGU-K, the MGU-H and the CPU, all of which attract grid penalties if more than three units are replaced in a season.

But the biggest penalty surrounds what drives the car themselves.

On Sunday, former world champion Nico Rosberg was in Glasgow at COP26, which while it sounds like another F1 engine specification has been the 26th meeting of the Conference Of Parties on global carbon emissions.

Swedish teenage climate change activist Get Thunberg called it “blah, blah, blah” and Rosberg found he had little to contribute as F1 struggles to find a new way to power the world’s most expensive sport.

Synthetic fuel is one way to limit carbon emissions but the energy needed to produce these fuels produces far greater levels of carbon dioxide than the emissions it saves.

In Mexico on Sunday, it was better to accept the old while it lasts. The buzz does not replace the visceral shriek of engines that once  powered Formula Now, but it is better than listening to the sounds of silence in Formula E.

In one way it was a funeral procession on Sunday as Mexico celebrated the Day of the Dead, All Hallowes Eve, where vast crowds lit colourful flares and dressed in frightening costumes in a country full of passion and poverty.

At the Circuit Hermanos Rodriquez, hundreds of thousands of joyful fans came to watch Mexico’s new hero.

Sergio Perez, or “Checo,” as they chanted so loudly he could hear it through his helmet as he swept through the turns inside the baseball stadium that straddles the circuit, was third behind Lewis Hamilton and race winner Max Verstappen.

Perez is already a Grand Prix winner and looked as if he could have qualified on pole before he and Verstappen in the other Red Bull found themselves on the second row behind the Mercedes of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

There was something the Red Bull team didn’t get quite right with it’s tyre selection rather than Mercedes suddenly finding new speed.

As it turned out, being on the second row was better than being on first base. The Mercedes gave Verstappen a tow off the line, punching a hole in the air as Bottas shifted to the right and Verstappen slipped through to take the lead.

Bottas soon found himself at the rear of the field after being hit by Daniel Ricciardo who lost his front wing in what stewards decided was a “racing incident.”

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Checo was leading the race after tyre changes, which drove the crowd into a frenzy, and came close to passing Hamilton in the last laps.

Perez won the Sakhir Grand Prix last year and was being hailed as Mexico’s greatest driver although some might have forgotten the Brothers Rodriquez.

Pedro Rodriquez won at South Africa in 1967 in a Cooper-Maserati and in 1970 in Belgium in a BRM.

The older of the Rodriquez brothers also won the world sportscar champion in 1970 and 1971 before he was killed in a Ferrari during a sports car race in Germany that year.

Even so, it was his younger brother, Ricardo, who was considered the more talented. “The Kid” became the youngest driver to race for Ferrari before he was killed in the Mexican Grand Prix in 1962. He was only 20.

Enzo Ferrari decided not to enter the non-championship race and Rodriquez entered in privateer Rob Walker’s Lotus, but died after being flung from the car when the suspension failed.

A similar failure caused Pedro Rodriquez’s death nearly a decade later.

The brothers were sponsored by their wealthy father on whom their deaths weighed heavily.

But on Sunday, Sergio Perez’s dad was overcome with joy, wrapping himself in the Mexican flag between Checo and Max Verstappen.

The family is from Guadalajara, which was as notorious for cocaine trafficking as it is famous as the home of its latest sporting hero.

As an American correspondent, I was there in 1980s to report on the activities of what was known as the Guadalajara Cartel, which controlled the importation of cocaine to the United States.

Mexico’s second largest city was choked in toxic exhaust smoke from its traffic jams while fire eaters entertained drivers and their passengers in the gridlock.

The fumes crept into the great Catholic cathedral in the city founded by the conquistadors as the faithful prayed over the remains of a child under glass revered as a saint.

That was in the 1980s. Less than 10 years ago, some 18 bodies were found near the city. Mexico’s history is as vibrant as it is violent. Also born in Guadalajara was Saul “Carnelo” Alvarez who unified all four super middleweight belts on Saturday night when his opponent could not continue after two knockdowns in the 11th round in Las Vegas.

Carnelo means cinnamon. Alvarez has red hair and has won world titles across four weight divisions with his only loss being by majority decision to Floyd Mayweather Jnr, who has since retired.

Next day in Mexico City, 140,000 of the half a million who turned the Grand Prix weekend into a carnival applauded Perez as if he were the winner.

Not that it worried the Red Bull driver, who is now 20 points ahead of Hamilton with four races remaining in the drivers’ world championship

Red Bull, with Perez also on the podium, is only a point behind Mercedes in the constructors’ championship.

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Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games.

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