Formula 1 has started to ease its Covid-19 restrictions in the paddock, and the party atmosphere is back at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
It’s great to be back in Mexico, a grand prix that quickly worked its way into my top five for a variety of reasons: racing has soul, we usually get some kind of drama on the track and Immigration formalities are minimal – no visas or proof of Covid tests or vaccinations required at the airport. Combine the generous hospitality and extremely helpful attitude of the promoter with a very friendly welcome, and what wouldn’t you like?
I am impressed by the city’s disciplined approach to Covid: everyone at the airport wears a mask, when I get into my taxi the driver immediately offers me a bottle of disinfectant; same at my hotel and in the Ubers that I use to/from the circuit. Mexico City Grand Prix CEO Alejandro Soberon tells me the city takes Covid very seriously and more than 90% of the adult population has received at least one dose of vaccination, a figure supported by local reports.
In the past, this weekend has coincided with the country’s Day of the Dead celebrations, but as this year’s race has been pushed back a week due to Covid rearrangements, only the wrap-up festivities remain. This includes an exhibit in the parking lot of the media shuttle which pays tribute to a number of F1 drivers who died, including Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda and local heroes Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez, the brothers after whom the car is named. circuit. Elsewhere, such a display might be considered cheesy, but given Mexican traditions, it exudes respect and remembrance.
With the usual crowd expected to cheer on Sergio Perez this weekend, but Red Bull need him to play a supporting role in Max Verstappen’s championship hopes, the prospect of team orders playing a part in the Sunday’s race is widely discussed.
At the FIA pre-race press conference, I smile at Sebastian Vettel’s comment that team orders should be banned, as I recall the controversy surrounding the notorious “Multi 21” episode at Sepang in 2013, where he defied orders to stay behind the Red Bull team. companion Mark Webber. I wonder if Vettel would defy orders from the Aston Martin pit wall as his team-mate Lance Stroll is the son of team owner Lawrence Stroll, and if that specific reason is why he is so adamant on the matter. .
Speaking to Verstappen later, I bring up the subject of his Silverstone accident with Lewis Hamilton in July. The helmet he was wearing during the collision is now on display in his fan store in Limburg. Are there emotional reasons behind the decision to exhibit it?
“No,” he explains, “actually, I don’t like seeing it because I don’t have very good memories of it,” he says. “But it proves how safe helmets are now.”
After the day’s media activity is over, the seven-kilometre drive to the hotel takes 30 minutes. My hotel is located in a 16th century building in the bustling main square which this week features stalls and live music as part of the Day of the Dead celebrations. I’m relieved that my room is on the other side…
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A sign of progress as F1 heads into a post-Covid paddock: en route to the media centre, I drop by for a chat, coffee and croissant at Alfa Romeo – team principal Frederic Vasseur, is always great fun. This is my first visit to a team under relaxed Covid regulations which (finally) allows us to enter hospitality units, but only by invitation.
On the way back to the media centre, I stop at Red Bull to say hi to Helmut Marko. As we chat, McLaren SP IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward, formerly part of Red Bull’s junior team, greets his former boss, who responds with “Hello Potato…”
I double check if I heard correctly, to which Marko replies: “Yes, that was his nickname with us…”
After lunch it’s time for the FIA press conference and I ask AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost to confirm that Alexander Albon is training Yuki Tsunoda, which the Austrian does, in saying, “It’s true. Alex comes to see Yuki, talks to him, explains the lead, whatever, and Yuki asks [for info]. It’s a discussion between drivers.
“I think it’s quite positive for Yuki because he gets a lot of knowledge from Alex, and so it’s been very positive.”
A replica of the Juan Manuel Fangio helmet is on display in the media canteen lobby. Sir Jackie Stewart, who is in Mexico on business with Rolex, will present the helmet to the pole winner after the qualifying session to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Fangio’s first world title (1951).
I set out to stalk Sir Jackie for his perspective on the current title fight, especially as he lost his first title here in 1968 after a fuel system failure. I haven’t seen Jackie for two years – he’s been to grand prix since Covid started but we’ve been in different ‘bubbles’ – and all credit goes to him for traveling the world at the age of 82 while simultaneously overseeing his run for the Dementia charity, founded following his wife Helen’s diagnosis.
The easing of restrictions also allows for another welcome opportunity: an evening meal with selected media hosted by circuit communications manager Rodrigo Sanchez and his team at Ilios Masaryk restaurant. Little by little, normality returns.
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Mexico Grand Prix 2021
Browse all articles from the 2021 Mexico City Grand Prix