From Mexico To Maranello

At only 23 years of age, Esteban Gutierrez has plenty to be proud of in the world of Formula One.

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From Mexico To Maranello

by Joey Franco

At onlEsteban Gutierrez with Sebastian Vettely 23 years of age, Esteban Gutierrez has plenty to be proud of in the world of Formula One. 

He has competed in two world championship rounds with the Sauber F1 team, and he now joins Ferrari, the most fabled team in the history of Formula One, as the team's test and reserve driver. 

Not bad for a youngster from Monterrey!


Although it might seem odd that a young Mexican made his way into one of the top teams in a Eurocentric sport, he is not the first Mexican driver to to make the stables of Maranello his home.  In fact, he is not even the second!


Of the six Mexican Formula One drivers in the history of the sport, three have raced under the shield of the prancing horse.  We have to go back five decades to discover the relationship between Ferrari and Mexico in Formula One, with the Rodriguez Brothers.


Pedro Rodriguez, born on July 11, 1940 in Mexico City was the eldest of the duo.  His younger brother Ricardo was born on February 14, 1942.


Ricardo was a speed maverick at a young age, racing bicycles and later graduating to motorcycles at the age of 14.  After winning several national motorcycle titles, he jumped from two to four wheels, getting behind the wheel of a Fiat Topolino .


In 1960, Ricardo Rodriguez would compete alongside the Belgian driver Andre Pilette in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world's foremost endurance race.  Pilette and Rodriguez drove a Ferrari 250 TR39 under the NART (North American Racing Team) a brand created by American businessman Luigi Chinetti to promote the Ferrari marque in the US.  The Belgian/Mexican duo raced the number 17 Ferrari to a second place finish, making Ricardo Rodriguez- at 18 years of age and 133 days, the youngest driver to stand on the Le Mans podium.

Ricardo at the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix


Following his triumph with Ferrari at Le Mans, he was invited by the Team's Formula One division to compete in the 1961 Italian Grand Prix in Monza as a guest driver.  The young Mexican pilot wowed the Italian crowd as he qualified second, making him the youngest Formula One driver to start from the front row.  The race itself, was not as successful as the qualifying session.  A fuel pump failure on his Ferrari 156 forced Rodriguez to abandon the race.  This 32nd edition of the Italian Grand Prix would also go down as one of the most infamous races in the history of the sport.  Wolfgang von Trips (who snatched the pole position from Rodriguez) would crash his Ferrari into the crowd, killing himself and 15 spectators.  The race was won by the American Phil Hill, who was also driving a Ferrari.


Ricardo Rodriguez was a rising star in the world of motorsport, but it all came to a tragic end at the 1962 Mexican Grand Prix.  Ferrari opted not to enter the non-championship race, and Rodriguez was given a drive by Rob Walker's Lotus 24.  During the first day of practice, his car's rear right suspension failed at the Peraltada turn at the Magdalena Mixhuca Circuit, sending the twenty-year-old into the barriers.  He died instantly, sending the whole country in a state of mourning.

Pedro, the eldest of the brothers had a slightly different path which lead him to the top echelons of motorsports.  At 15-years-old he was sent to a Military Academy in Alton, Illinois by his father in order to instill discipline and learn English.


Like his brother, he drove a Ferrari 500 TR (NART) at the 24 Hours of Le Mans at only 18 years of age.   He would compete at Le Mans year after year for a total of 14 appearances in the French endurance race- winning in 1968 behind the wheel of a Ford GT40.  His co-driver during his 1968 Le Mans triumph was none other that Lucien Bianchi (great uncle of F1 driver Jules Bianchi).


Pedro was smooth and consistent on the racetrack.  His cool demeanor led him to Formula One in 1966, where he raced sporadically with both Ferrari and Lotus.  

Pedro Rodriguez


The following year, he would take his first of two Formula One wins at the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami driving a Cooper-Maserati.  Unfortunately for the victor, he was left standing on the podium without the Mexican National Anthem, as organizers did not have the track at hand.


Since that day in South Africa, it is said that Pedro Rodriguez always traveled with a Mexican Flag and a record of the Mexican National Anthem.


His second victory in Formula One would come at the wheel of the BRM P153 during the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix at  Spa-Francorchamps.  The traveling flag and record came in good use.


Pedro would succumb to the same ill fate as his brother on July 11, 1971 at an Interserie race at Norisring in Nuremberg, Germany.  The Mexican hero's Ferrari 512M burst into flames flollowing an incident with Kurt Hild.


Many years after the death of the brothers, their legacy lives on.  On November 1st, Formula One will make a comeback to Mexican soil, just one week after the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.  The world's top drivers will race on the Circuit which was renamed in honor of Pedro and Ricardo; the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.  


For more information on the US Grand Prix visit; www.CircuitoftheAmericas.com

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