One of my favourite souvenirs acquired over my years in Formula 1 is a jacket given to me by the organisers of the Mexican Grand Prix a couple of years ago - that iconic black bomber with ‘Mexico is the shit’ written on the back.

Because Mexico is the shit. Race promoters CIE kicked off their contract with a top tier event, winning race promoter of the year top honours at the FIA prize-giving gala in 2015. Hardly unusual - the award is generally a sop to whichever new victim has been added to the calendar that year.



But Mexico repeated the feat in 2016 and 2017, making CIE the only race promoter to take home the trophy three years on the trot.

“This is an entertainment company,” said race promoter and chief executive officer of CIE Alejandro Soberon. “CIE is a company that produces around 5000 events a year, so there’s a lot of marketing people, there’s a lot of very skilled operational people that are continuously coming up with new ideas and trying to analyse what we do right and what we do wrong, because everything is subject to be better. 

“The culture of the grand prix is ‘we have to do it better next year’. As soon as [the race] finishes, we analyse what we could improve - it’s 12 months of work. This is not a grand prix that starts working six months or four months before the race - this is a company that is working 12 months of the year.”

The problem with a 21-round calendar is that events tend to bleed into each other, becoming indistinct. We travel the world, but the workload means that it’s very easy to slip into an airport-circuit-hotel routine unless you make the effort to arrive a day early or leave a day late, taking in some of the local sights on a day off.

One thing that sets the Mexican Grand Prix apart is the concerted effort CIE make to bring Mexico into the paddock. In past years we’ve had Day of the Dead face painting, lucha libre wrestling, and a strolling mariachi band. This year brings a mini food village with a taqueria, a mescal bar, and a churros stand, plus a barbershop highlighting the Mexican Grand Prix’s new connection with the Movember scheme supported by F1.

Sunday’s grid will also highlight Mexican culture, with the creation of unique alebrijes for each driver. Alebrijes are mythical creatures - hallucinatory dream beasts - comprised of bits and pieces of all sorts of birds and animals both real and imagined. Originally conceived by Pedro Linares during a fever dream, alebrijes have come to be associated with the state of Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s great culinary and cultural regions.

But the highlights of a race weekend can’t be limited to the rarefied experiences available to those with paddock access. The Mexican Grand Prix promoters have long understood this, and encourage audience involvement at every turn. Last year, on lap 19, race attendees stood in solidarity with the victims of the earthquakes that rocked the country in 2017. This year, the audience will don Fernando Alonso masks as the F1 world waves goodbye to the Spanish racer.

Not all of the credit for the success and innovation of the Mexican Grand Prix is due to CIE. Race sponsors Heineken have also had a role to play over the past two years, turning the podium ceremony into a DJ set for all the fans to enjoy. This year will see internationally-renowned DJ Armin van Buren perform a set immediately after the race. Unusually for Formula One, CIE and Heineken have worked together to create a complementary offering, not scrabbling for supremacy.

As the most successful new addition to the F1 calendar in recent years, the Mexican Grand Prix is the perfect blueprint for Formula 1 to follow when rolling out the umpteen new races they hope to unveil over the next few years.

The race has substantial practical support from the national and local governments, and the race promoters work closely with the tourist board to ensure that the Mexican race has a uniquely Mexican flavour. The promotion is done by a private company with years of experience in hosting events in Mexico, and in working with international partners. 

The circuit is one which offers the potential for exciting racing, and the stadium section is an instant bringer of atmosphere, helped in no small part by the enthusiasm of the local fans - the Mexican Grand Prix is a sell-out race, and the grandstands heave throughout the weekend, with Fridays visibly busier than in Monza, Montreal, Melbourne, or Silverstone (all races celebrated for their passionate fanbases).

As Formula 1 looks to change the shape of its future calendars, turning grands prix into week-long Superbowls in destination cities, the sport’s no longer new owners should be bringing prospective new race hosts to the Mexican Grand Prix to show them how it’s done.

A celebration of local food and culture in front of a passionate and knowledgeable fanbase should be the starting point for any event. With a lot of imagination, and a little cooperation - plus a supportive tourist board that understands the potential F1 has to offer - every round on the calendar could be an event to anticipate. Instead, the 21 race season is lumbering under the serious deadweight of traditional races that have descended into identikit weekends to dread.

Viva Mexico! Mas, mas, mas por favor!


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