Analysis: What F1 can learn from Mexican GP success

The huge success of the first Mexican Grand Prix in over two decades should serve as a lesson to other events, says Jonathan Noble.

It was a little ironic that just a week after Ferrari had bemoaned rivals for entertaining fans in Austin, the Mexican Grand Prix delivered proof about why leaving the grandstands in raptures still matters in Formula 1.

The emotions, the passion, the noise and the sheer enthusiasm that the fans showed around the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was proof that if you give those who fork out for tickets what they want, they will come.

As one seasoned television commentator remarked about the magical atmosphere around the track: "It brought the real Formula 1 back."

Fan frenzy

Mexico was a weekend that was very much made by the fans. For it was not the racing, the track layout nor the horrendous traffic in the city that will be stamped in people's memory banks as they leave the craziness of Mexico City behind.

Instead, it was about seeing kids, parents and grandparents whipped up in to a frenzy at the sight of Formula 1 cars and their heroes.

We loved the banners, we loved the masks, we loved the fact the beer was free-flowing, we loved the smiles and we loved the unbridled enthusiasm that left the place feeling more like a football stadium than a race track.

For amid all the talk recently that F1 no longer has its heroes, Mexico showed exactly what was possible when a little bit of effort is made to give the paying public exactly what they want. For one weekend at least, Sergio Perez was a god.

But this was not just about the love for one man, it was about doing more for fans.

Rockstar podium

Just look at the position of the podium for example. Having it placed in the middle of the stadium section, rather than above the pits as is the norm, was one of the master strokes of the weekend. The post-race scenes were simply sensational.

Yet, we should not really be surprised that Mexico worked. As McLaren racing director Eric Boullier said on Sunday night, the ingredients that made the weekend such a success are all well-known.

"I don't think we have to learn anything – as it is more about promotion," he said. "First the facilities were outstanding. The way they work on the communications was very good.

"Yes, they were helped by having a couple of Mexican drivers, but they used them for the promotion of the grand prix which was very clever.

"It is an enthusiastic country, but also the circuit layout, the stadium, and the change of podium places, were quite innovative, and they have created something unique. I am very happy for the promoter and Mexico because it is an absolutely outstanding success."

Identity crisis

Perhaps the mistake that F1 has made in recent years with its failed ventures in Turkey, Korea and India is that it thought it could just do as it did everywhere else and deliver huge crowds. It simply overestimated its popularity in nations where there was no grand prix culture.

For as well as building circuits well away from major cities – giving people reason not to trek out to the race – there never seemed to be a willingness to adapt to the individual marketplaces to maximise returns.

It was the F1 way or the highway. For all these countries ended up with were near-identical Tilke-dromes that lacked the local touch. Everything was so formulated and regulated that it could never get embraced by the home market.

There was an unwillingness to allow things to be done differently, a lack of desire from F1's stakeholders to properly promote the races beforehand, and no left-field thinking about what can be done to bring fans in.

I remember having a conversation with the Korean race promoter one year who said one of the biggest reasons the local audience could not get engaged was that they did not know who the drivers were.

He was adamant that the lack of big race numbers on the cars was a key contributor to fan apathy, because many spectators who had never experienced F1 before could not tell the difference between a Ferrari, a Red Bull or a McLaren.

So why, when the local market knows that simple changes like that can make all the difference in allowing fans to engage, can F1 not be a bit more flexible and help?

Breaking the mold

Mexico's promoters knew that if they followed the mold of other venues, did not make full use of its baseball stadium section – and especially did not suggest the idea of a different-placed podium – then it would not have delivered something fans wanted to come and see.

Highly-influential Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Domit, who played a key role in bringing the race back, said: "To have the podium in the stadium was to get the race closer to the people.

"I think that what happened in Mexico this weekend can be an example of how fans want to get closer to what F1 is. We saw a lot of kids, a lot of young kids, a lot of people who were not so much related to racing – and suddenly F1 became the most important thing happening in the country."

The cynics can argue that the race itself was not that good, and that we should not judge an event's success simply on some loud noise with pomp and ceremony after the race. But, just as Monza's podium delivers something special, so too Mexico helped endear itself to the fans and drivers.

We can bemoan too that the original Peraltada has long gone, and we can be unimpressed by the slow corners that make up the final sector, but we cannot deny that every single one of those fans who packed those grandstands overlooking it went away delighted at what they had seen. The ringmaster did well.

"Yes it was a little bit of a show – a bit of an American show, but it was good as well," added Boullier. "You need to adapt to the culture of the people.

"You cannot have a cold ceremony if you are in Mexico where people are getting hot. You have to adjust a little bit with the style. In the end we are a sport but we are also a show. This kind of thing doesn't change the nature of F1 – it just makes the fans happier."

And it is that final sentence that is key here. Being at a sporting event, a music concert or the circus is about being present at something unique, it's about soaking up the atmosphere and being a part of something that you do not get everyday. It's a form of escapism.

That is exactly what made Mexico the success. Being flexible for the fans delivered results; and it didn't require any fake spicing up of the racing.

There is nothing to be embarrassed about at bringing the circus to F1 – and if it means the promoter's only headache right now is going to be how he is to top it next year, then it was totally the right thing to do.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Event Mexican GP
Track Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez
Article type Analysis