THE DRAGONI INCIDENT For the running of the IV Mexican Grand Prix in 1965 most drivers and crews arrive to the country between tuesday 19th and wednesday 20 th , October, when the cars have already reached the `AutÃ³dromo Ricardo RodrÃguez'....
THE DRAGONI INCIDENT
For the running of the IV Mexican Grand Prix in 1965 most drivers and crews arrive to the country between tuesday 19th and wednesday 20 th , October, when the cars have already reached the `Autódromo Ricardo Rodríguez'. Some drivers which arrived early during the previous weekend take monday to travel south 70 kilometers to Cuernavaca where Pedro throws a welcoming party, like every year before the GP and organizes a mexican style barbecue for his friends at his country house. In Mexico the same 18 cars which ran at Watkins Glen will be attending the Grand Prix.
The first surprise is for Bob Bondurant who supposedly will run the third Ferrari, the V8, but finds out that Ludovico Scarfiotti has been sent from Italy to take Surtees' place -who's in London being treated after his accident at Mosport in the Lola T70- thanks to Dragoni's request who will not stop in his promotion efforts on behalf of italian drivers. The cars for Bandini and Scarfiotti will be the red 1512 but Pedro will use the 158 with the white and blue stripes entered again by the North American Racing Team which provides the team with the perfect excuse to try the Firestone tires in his car since NART is not covered in the Ferrari agreement with Dunlop and Pedro can test the products being offered for 1966 by the american firm.
During thursday new 12 cilinder engines arrive from Modena for the 1512s and when the track opens officially on friday both press and mexican public have great hopes about Pedro because the magic of the Ferrari name has them fooled and they do not realize it is an old model he will drive. Moisés Solana, the other mexican driver in the race, is not considered a favoriteto win, unlike Pedro, because everybody knows he will drive the third Lotus, type 25 chassis R6, the reserve car of the great Jimmy Clark the almost eternal pole man in Mexico. Pedro is not entirely happy about driving the third car and Don Pedro, his father is furious about the italians. They both talk to Luigi Chinetti, NART boss, about this state of things and Luigi, who's not too pleased himself, promises to bring it up with team manager Eugenio Dragoni. The latter assures Chinetti he has talked to the Commendatore Ferrari and has his full authorization to choose drivers and assign them cars as he sees fit.
Pedro tries the 158 with the Firestone tires and in a few laps has a 1'59.06" time in the 5 kilometer circuit butcomplains that the Firestones loose their grip much earlier than the Dunlops. He goes out again with different sets and tries them but in one of the sets, a harder one which takes longer to warm up, he loses the car in the Esses and endsin the barrier with a wheel gone after the heavy impact. Practice session for Ferrari is now in trouble when the car is taken to the boxes and the mechanics find out about the huge job awaiting them in order to get the car ready for next day `s final qualifying session. Scarfiotti clocks 2'01.84" in the 1512 and Pedro laughs to himself while he tells friends maybe he needs to show the italian the track, like he did in the USGP with Bob. Bandini has no problems, he knows the track rather well and stops the watches in 1'57.71".
The surprising Hondas go under one minute fifty-eight seconds and drivers Bucknum and Ginther decide to swap cars and they go even faster with Ginther achieving a 1'56.48", Bucknum 1'57.88"and they seem to be the only team without problems. Clark destroys the new 32 valve engine but Gurney uses his to good effect and has the provisional pole with 1'56.24". Clark uses Spence's car and is two hundredths slower than Dan while fellow scot Stewart manages to break his engine too and Attwood joins them in the club. Moisés has fuel pick-up problems but is faster than Pedro and not too far from Spence whose car is much newer. Brabham, in his own Brabham-Climax quietly becomes the fourth driver under 117 seconds near the end and teams get to work in their cars as soon as practice is over and prepare themselves for next day. Pedro knows his people will have an all nighter to get the V8 engined car ready and after going home to take a shower he will return to the track carrying mexican dinner for them. He is careful to leave the hot peppers as a side dish for the adventurous and stays with the team for a while, dines with them and offers moral support before going home to rest.
Saturday morning when the track opens for practice the Ferrari 158 is not ready yet. The track is hotter and drivers which venture out find it slower. Team Parnell and Cooper Cars seem to have misplaced their drivers and frantic calls are made but Rindt, McLaren, Attwood and Ireland are lost. Whent they finally arrive, well into practice time, the explanation doesn't cut the mustard with Tim Parnell and he gets in an argument with Innes, it quickly esalates and Parnell fires the scot, which in practical terms ends his career as a top F1 driver. Ireland stays in the boxes but Tim looks for a substitute and finds unlucky Bondurant who made the trip only to find Dragoni sent for Scarfiotti without notifying him. His luck takes an upward turn and he is offered the Lotus-BRM and he promptly starts going round near the 120 seconds mark, that's 1.5 seconds less than Ireland's friday time.
The fight for the pole gets tough and several drivers have excursions into the grass with the usual suspension breakages, Stewart being the most affected because his BRM is really hurt and will have to use the spare for the race. Bucknum has problems with the Honda and parks the car in the circuit. He carries his smoking seat with him back to the boxes and when it becomes too hot to carry dumps it next to a soldier. The surprised military man takes action emptying his rifle in the thing as a cautionary measure witnessed by several, highly amused, journalists.
Clark makes a tour de force minutes before the end of practice and achieves his sixth pole of the year with a bare seven hundredths less than Gurney's friday time; Ginther and Brabham can not improve either and stay in the second row of the grid, still the only ones to get under 117 seconds. Pedro is mostly a spectator watching Bandini improve by four tenths and Scarfiotti getting down to 1'58.93". When it seems obvious that Ludovico will not improve more, Pedro asks for a chance to try the 1512 and in five laps he equals his friday time but the session is over before he can improve it. Hill (BRM) and Spence (Lotus) make the third row while Bandini and Stewart are partners in the fourth. Moisés gets a very good 1'57.55"to lead Bucknum in fifth row, leaving privateers Siffert and Bonnier in the sixth. Scarfiotti and Pedro make an all-Ferrari seventh row, McLaren and Rindt have an all-Cooper eight, and Attwood and Bondurant an all-Parnell ninth, these two being the only ones not to break the 2 minute mark.
Ferrari mechanics keep working in the 158 all afternoon but Dragoni starts telling anyone within sight that the car might not be ready for the race and these news come as hard as a cold shower for the Rodríguez. Pedro goes home to change and, again, brings dinner to the hard-working members of the team. They have the car fixed but they do not have enough equipment and spares and they fear the car will break at the end of the long straight in the Spiral turn or over one of the notorious bumps in the circuit. Pedro returns home and thinks about phoning Don Enzo but it is too early in Italy and he doesn't want to go to sleep late, he needs to be well rested for the race, so he only prays for some good news sunday.
Sunday 24th is sunny and in the morning there are several national Tourism races. Pedro arrives early, having taken mass already and while the preliminary races rage on, in the Ferrari boxes there is an angry confrontation between Dragoni and Don Pedro with Chinetti trying to mediate and translate while Pedro too helps translating the, ever-angrier, complaints of his father. Don Pedro, as a good protecting father, wants Pedro to use the second 1512 since the V8 can not be repaired safely. Dragoni is opposed and argues that Scarfiotti recorded a better time so the italian should get the car. Don Pedro counters that the comparison is invalid because Pedro only managed a handful of laps in the borrowed car late saturday and that is not representative of his capabilities. He claims that friday times when both had full practice time are a better match and Pedro was faster than Ludovico then. The arguments go back and forth until Don Pedro loses his temper and strats shouting that Dragoni is not respecting the agreement about Pedro running the third car in North America with Surtees and Bandini doing the honours in the official ones. Since Scarfiotti is not Surtees Pedro is next in line and has rights over the 1512.
Don Pedro's words need no translation and Chinetti tries to mediate although recognizing that Pedro has the right to run the car and suggests calling the Commendatore in Italy and asking him to decide the issue. With this he tries to scare Dragoni but the italian doesn't fall for the trap because he knows it isn't easy to locate Don Enzo on a sunday because of the time difference and the not so good telephone connection from the track. Chinetti plays another card insisting in the need of finding about Firestone rubber and that can only be possible if Pedro is the nominated driver because he is under no contract to the Scuderia and Dunlop. Dragoni feels threatened with this rasoning because he knows that for Ferrari tire selection for 1966 is vital but refuses to accept the point and insists that he has full authority refusing to change drivers. Don Pedro, who has been holding his youngest son Alejandro (10) by the hand and gripping it with increasing fury, whispers to Pedro `for a son of a bitch, a son of a bitch and a half' and coolly asks the italian that if he were missing who'd be in charge of the team, but Dragoni doesn't understand the question. Don Pedro is very deliberate and says that if, as an example, Dragoni wouldn't have his passport and the mexican police were to search for immigration papers by some chance and Dragoni couldn't prove that he was legally in the country and were taken to jail until monday when he could show all the proper documents to a judge, then who would Don Pedro have to talk to in order to arrange that Pedro drove the 1512.
Le Mans 1962 Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez at Le Mans confering with Eugenio Dragoni, Ferrari's team manager. Pedro is facing the camera, Ricardo gives his left profile. Photo by Scuderia Hermanos Rodriguez.
Races take place in endless parades of cars and the traditional drivers meeting is rutinary. There are many officials from the new government attending the GP and former president López Mateos is almost unseen. Drivers stand in line for the traditional introduction to the high ranking government officials and once it finishes Pedro shakes hands briefly with Moisés and they wish each other luck. Then Pedro goes to get Doña Conchita's (his mother) blessing, says goodbye to wife Angelina, to Don Pedro and Alejandro and isolates himself for a few minutes before the start. Once the preliminary races are done he starts the engine of the Ferrari for a few seconds and gets Alejandro inside for a ride in it while the mechanics push it to the grid. Finally he puts on the helmet and walks behind the car while people start cheering him as soon as they recognize the silhouette in the grey helmet, Mexico's favourite son.
The organizers have altered the grid because of Scarfiotti's absence and Pedro, thirteenth now, and those behind gain one place.In the Honda boxes the mechanics have exchanged the numbers in Ginther's and Bucknum's cars in order to let them use the car they achieved their best time with and this allows the man from Hollywood to keep his third place. The cars leave for the warming up lap but Clark is having engine trouble. They stand in the dummy grid and slowly watch the time announcements appear. Finally they advance and then the flag falls to start the 65 lap race. Ginther takes advantage of Clark's slow start and leads the parade while Stewart dribbles Spence and Hill to take second and Gurney gets by Spence too.
By the end of the first lap Honda is almost three seconds ahead of BRM, Bandini is now fifth having displaced Hill, while Brabham and Pedro follow closely and after a big gap comes the next group led by Siffert including the Lotuses of Clark and Moisés, the mexican about to take the place of his team leader. Up front Spence decides to attack since Clark is nowhere to be seen and gets by Stewart whose clutch is starting to fail. Hill retakes Bandini and Gurney and then goes for Stewart who falls behind Gurney too. Brabham stops at the boxes to a rocker box gasket and it takes almost three laps to correct it. Pedro closes on his team leader and Siffert joins the battle for sixth. At the end of lap 9 Clark retires with the engine about to go and surprising Ginther keeps getting away from the pack; Spence holds a steady second but Hill is barely containing Gurney and Dan finally makes the pass on lap 12. Stewart is another barely holding his place but the furious battle between Bandini and Pedro gives him a bit of space. By lap 14 Pedro is sixth but Lorenzo takes the palce back and they pass and repass unlike teammates. Gurney takes Spence in lap 17 but goes wide at the Spiral on 18 allowing the brit to get back his place but Dan will not be denied and by lap 20 is second again and now starts to pull away trying tocatch his buddy Ginther.
McLaren quits by lap 26 having trouble with the gearshift and Bob Bondurant goes next after breaking the rear suspension of his Lotus-BRM in lap 30. By half race Ginther has a clear advantage of slightly over 8 seconds and Gurney is almost 20 in front of Spence with Hill another 10 seconds behind in fourth. Stewart has Bandini and Pedro at bay but pressure is too much for the italian and he goes wide in the Esses, spins and touches one of the half tires (filled with concrete) which mark the boubndaries of the track damagingthe nose cone having to stop at the boxes to get a new one. Pedro is sixth but has no tiem to celebrate for his engine goes sour and he too has to stop. Ferrari boxes are busy with Lorenzo getting a nose job and Pedro having a faulty rectifier changed and a new battery fitted. They get out about the same time and renew their battle although three laps in arrears in places 13 and 14. Siffert puts the pressure on Stewart and gets by him and now comes Moisés who relegates the scot to seventh with 30 laps to go. Bucknum gets by Jackie next lap and the scot decides to retire.
Three laps later it is Brabham's turn to rest when his engine develop an oil leak and the Ferrari duet gets by him easily. Rindt quits in lap 40 with ignition trouble and Bonnier has trouble with his front suspension 4 laps later leaving Pedro tenth but trying hard to get Bandini's place. Moisés keeps improving as laps go by and now has Siffert under attack and gets the swiss' fifth place just before lap 50 while people cheer for him heartily and now the mexican has his sights on Hill and closes at about a second a lap. However, it is not to be and at lap 57 he is in the boxes with the engine misfiring and nothing can be done. People give him a standing ovation when he climbs out of the Lotus and Hill quits when his engine gives up the ghost in lap 57. Gurney tries his best to catch his buddy and clocks 1'55.84", faster than Clark in practice, but Ginther is in control. People cheer the tall american who won last year but this time the battle will go to the short american. Bandini's Ferrari shows signs of overheating and Pedro catches him and by lap 61 takes seventh place but Atwood is about two laps in front and nobody can recover from such disadvantge. Ginther finishes 65 laps in 2 hours, 8 minutes and 32.1 seconds with Gurney 2.89 seconds behind, about 100 meters. Spence is third 58 segundos behind the former presidential candidate Gurney and Siffert inherits fourth another 54 seconds báck. Bucknum is fifth and Attwood sixth one lap behind while Pedro and Bandini finish next with the mexican in front.
For Ginther it means giving Honda and Goodyear their first victory, and the guys from Akron have a 1-2-5 since they also equip Gurney and Bucknum. Dunlop gets a 3-4-6-8 placing and Firestone has in Pedro its sole representative achieving a seventh place. Pedro is happy, mission accomplished, and after the race is extensively debriefed by the Firestone and Ferrari technicians about the tires. He didn't get any points this time but was the first Ferrari home. In the prize giving dinner banquet later that day he is commended by several managers and receives offers to do a full F2 season in Europe, with an option to run F1 by the second part of the season. He is not sure about that and gives thanks for the interest shown. As usual, he will take several friends to Cuernavaca and includes people from the Ferrari team but not Dragoni who leaves the country with a sense of urgency.
The season is over and though Pedro knows most teams have drivers and cars ready for the new in 1966 he knows he has caught the eye of a few people and soon something interesting will come up. It is a question of waiting for the right offer as Chinetti tells him. Luigi also will talk with Don Enzo and send him a report about Ferrari's performance in North America to counteract any problems Dragoni might try to stir. Still, Pedro knows the doors of the Ferrari F1 team are closed to him as long as Dragoni is in command because the italian will never forgive Don Pedro's handling of him in Mexico. Chinetti assures Pedro that as long as he lives there will be Ferrari cars for himto drive, even though they might only be in the Championship of Makes and prophesizes that Dragoni will not last long at the Scuderia because everybody is sick of his imperial ways and he's made too many enemies. Pedro answers that may Luigi have the mouth of a prophet but Dragoni is the last of his troubles and what really worries the Rodríguez family is that business opportunities in Mexico seem to be drying up for them.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Courtesy of Carlos Jalife, Secretary General of the Scuderia Hermanos Rodríguez AC / MEXICO who is currently writing a biography of the Rodríguez brothers. Original article was published by Cavallino.
Pedro Rodríguez, our great mexican champion, died 30 years ago July 11, 1971 -- Carlos Jalife
See the Pedro Rodríguez pictures gallery in our photos channel.