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How the Mexican Grand Prix Became F1’s Best Event

The FIA has named the Mexican GP the top event of the year for a record five consecutive seasons.

Mac MorrisonWriterMexico GPPhotographer

The Formula 1 World Championship capped its 2019 season during the annual FIA prize-giving ceremony, held this year on December 7 at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris. And as is the "recent" norm, six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton accepted his latest title-capping trophy, as did the champions of various other series.

Additionally, three-time world champion Niki Lauda, who died on May 20, was posthumously awarded the Personality of the Year prize, voted on by media. But lost in the noise of the more glamorous prizes was a performance that, in terms of collecting accolades in short order, was nearly as dominant as Hamilton's: The Mexican Grand Prix was selected for the fifth consecutive year as the recipient of the Race Promoters' Trophy—F1's "Event of the Year" award.

The Mexican GP—held at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez road course in Mexico City—came out of the gate strong upon its return to the calendar in 2015, the first time it occurred since 1992. It immediately received praise for its first Grand Prix of the modern era, won by now-retired Mercedes-AMG driver Nico Rosberg.

Now, though, with F1 once again in 2019 seeing a dominant season from Mercedes and Hamilton, series owner Liberty Media continues to kick around ideas to improve the show and expand F1's appeal. Those initiatives include talk of adding a second U.S. race, in Miami, alongside the U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas. But it appears Mexico's success isn't a simple, easily repeatable formula; we asked Tavo Hellmund, the original mastermind of both the Mexican GP and the USGP at COTA—as well as a founding partner of Circuit of the Americas—to explain how the Mexican GP has done things differently.

"It really started from the first day when Alejandro [Soberón] and Carlos [Slim] asked me to partner with them to bring an F1 race to Mexico," he said, "and to create new ideas, and to merge that mindset with their successful operational and promotional history. [Soberon is the CEO of Corporación Interamericana de Entretenimiento (CIE); think of it as the Live Nation of Latin America, and it's the official race promoter for the Mexican GP. Slim, chairman of Grupo Carso, is one of the world's wealthiest people, a longtime promoter of Mexican racing drivers and F1 driver Sergio Pérez's main sponsor.]

"I spent a lot of time walking the track almost two years before the remodel even started, seeing what changes we should do that would not only make the track better but also create interesting space for grandstands, hospitality, and corporate/sponsor activations," he continued. "I drove my friend [the late F1 race director] Charlie Whiting nuts on a weekly basis for about four years with Mexico and COTA before that. He was immensely helpful on both tracks.

"Equally important was Christian Epp [of F1 track-design firm Tilke Engineering], who was as motivated as everyone else involved with the race to come up with really cool things. We had success together in Austin and it continued in Mexico. Once we decided to not use the old, famous Peraltada curve and instead bring the cars into the Foro Sol baseball stadium, we knew we could get creative.

"So I went to [former F1 boss] Bernie [Ecclestone] and told him I wanted to move the post-race podium and celebration away from the front straightaway—the traditional location at every track—and put it in the [baseball stadium area]. He fortunately said 'yes,' but also that it was 'the stupidest thing to do' and that he would 'blame me publicly when it flopped and everyone complained about it.'

"Fast forward to the end of the first race: Fortunately, the podium celebration is a smashing success. Bernie and I are sitting there and he leans over to me and says with a smirk on his face, 'Tavo, you haven't congratulated me for the clever idea I had to move the podium.' I chuckled and said, 'You're right, great idea, Bernie.' He smiled and gave me the thumbs up. Classic Bernie.

"So it started there but as [Soberón] and [Slim] would agree, the majority of the credit for the success of the Mexican GP is due to Federico González, director general of the race, and Rodrigo Sanchez, director of marketing/PR. What they have done with their teams each year is phenomenal, and Rodrigo continues to raise the bar each year, which is saying a lot since the bar is so high.

"Additionally, the FIA ASN in Mexico deserves credit as well. The Abed family has a long history of successful motorsport events and their role shouldn't be overlooked; the family bought the rights to the Mexican Grand Prix in 1986, and after 1992 became Mexico's FIA rep—OMDAI, an organization it has controlled for decades—similar to ACCUS in the USA."

With that, here are seven more keys Mexican GP promoters point to as the secrets to their success:

1. Almost 30 years of experience and more than 8,000 events per year: With three decades dedicated to creating entertainment events, CIE says it knows its way around something as big and relevant as an F1 race.

2. Fan experience: CIE says one of its main goals is to provide fans a great experience beyond the sport. If people spend most of their day at the track, it says, it is important to provide top-quality opportunities for them to enjoy themselves. Beyond the race itself, the Mexican GP says it offers fans live experiences that make them feel a part of the event, through activations behind the grandstands or through a large interactive concert helmed by an international DJ at the podium.

3. Mexican cultural wealth: Organizers believe the race is a big opportunity to showcase Mexico's cultural wealth to the rest of the world. Mexico's range of festivities and subcultures provides plenty of material to annually surprise attendees with a yearly theme incorporated into the weekend's overall presentation—including the Opening Ceremony parade, activations in the paddock, and tourist recommendations.

4. Disruptive ideas: Making things different and breaking the "rules" by approaching each race as a new opportunity to innovate and surprise the audience. The goal is to offer guests the best possible experience; the latest example happened in November 2019 when organizers put the winning driver's car on the podium.

5. Fans: You'll be hard pressed to equal the passion and spirit of Mexican fans; they spread warmth all around as they welcome the F1 community.

6. One-of-a-kind venue: The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez has a unique element compared to other F1 hosts: the Foro Sol, a former baseball stadium where the drivers pass in front of more than 30,000 fans.

7. Public/private collaboration: Because of the Mexican GP project's national significance, it was and is important to have a partnership with the government. In this case, the government owns the racetrack, so it has a vested interest in F1's success.

After five straight years of being recognized by F1's stakeholders as the best event on the schedule, it's all certainly working to plan.