Oh, what a circus
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Mexico and Formula One: Bob McMurray recalls the special relationship
The ticker tape rained down, the crowd went wild and the trophy was presented to an exuberant winner — and what a popular winner he was.
No, not Twickenham but Mexico City, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, and the return of the Formula 1 Grand Prix to that city after a 23-year absence.
In 1987, the city was still recovering from the devastating earthquake of 1985 that killed an estimated 10,000 people and caused enormous damage to the city and its infrastructure. The effects were all too plain to see but the city carried on with life and the F1 circus arrived in town.
Our team co-ordinator and master of accommodation, Mexican Jo Ramirez, had worked his magic, booking us a special room with views of the city, and free Mexican buffet and bar available each night. Jo is from Mexico City and is as famous there — then and now — as F1 driver Sergio Perez and carries a lot of influence.
Journeys to and from the track often involved being stopped and escorted to a side street by purported “traffic cops” who demanded hundreds of dollars for some imagined infringement. We just paid the “fine” and went to a special office at the track and reclaimed the money from officials who were resigned to the situation as normal.
Jo had a “cousin” in the police force who was there with a military police helicopter. One night, he invited us to return to the hotel in the helicopter. Full of enthusiasm we went, accompanied by then-F1 driver for the Zakspeed team, Christian Danner. Our transport was an ex-US military UH1 (Huey) with the traditional open side, and a trainee pilot who safely landed us on the smallest hotel roof I had seen. We then had to walk around the edge of the pad, with no barriers separating us from a 30-floor drop on one side and the helicopter pressing into our backs to get to the helipad escape door.
The faux cops were no problem for the rest of the week.
When the race day arrived, it was almost an anticlimax. At least it was for us in McLaren, as on the first lap our driver Alain Prost retired from the race after a collision and then just one lap later, our other driver, Stefan Johansson also retired after another collision.
Just two laps into the race and we were packing to leave the track.
There was a red flag stopping the race on lap 30 because of an accident involving driver Derek Warwick, so our packing was hastened when boss Ron Dennis told us we were going with him and team technical director Gordon Murray to the airport early to beat the inevitable traffic jams when the race was restarted and finished.
On the way to the airport there was discussion about the race, the week and then the hotel.
Murray told us he had one of the worst rooms in the hotel, underneath the helipad, next to the lift shaft, and as small as a wardrobe with dodgy air conditioning.
Sympathy flowed but my wife and I surreptitiously looked at each other and realised that on check-in, to a Spanish-speaking receptionist with 20 foreigners vying for attention, McMurray looks a lot like Murray.