The Rodriguez Brothers: The Original Mexican Formula 1 Prodigies

Matt HillContributor IIIApril 20, 2012

With Sergio Perez having an excellent start to the 2012 season for Sauber after his settling in rookie season in 2011, he is thought to be one of the most promising drivers on the grid.

He is considered one of the most likely drivers to take over if Felipe Massa is sacked by Ferrari. It is clear he is a very highly thought of driver and his drive in Malaysia was one of the clearest demonstrations yet. However, he is not the first Mexican hotshot in Formula 1.

A brief look back at the history of Formula 1 reveals there has been only the five Mexican drivers in the sport. There has been Perez, Hector Rebaque, Moises Solana and the Rodriguez Brothers, Pedro and Ricardo. Neither Rebaque or Solana managed to make much of an impression in the world of Formula 1, but the two Rodriguez brothers were considered to be two of the most promising drivers ever to grace the sport.

The Rodriguez brothers were lucky to have a father who had money to help finance their efforts, and their father also encouraged them to race. Despite this they were not just two rich kids who bought their way into the higher levels of motorsports. They were both serious racers.

Sadly neither Rodriguez Brother ever quite got to realize their potential, but both of them demonstrated talent and bravery that was exemplary. Both of the brothers not only had success in Formula 1, but they also showed their talent in other forms of motorsport, such as sports cars, Can-Am, Nascar and rallying.

The younger brother, Ricardo, was incredibly successful in the junior categories, and despite his death at the tender age of 20 he was already thought to be a Formula 1 champion in the making. At the age of 14 he began racing in national motorcycle competitions and won championships. He tried to enter Le Mans in 1956 but was refused entry due to his lack of age and experience in saloon car racing

Ricardo moved into domestic saloon car racing rather than single seaters, but his success continued, winning in his debut season in his own car at the age of 15. At 17 he began to compete in events outside of Mexico, the first of which was at Riverside in the United States, where he won a race for Porsches. Ricardo's smooth driving style made him stand out from others, and his pace made him a formidable foe to drive against.

Once again Ricardo tried to enter Le Mans in 1958 with his brother Pedro as co-driver, but once again Ricardo was denied entry because he was considered too young at 16. Pedro did compete along with Jose Behra, the brother of the great French driver Jean Behra, but retired from the race with a burst water hose.   

Finally, at the 1959 Le Mans, Ricardo was granted entry to the event, where he teamed up with his brother to compete in the 750cc for the OSCA team. Sadly for them, they were forced to retire after just 32 laps. In 1960, Ricardo became the youngest driver at just age 18 to stand on the podium at Le Mans after finishing in second place in the Ferrari 250.

To go with his Le Mans exploits, Ricardo took part in events such as the 1000km at the Nurburgring, the Targa Floria and the 12 Hours of Sebring. As often as possible, Ricardo would try and drive with his brother as his co-driver, but occasionally would driver with other partners.

In 1961, Ricardo was offered to drive for Ferrari at the Italian Grand Prix. Enzo was so impressed by what he saw from Ricardo that he entered an extra car for the event. Incredibly, Ricardo managed to qualify on the front row for the race, and he still holds the record for the youngest driver ever to start on the front row of the grid.

Once the race began he became the youngest driver ever to start a Formula 1 at that time. Even today he is still the third youngest ever to start a race, with only Mike Thackwell and Jaime Alguersuari starting a race younger. Sadly, the 1961 Italian Grand Prix was overshadowed by the horrific accident that killed Wolfgang Von Trips and 14 spectators.

The race became insignificant after the accident, and Ricardo retired after 13 laps with a fuel problem.

In 1962 Ricardo continued with both racing sports but began racing more regularly in Formula 1 for the Ferrari team. He competed in the Dutch Grand Prix but had a poor race, clashing with Jack Brabham before retiring seven laps before the end of the race. He then acted as test driver for Willy Mairesse at the Monaco Grand Prix.

He returned to the race seat for the Belgian Grand Prix, finishing fourth and earning himself his first ever championship points, also at the time becoming the youngest driver ever to have scored a championship point. He then missed the next two events before returning to compete at the German Grand Prix, where he finished sixth.

His last championship race was the Italian Grand Prix, where he retired after 63 laps. Outside of Formula 1 championship events, he won the Targa Floria and also came in second at the non-championship at Pau Grand Prix. 

Ricardo was desperate to enter any non-championship Mexico Grand Prix but Ferrari wouldn't provide a car for him, so Ricardo signed to drive a Rob Walker Lotus. Tragedy struck during practice, as Ricardo's car suffered a rear suspension failure at the Peratalda corner, which sent Ricardo straight off the track and into the wall. Ricardo was killed instantly.

Despite his short career Ricardo was considered to be one of the finest drivers of his generation. To have had such a promising career cut short is a real tragedy. After Ricardo's death it was down to Pedro to try and take up the mantle and become the great success his younger brother had been.  

The older brother, Pedro, was probably not as naturally talented as his brother, but he was still an excellent driver. As a younger driver, Pedro was a lot wilder than his brother and was a lot more prone to have accidents. Pedro began like his younger brother in local motorcycle racing before moving to car racing.

Pedro also began to enter sports car racing and was considered fast but erratic, and he didn't have the same sort of success that his brother did. In fact it wasn't really until after the death of his brother that Pedro began to showcase more of his abilities. After taking some time out after his brother's death Pedro entered his first Formula 1 race in 1963.

He signed to do two races for Team Lotus in the United States, and then Mexico. Pedro didn't make it to the checkered flag at either event due to technical issues. In 1964, he only entered the final race of the season, once again in Mexico, where he would finish sixth and earn his first point for the Ferrari team. 

In 1965, he once again only did part of the season, competing in the final two races of the season, once again in Mexico and the USA. In the U.S.A. he earned another two points, coming in fifth, and in Mexico he came in seventh. In 1966, he entered four races but failed to finish all four.

In 1967, he did nearly a full season for the Cooper team and won his first race at the South African Grand Prix. He went on to score four more point finishes at the Monaco, British, France and Mexico races, but didn't get on the podium again that season. 

The following season he suffered from a lot of reliability issues, but he still either scored points or podiums. He came second in Belgium and third in Holland and Canada. By this stage in his career his judgement had improved and the accidents he had in his youth were a thing of the past—he was just a fast and brave driver. He also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1968 in the Ford GT40 partnered with Lucien Bianchi.

1969 saw him return to more of a part-time schedule, but he did score two points finishes in Italy and the United States. He also took more of fuller schedule in sports car racing competing in the work Ferrari 312p, which was powerful but hardly ever got to the end of the event due to the cars unreliability.

The truth was Rodriguez was happy to drive in other categories, and all through his Formula 1 career he often drove in other types of racing. He raced in Nascar and Can-Am, but his real strength was in sports cars. He drove as a Ferrari works driver before taking over in the Porsche 917 from 1970 onwards.

It was at the 1000km at Brands Hatch, where in the pouring rain he won by five laps despite being black flagged and getting dropped to 12th at one point. It was said it seemed like he was driving in the dry and everyone else was in the wet. That year he also won the 1000km at Spa, where he had an epic duel with Jo Siffert, with the two going side by side 'round Eau Rouge on one lap.

He also continued in Formula 1 in 1970, picking up his second victory at the Belgian Grand Prix and a second place in the USA. Through 1970 he picked up another four points finishes in Monaco, Austria, Mexico and Canada.

In 1971 he was winning the World Sports Car Championship and was once again doing respectably in Formula 1, with a second place finish in Holland. However, he never got to complete the '71 season, which had the potential to be his most successful ever.

But in a Interserie Sportscar race at the Norisring, he crashed his Ferrari 512M after a wheel most likely came off. He suffered multiple injuries and eventually passed away at the age of 31.

Both Rodriguez' had so much talent, and they were a massive loss to the motorsport world.


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