Pirelli: you don’t change
a winning tyre

Pirelli: you don't change a winning tyre 01

The legend of the Rodriguez brothers is still intact: very few brothers have left their mark on racing in the way that Pedro and Ricardo did. Ricardo was two years younger and more talented but they both burst onto the international racing scene in the 1950s like a hurricane and immediately served notice of intent. Pure speed and all-round adaptability took them all the way to Formula 1® but also allowed them to triumph in endurance races. It was the Rodriguez brothers who kindled in the Mexican population its love of racing today. Their talent was simply down to pure instinct: a question of genes maybe, given that their father was a motorbike stunt rider.

It was the crest of this wave that brought Mexico City into Formula 1® in 1963, where it remained until 1970. In those eight different editions there were seven different winners. First Jim Clark triumphed in the year of his first world title; then it was Dan Gurney and Richie Ginther, John Surtees, Clark again, Graham Hill and Denny Hulme. The last win in 1970 went to Jacky Ickx and Ferrari. Afterwards, nothing. This was largely down to poor maintenance, which did not allow a circuit so closely associated with speed to be kept up to the safety and efficiency standards that were required. The long pit straight after the Peraltada hairpin was more suited to cars without aerodynamic downforce: in any case the bumpy surface made it especially dangerous at high speed. So the F1® circus fell out of love with its Mexican home and 15 years followed with no Mexican Grand Prix. When Formula 1® returned to Mexico City it was 1986, in the midst of the turbo era. The cars were putting out around 1000 horsepower in qualifying, leading to equally spectacular races. The circuit named after the Rodriguez brothers was a natural choice for a triumphant return to racing’s top level.

Pirelli: you don't change a winning tyre 02

At its comeback on 12 October 1986, few people may have remembered that the Mexican Grand Prix had a solid tradition of debuts and facts that were later destined to go down in history. Take 1964: John Surtees had never won in Mexico (he managed it two years later) but the Englishman claimed his first world title there (on four wheels). In 1965 Mexico was also the scene of the first win for American driver Ritchie Ginther, driving a Honda. But in 1986 these oddball pieces of trivia were far removed from reality of the day. The championship was already destined for Williams-Honda, which faced an internal fight for the drivers’ title between Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet (the constructors title had already been wrapped up). Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna were also at the forefront. Yet nobody on that bright Sunday, with the clouds scudding across a windswept sky, paid much attention to the Benetton and its young Austrian driver Gerhard Berger. But that’s where they were wrong.

The main theme of free practice and qualifying that year was high tyre wear. The asphalt was especially abrasive and bumpy, which led to a number of different potential strategies being mooted. Pirelli engineer Gianni Turchetti, when asked how many pitstops would be necessary for the Italian tyres in the race, cryptically replied: “a number”.

The events of race day came as something of a surprise. The tyres were suffering, yes, but only the Goodyears. Those affected included Senna’s Lotus, as well as the Williams duo of Mansell and Piquet, not to mention Prost in the McLaren. All of them began a lengthy and complex series of pit stops. Berger, by contrast, was serene at the wheel of his multi-coloured Benetton and did not seem in any way inclined to trouble the pit box. His Pirelli tyres lasted long enough in fact for him not to have to make a single pitstop, giving himself and the Anglo-Italian team (which he enjoyed two career stints at) their memorable first victory.

As the untouchable Benetton completed its last few laps, the track was littered with plastic bags and other rubbish, blown onto the circuit by the wind that had never let up even for a moment. On the podium young Berger smiled at an achievement he would never have imagined: probably never even have dared to believe. He certainly wouldn’t have known that thousands of kilometres away, through the grainy medium of live TV in the 1980s, a certain Enzo Ferrari was watching Berger’s race corner by corner, passing move after passing move. And it was on that day that he finally decided to bring Berger to Maranello, where the young Austrian arrived just a few months later. 

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