By Alan Baldwin
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican Grand Prix organizers say Sunday’s Formula One race marks a return to normality after last month’s devastating earthquakes, with tickets sold out and a three-day crowd of 320,000 expected.
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit escaped any damage but there had been fears fans might stay away, with hotel bookings slumping in the immediate aftermath.
“Everyone was asking ‘How are the people going to react?’ So I think this weekend officially becomes the coming back to normality. And that’s the whole idea,” GP president Alejandro Soberon told reporters.
The Sept. 7 and 19 earthquakes killed 471 people in central and southeastern states.
Soberon said Formula One and grand prix organizers were donating around $500,000 to fund 600 temporary classrooms in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas to get 9,000 affected children back to school.
Fans attending the race, which should see Britain’s Lewis Hamilton clinch his fourth world title, are asked to stand and raise a clenched fist during lap 19 of the race as a sign of support and solidarity.
The second quake hit Mexico City harder and rescuers raised clenched fists to call for silence while they searched for survivors. The gesture also embodies the idea of “Fuerza Mexico” (Be Strong Mexico).
The race coincides with Mexico’s annual Day of the Dead festivities, which has become a big draw for international visitors.
Soberon said the race date was now established and ruled out any switch.
U.S. Grand Prix promoter Bobby Epstein told Reuters earlier this month that he would prefer his race in Austin, Texas, to be paired with Brazil, as it was for three years, instead of Mexico.
He said then that Mexico would be better off back-to-back with Montreal in June.
“Bobby is a fantastic guy and I love him. I think he has a good idea to separate the races,” said Soberon. “But I invite Bobby to move back to June. It will make even more sense to have Canada and the States, which are closer, together.
“For us its impossible to move to June because its the heaviest rainy season.
“The Day of the Dead holiday is on these dates, it’s just become a big festival in the city. But overall you cannot have a good experience of the weekend if the rain is so heavy.”
Contract extension talks were expected to start next year, once Mexican presidential elections were out of the way. The circuit has two more years to run on its five-year deal.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)