By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Mexican Grand Prix organizers are planning to bring more of a flavor of the country’s Day of the Dead festivities to this year’s race, after previous reticence due to Formula One’s inherent danger and tragic past.
The Oct 29 race precedes the annual ‘Dia de Muertos’ holidays, now a big tourist draw, in which Mexican families remember their dead and celebrate the continuity of life.
“This year we want to play the Day of the Dead a little bit more,” Rodrigo Sanchez, the grand prix’s marketing head, told Reuters in an interview.
“Since the first year we were thinking about doing things. We weren’t very sure how this was going to look from an international perspective, because obviously it’s a sport that has its risks.”
Formula One’s most recent driver fatality was in 2015, the year Mexico returned to the race calendar after a 23-year absence, when Frenchman Jules Bianchi died of head injuries sustained in Japan the previous year.
Another casualty was Mexican Ferrari driver Ricardo Rodriguez, who died in 1962 in a crash at what is now the country’s grand prix circuit, named after him and his late brother Pedro.
Pedro Rodriguez won two grands prix before his death in a sports car race in Germany in 1971.
“Since year one we were like ‘maybe we should do something to commemorate the Rodriguez brothers’,” said Sanchez.
“We were looking to do stuff around there, just basically trying to bridge and find that connection between Formula One, motorsports and Day of the Dead.”
Mexico drew 135,000 spectators on race day last year – second only to British circuit Silverstone’s 139,000 – with about 30 percent of them foreigners.
The race is backed by the government, which pays the hosting fees to Formula One and sees it as an important driver for tourism and Mexico’s image abroad.
Sanchez said a recent economic report put the benefits to the city and country of the race, which follows on immediately from the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, at around $750 million a year.
Disputes over migration, the proposed border wall which Mexico says it will not pay for, and U.S. President Donald Trump’s claim that free-trade with Mexico costs jobs in the United States, have strained relations between the countries.
“This is a huge year for Mexico for what’s being said outside,” said Sanchez.
“This is a year where Mexicans are really coming together and instilling that pride about being Mexicans and really showing what Mexico’s all about and not letting themselves get down by comments.”
Force India’s Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez, the only Mexican on the F1 starting grid, has joined in a social media campaign using the hashtag #bridgesnotwalls.
Perez also ditched a sunglass sponsor last year for a comment posted on Twitter about Trump’s planned wall.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)