Pedro & Ricardo Rodríguez: the brothers who made historyWritten by Αναστάσιος Ίσαρης
Translated by Nikos Arvanitis
The marriage between Pedro Natalio Rodríguez and Conchita de la Vega, gave birth to 5 children in Mexico City.
The older one, Pedro (who was born at 18/1/1940), and the third child in order, Ricardo (who was born at 14/2/1942), were supposed to leave their mark in Formula 1.
The economic prosperity of Rodríguez family allowed the two brothers to accomplish their racing dreams, as since their childhood they had become speed lovers.
Since the age of 13 already, Pedro had become motorcycle champion in his country for 2 consecutive seasons, while the 11-year-old Ricardo didn’t fall short, as he also became champion … in cycling!
At the age of 17 Pedro made his racing debut in a Ferrari at Nassau and at 18, with the help of the Ferrari representative in America Luigi Chinetti he participated for the first time with a Ferrari 500 TR at Le Mans 24 Hours.
For 14 consecutive years he was giving it another try at the aforementioned race, managing to win at 1968 with Lucien Bianchi as co-driver, driving a Ford GT-40.
In the meantime Ricardo repeated his brother’s accomplishments in motorcycle racing, by winning the national championships, while at the age of 15 he participated at his first race at Riverside in a Porsche RS and surprisingly he beat everyone at the 1,5 liter category!
Due to his young age, he didn’t hesitate to use his father’s name (!) in order to compete in races, showing great maturity, which allowed him to win his class at Nassau Tourist Trophy in a Porsche Spider.
In 1956, being 14 years old, he requested to participate at Le Mans 24 Hours, but his request was rejected as he was not an adult.
He offered himself at the age of 16 as a co-driver alongside his brother, but the answer was again negative.
He came back in 1960 and as he had become now of age, he took the green light to participate.
And what a participation: at the age of 18 years and 133 days old, he became the youngest driver ever to finish in the podium, ranking 2nd with the Luigi Chinetti team North American Racing Team (NART) and the Frenchman Andre Pilette as a co-driver.
In between, he didn’t waste time waiting, but he took part in various races (a total 11) with NART, usually as a co-driver to his brother, winning 2 races and driving various Ferrari editions.
Obviously, Ricardo’s great performance and his fiery temperament, in combination with his complete absence of fear, didn’t go unnoticed by Enzo Ferrari, who was searching desperately for an answer to the driver-phenomenon Jim Clark who had already made his presence felt.
In 1961, Enzo gave the 19-year-old Mexican the opportunity to make his Formula 1 debut, by running an extra 4th car at Monza race, in a year that Ferrari had dominated the Constructors’ championship with the 156 Shark Nose and with Wolfgang von Trips & Phil Hill competing hard each other for the Drivers’ championship.
At the Qualifying practice, Ricardo’s rare talent was proven, as he managed to grab 2nd place of the grid behind Von Trips by only a tenth.
Thus he became the youngest pilot to start from the 1st row of the grid being 19 years and 208 days old.
In the race he didn’t fall back either as he managed by using slip streaming to exchange the lead, until lap 14, when he was forced to retire due to fuel pump failure.
Unfortunately, his extraordinary performance was overshadowed from the sad incident of Von Trips’ accident at Parabolica turn, which cost him his life and the life of 14 spectators.
Up until that moment the whole country was ecstatic by the success of Rodriguez brothers at the two main motor racing categories: Ricardo at Formula 1 (given already the nickname “Fireball”) and Pedro at endurance races.
It is important to note that in 1961 both brothers got married, on the one hand Ricardo with Sara and on the other hand Pedro with Angelina. But none of them had descendants.
In 1962, Ricardo had a permanent seat in Ferrari, but the Italian manufacturer had lost the crown by the British Constructors.
In Netherlands he was unlucky, when he spun twice and retired 7 laps before the end and in Monaco Enzo decided to swap him with Belgian Willy Mairesse, maybe in order to teach him humility.
In Belgium, starting 7th he fought for 3rd with his team-mate Phil Hill and he lost by one tenth of a second, finishing in 4th.
Therefore he became the youngest driver to score points in Formula 1 history (aged 20 years and 123 days old), a record that remained unbroken for 38 years!
At the French Grand Prix Ferrari did not participate because of strike and in Great Britain GP sent only one car for Phil Hill.
In Germany he started 10th, 2 places in front of Phil Hill, but immediately he climbed to 7th and he finally finished 6th, being the only Ferrari driver who scored points, although he couldn’t resist Jim Clark’s pressure.
In Italy he started 11th, 4 places ahead of Hill but he failed to finish due to engine failure at lap 64 of 86 total.
This was proved to be his last F1 start, because Ferrari, disappointed from the recent results, refused to race at Watkins Glen.
Nevertheless, this season brought Ricardo success as well: victory at the famous Targa Florio Race and 2nd place at the non-championship race of Pau.
The outstanding performances for his age, made him look like a future world champion, but the end of a promising career was close.
Mexico was breathing for the non-championship F1 race which was held at Magdalena circuit.
His burning desire to take part faced his team’s refusal to compete, considering that race an unnecessary risk.
Fireball, disappointed and not wanting to refute his millions of fans (it was a matter of national pride) disobeyed his team’s order and agreed to race with Rob Walker’s Lotus 24.
November 1st, 1962 was the first day of practice and during his try to beat John Surtees’ time, he saw the rear right suspension of Lotus 24 collapse at the 180 degree Peraltada turn and as a result, he was blasted on the barriers and in that way he entered the pantheon of history.
The declaration of national mourning was the least the country could do for its beloved child.
Pedro got shocked from his younger brother’s death and he thought he could quit racing.
By the end of the 1963 season he unsuccessfully tried to enter Formula 1, whilst he won at Daytona International Speedway and had a successful career in sportscars.
The great love that distinguished the two brothers got sealed by Pedro’s decision to wear always Ricardo’s favorite ring… “In order to feel always his presence”.
His persistence for racing, led him to evolve to a successful F1 pilot, when, after some sporadic appearances from 1963 to 1966, he decided to focus on Formula 1.
1967 was his first season of full involvement and he had the opportunity to win his first race at Kyalami in a Cooper Maserati T81.
It is important to note that the organizers didn’t have the Mexican national anthem; instead a Mexican dance song was played!
Since then, Pedro had always with him a 45 rpm disc with the national anthem of his country...
The season came to a close with two 5th places (Monaco & Great Britain) and two 6th places (France and Mexico), finishing 6th at the Drivers’ Championship.
In 1968 he repeated his good performance, this time behind the wheel of a BRM P133.
Despite the fact that he won any race, a 2nd place at Belgium, two 3rd places at Netherlands & Canada, one 4th at Mexico and a 6th at the German Grand Prix led him again at the 6th position of the ranking.
Highlight of the season was of course, as mentioned above, the victory at Le Mans 24 Hours alongside Lucien Bianchi.
1969 was a bad season when BRM appointed John Surtees as number one driver, so Pedro started the season racing for Reg Parnell’s private team, later he moved to Ferrari and finished the season with NART.
The outcome was poor; a 5th place at Watkins Glen and a 6th place at Monza.
In 1970 he returned to BRM and behind P153 he scored remarkable results.
He won the 2nd race of his career at Spa and finished 2nd at Watkins Glen.
Two more fourth places at Austria and Canada, plus two more sixth at Monaco and Mexico, brought him 7th at the final standings.
During that season, with John Wyer’s team and behind a Porsche 917 (Leo Kinnunen was the co-driver) he accomplished a magnificent win at Brands Hatch 1.000 kilometers under rain (he finished 5 laps in front of the 2nd, where it was told that it looked like he drove at a dry circuit, whereas the rest was driving at a wet one, to emphasize on his great performance).
He also won 3 races on the same championship; the Daytona 24 Hours, Monza 1.000 kilometers and Watkins Glen 6 hours, winning the World Sportscars Championship, both this and the following season (with wins at Daytona, Spa and Monza).
In 1971 he stayed at BRM, this time with the P160 edition, having promising results at the start of the season: a second place in a rainy race in Netherlands and a fourth in Spain.
Unfortunately, he did manage to compete in only 5 races that season.
As was usual at that time, during the large breaks between Formula 1 races, pilots used to take part at another races.
At 11th July, 1971 he participated with Herbert Muller’s Ferrari 512M at Norisring race for the Interserie series.
As he was battling to retain 1st, while he tried to overtake the slower car of Kurt Hild, he unwillingly drove Rodriguez out of track and as a result he crashed onto the barriers and the demolished Ferrari caught fire.
He died just after his rescue, at the age of 31, almost 9 years after his brother’s death.
Characteristic detail: a few days before he had forgotten at an airplane washbasin Ricardo’s ring that he always wore. He had put it off to wash his hands, he came back to find it but it had been gone.
“As long as I wear that ring, I will never suffer anything”, he used to say.
He was contrary to the implementation of safety rules for drivers and had been at conflict with their defender, Jackie Stewart; he had a fatalist approach to the subject and believed he could stay alive for as much as God decided.
Despite the fact he was considered to be eccentric, because he used to wear everywhere the famous deerstalker hat and had always with him a bottle of spicy sauce Tabasco (even at the best restaurants in the world), he was a composed personality, even if Swiss Jo Siffert, his team-mate at John Wyer’s team with Porsche 917, mocked him by calling him “Little Mexican bitch”.
In an era where pilots didn’t race only for their personal recognition but also for their country flag, the decision to rename the Mexico City circuit “Autodromo Hermanos (brothers) Rodriguez” was the least way to pay tribute to the two brothers who glorified for as long as they could the national colors at a supreme level.
In conclusion it could be said that Ricardo was an obvious talent, gifted with incredible speed, courage and audacity, who if he hadn’t died so early he would have become Formula 1 World Champion.
On the other hand, Pedro did not possess the same natural talent his brother had, but he was an all-around pilot who did well everywhere (CANAM, NASCAR, Rallies, North American Ice Racing etc.), whilst his ability at wet terrain was considered to be the best of his time.
These two were the drivers who put Mexico at the world motorsport map, that’s why their contribution remains until today priceless.