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Jo Ramirez: Ambassador at the Mexico GP 2015

Jo Ramirez Ambassador at the Mexico GP 2015- F1 before and now: night and day

Friday, October 30, 2015 – Joaquín “Jo” Ramírez was born August 20, 1941, Mexico City. He is currently known as a good selling author and retired employee of several sports car racing teams. From 1984 to 2001 Ramírez was coordinator of the McLaren Formula One team, including during the Prost / Senna clash of the late-1980s.

Jo Ramirez studied mechanical engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He dropped out in 1960 …. to follow his friend Ricardo Rodríguez to Europe. Ramírez worked as apprentice mechanic for Scuderia Ferrari for two years. When Rodríguez died in a racing crash in the Mexican GP in 1962, Ramírez was in Italy and heard the news over the phone. Ramirez then took a job in Maserati first and later in Lamborghini’s as a mechanic of their new line of high performance road cars. In 1964 Jo Ramirez moved to England where he worked for Ford on the GT40, before joining Dan Gurney’s All American Racers team in 1966.

Jo was of course present on occasion of the last Mexico Grand Prix 23 years ago.

Formula 1 makes a much-anticipated return to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez this weekend for the 16th running of the world championship Mexican Grand Prix.

The history of this circuit is rich and varied. Having been originally opened in 1962, as the Magdalena Mixhuca circuit, later that season it claimed the life of local hero Ricardo Rodriguez, who had qualified on the front row for his world championship debut at the 1961 Italian GP aged 19 (he is still the youngest man ever to start on the front row to this day). By the following season it achieved world championship status, as Jim Clark capped his maiden world title with victory from pole. The following year Clark dramatically lost a three-way title decider on the final lap when his engine seized, handing the title to John Surtees, with Graham Hill having been the points leader heading into the race. It was also the scene of John Surtees’ 1966 victory in a Cooper, making him the last man to win Grands Prix for 2 different constructors in the same season (he won the 1966 Belgian GP in a Ferrari).

Mexico lost its race after a chaotic 1970 race in which the large crowd broke ranks and literally sat on the edge of the racetrack, and an errant dog was hit by Jackie Stewart’s Tyrrell.

When the race returned in 1986 the first chicane had been amended and the run to the hairpin at the top of the circuit was shortened. This race last until 1992, but since F1’s departure the track has hosted Champ Cars from 2002-07 (winners included Paul Track, Sebastien Bourdais and the late Justin Wilson), and the what is currently known as the NASCAR Xfinity Series from 2005-08, again boasting an impressive list of winners (Martin Truex, Denny Hamilton, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch).

Today as we meet Jo Ramirez, he wears a dark Telmex cap, a pure white Autodormo Hermanos Rodrigues shirt and blue trousers. A perfect uniform for an Ambassador:

Q What are your feelings today ?
Well I am very proud to be one of the five official Ambassadors for the track, appointed by Federico Gonzalez, the CEO of CIE, the entertainment company that has brought the Mexican Grand Prix back to the F1 calendar this season. I am Ambassador, along with Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Hector Rebaque and Sergio Perez. We decided with Hector Rebaque that we have no real working role, but I am here to “promote the race” . Of course I was present on occasion of the official opening on October 3rd, , one month before there was still a lot of things to be done. We cut the ribbons and we did a lot of laps on the track.

It is very difficult for Jo to follow up the conversation. He is interrupted by everyone, shakes hand with all….in the paddock, including Lewis Hamilton after he signed an autograph for a very young kid.

Talks about his new book that will be published

Q Spectators…
I suppose 40 000 or may be more up to 80 000…or may be 100 000. Everyone in Mexico is so proud to be here. But the tickets are very expensive. I suppose it is great to see that a lot has been done for spectators who are so close to the track, The best place is the ninety degrees corner at the end of the straight line. Just amazing there.

Q What is your program here?
Well wherever the GP wants me to be: Telmex or any of the sponsors

Q What makes you more proud of the work of the Mexico GP organisers?
After so many years I was very pleased to return I was worried about the delays. But the fact that everything is ready and above requirements makes me proud. I was worried that it would be finished the latin way. Then they were trapped by bad weather. I was worried about the delays and bad weather. Everything has to be done perfectly, otherwise between FIA, FOM and all others they would crucify Mexico.

Q In terms of racing ?
The track is not like it used to be. The runways have been carefully changed toward the first sector like the original but there are rapid changes of directions. The final sector, the Peraltada curve has also been changed and that will be thrilling for the spectators. In a way it makes the track slower. But most of it will be more interesting for the spectators.

Q Any souvenirs close to your heart ?
Well I have had so many good memories here with Ayrton Senna or with Prost . One on race day on may 29, 1988 for instance the front row was Ayrton in pole and Alain Prost and the result Alain and Senna with best laps to Alain Prost. Amazing souvenir. But every single year here was good.

I also remember that Ron Dennis was a bit jaleous from me. We did not have a Mexican driver in the team. And in the end all the Mexican public adopted McLaren as their favorite home team. I explain it in my book. There is a life after F1 and many changes in the business.

Q Can you compare F1 now and F1 before?
Well…now it’s night and day. It has become an engine manufacturer F1. There is no future if the rules do not change. Cut Cost and price of power units are crazy. There are no more small teams for instance. Possibly Marussia is the last one….Haas next year seems to be well prepared.

Well if Porsche Audi, Toyota want to be back, they will be demotivated even before they start if they see the results from Honda or from Renault and the difficulties.

The other thing for me which is really surprising is the story with penalties in F1. It is hard for the public to understand.

Q And do you remember the Rodrigues?
Of course it is the year when Rodrigues was killed on November 1 1962 during the first practice for the Mexican Grand Prix as the car left the track. So this week-end we will have the race exactly on the same day than he died, 53 years ago. His brother Pedro died later, in Germany during a prototype race on 11.7. 1971.

In the end, despite a rich racing heritage, Mexico has only ever had 6 Formula 1 drivers. The first was the aforementioned Ricardo Rodriguez in 1961, and since then, there has been Moises Solana from 1963-68 (who had the distinction of being the only man to start a race with car #13 until Pastor Maldonado in 2014), followed by the most successful Mexican, Pedro Rodriguez, who won the 1967 South African and 1970 Belgian GPs. After Pedro died in 1971 the circuit was renamed the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. After him, Hector Rebaque achieved notoriety only as Nelson Piquet’s teammate at Brabham when the Brazilian won the title in 1981, before younger drivers like Sergio Perez (2011) and Esteban Gutierrez (2013) broke through.

Q Do you have other souvenirs?
Of course in 1966 the race was on 23 october. John Surtees won from pole on the cooper Maserati. And I have this souvenir with Dan Gurney who came 5th in the end. Dan was complaining that the cars were vibrating so much that he could not see the braking points. It is probably because the ground was not solid after they filled the lake with debris to make the track.

Also Ayrton Senna for instance was not a fan of any new easy tracks. Senna was saying that like here, you can only make the difference when the track is very difficult, because you make the difference in small details at various corners.

I also remember Nigel Mansell overtaking Gerhard on this track. That is why the corner has now Nigel’s name.

Or I remember the chaotic 1970 race when the bikers who were having a race elsewhere nearby invaded the track after their race. And I can still see Jackie Stewart who had left from front row but did not finish in his Tyrrell after an accident was trying to convince them to leave the premises…but no way this ever happened…

Q What do you say about Sergio Perez now?
Sergio has lost a bit of the aggressive aspect that was not good after the Mclaren times. He can measure and control his level and is not as aggressive. He raced a very good race last week in Austin and has scored back-to-back top-5 finishes for the first time in his F1 career, with 5th in Austin complimenting his podium in Russia, which was his 2nd since joining Force India in 2014 (matching his Bahrain 2014 result). It means his 5 career podiums is only 2 short of Pedro Rodriguez’ Mexican record of 7.

Sergio Perez is the first Mexican to compete in the Mexican Grand Prix since Pedro Rodriguez in 1970.

Perez comes into his home race with a serious chance of catching both Red Bull drivers in the championship (Ricciardo is 10 points ahead, Kvyat 12 points ahead). Perez has been in Q3 at the last 3 races, and qualified 5th in Austin. No Mexican has ever finished on the podium in the Mexican GP, but Pedro Rodriguez was 4th for BRM in 1968, only losing 3rd place with 3 laps to go.

The last time Perez appeared on this circuit was not F1 ­ he was the back-up driver for Team Mexico in the 2006/07 A1GP series, and drove the car in free practice but not in qualifying or the race (Salvador Duran took over)…

Q What do you wish Mexico Grand Prix?
That their investment pays back and they reimburse quickly within the next 5 years