Oh, how quickly we forget. Formula One returned to Argentina last year after a 13-year absence. During this period a whole new crop of race fans have emerged on the scene, and to this group the Grand Prix of Argentina probably seems like something new. In fact, it is quite old. Grands prix were run in this Southern Cone country from 1953 through 1960 (save 1959), and from 1972 through 1981. What happened in 1981? For those of you either too young to remember, or with selective memories, Great Britain and Argentina were duking it out over a few islands inhabited mainly by sheep and guys who have a hard time finding dates.
The Falklands, if you're a Brit, or Las Malvinas if you're a Latin American, were fought over on the basis of national pride. Argentines claimed right by proximity. This was tantamount to Canada claiming it, and not the United States, should have dominion over Alaska. The Brits were simply trying to hold on to one of the few remaining, and rapidly evaporating, shreds of the once great empire. Maggie was foaming at the mouth while the Argentine air force was sinking British ships left and right. Boy, those high-tech aluminum frigates sank like beer cans thrown from a bass boat! Now, I realize that some of you might have had relatives who died in that war, and for this I offer my sincerest sympathy. However, I'm a Vietnam vet who spent a year on patrol boats in the Mekong Delta (If you saw the movie "Apocalypse Now!" you saw me.), and am entitled to my acerbicness without apologies. But, I digress.
Formula One is, and has been for a long time, dominated by British teams. It is no small wonder then that there was no Grand Prix of Argentina in 1982 or for several years thereafter. All seems to be forgotten (I'm not ready to concede forgiven.) now and Formula One is back big time in the city of good air.
The Grand Prix of Argentina being held only a week after the Grand Prix of Brazil is a bit of a strain on all concerned with Formula One. Cranking-out articles a week apart was even a strain on me. However, I've been thinking about these back-to-back venues since well back in the off-season and wish to share some general thoughts on grands prix in Latin America.
Doubtless, the dominance of Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950s is what gave life to the Grand Prix of Argentina. His 24 wins and five titles put him in a class apart. Carlos Reutemann with 12 wins carried the banner through the seventies. In addition to these two, at least 17 other Argentine drivers competed in Formula One events.
Although to many Argentina might seem like a world away, it is an economically developed country with a long history of motorsport. Put money and motors together, and what have you got? Racing! But Argentina stands out in Latin America as one of the few truly developed countries. Its hosting a world championship event is natural, not unlike Australia or South Africa, two other southern hemisphere venues. But what about other racing sites in Latin America?
Brazil we all know about. From 1973 to the present, this country has gone nuts over Formula One. The Fittipaldis, especially Emerson, unquestionably helped spawn the enthusiasm. The likes of Nelson Piquet with 23 wins and three titles and Ayrton Senna with 41 wins and three crowns carried things through the 1980s and into the '90s. Whether or not Rubens Barrichello will continue the tradition into the 21st century remains to be seen. Regardless, it is clear that Brazil will remain a regular stop on the Grand Prix circuit for some years to come, in spite of its overall status as a deeply-indebted, developing nation.
On the whole, the population of Brazil is economically challenged, to use politically correct parlance. Indeed, that description applies to much of Latin America. In spite of the overwhelming poverty, there are some folks with money and these are the cats that make the show profitable. Throughout Latin America there are some unbelievably wealthy people. The morality of how some of these folks obtained their wealth may be up for moral and/or ethical debate, but not here. Let's just say there are some people of means, and to illustrate I note that 13 families own 90 percent of El Salvador's land.
The one Latin American country with which I am most familiar is Mexico, my home away from home. To be sure, there are some impoverished people there, especially since the most recent past-president made off with the national treasury. However, ex-presidents excluded, there are some real ricos in the land of the plumed serpent. And, when I say rich, I mean rich! Are these well-to-do entrepreneurs racing enthusiasts. A few are, but not enough to make a difference. Mexico remains, however, one of the few Latin American countries to host grands prix. It did so from 1963-1970, the days of the hermanos Pedro y Ricardo Rodriquez, the former of whom won two races. And, it hosted events each year between 1986 and 1992, the days of ...well, me. Some of my fondest Formula One memories involve the 1991 race weekend in Mexico City.
It is too bad we don't have more grands prix in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. People there do get excited over racing, even though they have few financial resources. Well over 100,000 people attended the race just mentioned and I can assure you that most of them weren't dressed anything like the patrons dining at Rascasse Restaurant.
And, which Latin American country should next host a grand prix? Well, I mentioned the former President of Mexico who bilked the republic for billions. Where is he now? No one knows for sure, as he sneaked out of the country under the cover of darkness. However, the most prevalent rumor is that he is holed-up in a country which once hosted a grand prix in the late 1950s. Granted, it was not a world championship event, but it was Formula One. The place? Havana, Cuba at the peak of the Batista regime.
Many readers don't think of Formula One and Castro together, and there is no reason why they should. In fact, most Formula One fans probably think about Cuba as often as they think about the Falklands. One day, however, Castro's regime will come to an end and that is when FOCA and FIA should strike. With funding from the former President of Mexico, Havana could host a damn fine race. A grand prix in Cuba would be the next best thing to one in the United States. On second, thought, it might be better. Fine rum, great cigars, and fast cars; three of life's great pleasures!