Mexican Grand Prix
Mexico City, October 19th
After a somewhat lean year of Formula One, Denis Hulme came to the fore in the final round of the 1969 World Championship series at Mexico City on October 19th. Driving a two-year-old works McLaren he beat Ickx's Brabham to the line after 65 laps of hard racing. Again the interesting and well appointed Magdalena Mixhuca circuit was in use and an enormous crowd was attracted despite the fact that this year the World Championship had been settled much earlier in the favour of Stewart.
The field of 17 cars was almost identical to that at the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen two weeks earlier. Only two cars were missing from the 19 seen there, Hill's Lotus obviously out of commission, while BRM had sent their reserve car to an exhibition. Nevertheless they were still three strong, with the Canadian Eaton again joining regulars Surtees and Oliver. The only other change from America was that Miles was back in the Lotus 63 4-w-d car replacing Andretti.
One of the main problems with racing at Mexico City is the effect of the high altitude of over 7,000 ft. But Cosworth had this completely solved, with a different cam for the metering units on the V8 engines.
Practice was held on the afternoons of Friday and Saturday over a period of four hours each. Many of the fast times were set on Friday for it tended to be cooler than the following day. It was right at the end of Friday practice when Brabham astounded everyone by recording 1 min. 42.9 sec., well ahead of Siffert's lap record of 1 min. 44.23 sec. set in last year's race. This was hardly expected, as the course was reckoned to be slower than last year, as high kerbstones and concrete ribs had replaced the low kerbstones which contributed to the prevalent corner cutting of last year. Behind Brabham in practice came Ickx, Stewart, Hulme and Siffert.
None of these drivers improved on Saturday, although this time lckx headed the list while Rindt made a vast improvement over the previous day, when he was very tired, to finish second fastest of the session. But this time was still only good enough for sixth fastest overall.
The start saw Stewart coming through to lead by the first corner but he had the rest of the pack close behind. lckx was giving Stewart the hardest time, and when the Scotsman slowed in accordance with a yellow flag, Ickx snatched the advantage. The flag was shown because on the previous lap Courage and Siffert had collided whilst contesting seventh place. Siffert retired with damaged suspension, while Courage continued at the back of the field. Other early retirements were the 4-w-d of Miles with engine trouble and the BRM of Eaton with a broken gearbox. While Stewart started to slip further down the field both Hulme and Brabham took up the chase of Ickx. Hulme was on top form and on lap 10 he passed Ickx to take a lead which was never seriously threatened. Ickx did make a tremendous effort just after half-distance but later faded. In the closing stages he again pulled up on Hulme but the New Zealander wilt well in command of the situation. Brabham's engine was definitely off-song but he nevertheless drove to an excellent third.
Into fourth and fifth places came the Matra-Cosworths of Stewart and Beltoise. After slipping back behind the three Goodyear-shod cars of Hulme, Brabham and Ickx. Stewart fought off a challenge from Rindt which ended as early as lap 21 when the Lotus' left-hand front suspension started to collapse.
Although team-mate Surtees dropped by the wayside with gearbox trouble in the closing stages, Oliver battled on with his BRM to record sixth position and take his only Championship point of the year. At one stage he had been headed by the private Brabham of the Swiss driver Moser, but he dropped back and stopped at the pits in the closing stages with a fractured fuel tank. So the order of the non-Championship point-scoring finishers was Rodriguez, Servoz-Gavin, Lovely, Courage and Moser. Astonishingly McLaren's car stopped on the warming-up lap for the second F1 race running and he was relegated to the role of spectator again.
It was a popular victory for Hulme but a race also notable for several other reasons. It was Stewart's last race in a Matra-Cosworth and several of the other cars were appearing for the last time. But by all accounts next season could be very interesting with a wider selection of both chassis and engines.—A. R. M.