Ricardo Rodriguez

Full Name:
Ricardo Valentine Rodriguez de la Vega
Born:
14th February 1942
Mexico City
Died:
1st November 1962 (Aged 20)
Mexico City, Mexican GP practice
Nationality:
Mexican
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Ricardo Rodríguez packed much into the 20 years of his life – already married, multiple national motorcycle champion, Grand Prix driver and veteran of four starts at Le Mans. At the time of his death he was the youngest driver to start a GP, and the youngest podium finisher in Le Mans history.

Family background and impressive early career

Born into a wealthy family in México City, Ricardo followed older brother Pedro into cycle racing and then motorbikes. He quit two-wheel competition to concentrate on cars when just 15 years old and stunned the locals by winning the 1957 Riverside Trophy for 1500cc sports cars with a newly-acquired Porsche 550RS on his first overseas start.

Despite a growing reputation and domination of Mexican racing, Rodríguez was frustrated during 1958 as organisers refused his entries due to his tender age. Eventually allowed to start, he made his World Sportscar Championship debut in the 1959 Sebring 12 Hours and the brothers shared an OSCA S750 in that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours from which they retired in the fifth hour.

Sports car success

Ricardo joined the North American Racing Team for 1960 and finished second at Le Mans with André Pilette and a Ferrari 250TR. He repeated the result in the 1961 Nürburgring 1000Kms with Pedro now sharing his car and retired during the closing stages at Le Mans but only after starring in a four-way duel for the lead throughout the night.

Formula 1 with Ferrari

He joined the works Ferrari team by the end of 1961 and made his GP debut at Monza when aged 19 years and 208 days. A sensational second in qualifying, his early retirement from the race could not hide his immense promise. The brothers won the Paris 1000Kms at Montlhéry with a NART Ferrari 250GTO and started planning for 1962.

An exhausted second in the non-championship Pau GP, he shared the winning Ferrari Dino 246P with Willy Mairesse and Oliver Gendebien in the Targa Florio. It is perhaps testament to Ricardo’s youth that this victory has often been credited to Pedro, who was still in Mexico establishing a new car dealership at the time.

Undoubtedly fast but ragged to the point of reckless, Rodríguez crashed twice during the Dutch GP meeting. A podium finish in Belgium was lost when he obeyed team orders and let Phil Hill past on the last lap. He followed that fourth position with sixth in the German GP but he retired at Monza, the fifth world championship GP start of his meteoric career.

The brothers again combined to win the Paris 1000Kms and led at Le Mans before Ricardo raced in one final event in 1962. The inaugural Mexican GP was a non-championship affair held in November. With Ferrari absent, Rodríguez was entered in Rob Walker’s Lotus 24-Climax. Initially fastest, his time had just been eclipsed when the local favourite returned to the track at the end of the first day of practice. However, the car suddenly snapped left as he rounded the fearsome banked Peraltada and Rodríguez hit the barriers at barely abated speed. Thrown clear of the car, he suffered fatal injuries to head and neck.

Fast and impulsive, Ricardo Rodríguez certainly had star quality. He had appeared on the front cover of Sport’s Illustrated with the headline “Mexico’s Young Fireball”. Tragically, he died before he could tame his impetuous but supreme natural talent.