From everything I saw on TV it was obvious that the Mexican GP was a huge success, and I for one was delighted to see it. I always enjoyed visiting a country where there was clear enthusiasm for the sport, even though in those days – I was there during the race's second incarnation in 1986-'92 – there was no local driver for the fans to support.
Clearly the presence of Sergio Perez and a big push from his high-profile sponsors made a difference, and it was hugely encouraging to see the sport return to one of its forgotten heartlands with such success.
Bernie Ecclestone has always had a soft spot for classic circuits, and has often taken us back to rebuilt venues that we thought were consigned to the history books whenever the time felt right. It would be nice to think that Argentina might one day return to the calendar, but perhaps it will take the appearance of a driver at F1 level to make that happen.
Last weekend was not a happy one for McLaren, and given that the drivers arrived in Mexico knowing that they would take grid penalties, it was always going to be something of an uphill battle. It was a pity that the team was unable to celebrate the 50th anniversary Honda's first-ever win with Richie Ginther back in 1965.
McLaren also has some solid history in Mexico. The crowd took Ayrton Senna to their hearts given the lack of a local driver, but the Brazilian's only victory came in 1989, after he lost out to team mate Alain Prost the previous year. Surprisingly perhaps those were the only two McLaren wins during the aforementioned 1986-'92 period.
However, there was one memorable earlier victory in 1969, and it holds a special place in the team's history as it was the last Grand Prix victory achieved under Bruce McLaren’s stewardship.
Denny Hulme had been a title challenger in 1968, but the team slipped back a bit the following year relative to Lotus, Matra and a resurgent Brabham, the latter having joined the Cosworth ranks. Both Bruce and Denny scored regularly with the M7C, but a victory escaped them.
Prior to the Mexican race the team boss finished in the top five eight times, including three podiums. Meanwhile Hulme had started the season well with third in South Africa and a run of points finishes.
However, he had failed to score in the six races prior to the final round in Mexico thanks to a succession of mechanical problems, notably with the brakes and transmission. Given his frustration he was keen to end the season on a high note at the track where he had been a title contender the previous year.
On the Hunt at Watkins Glen
The big news in Mexico was the absence of 1968 champ Graham Hill, injured in a big crash in the previous race in the USA. Practice passed without major incident, and despite new and more aggressive kerbs discouraging tight lines, the cars still lapped faster than the previous year. Brabham swept the front row, with team boss Jack outpacing Jacky Ickx. Already confirmed as World Champion, Jackie Stewart was third in Ken Tyrrell's Matra, while Hulme was a promising fourth. Bruce was seventh and looked well set for a helping of points.
Unfortunately he didn’t even get a chance. Having non-started in the USA when his engine failed just prior to the start, he had another pre-race disaster. This time it was dirt in the fuel injection system, but the problem was discovered too late and he was forced to watch the race from the sidelines as he walked back to the pits.
At the flag Stewart shot between the Brabhams ahead to take the lead, while Hulme dropped to fifth after being passed by Jochen Rindt’s works Lotus. Nevertheless Denny fought back and soon reclaimed fourth spot from the Austrian.
Meanwhile up front Ickx relieved Stewart of the lead on lap six, while immediately afterwards Denny passed his former team boss and mentor Brabham to take third.
Hulme was generally known as a sure but steady driver who could bring a car safely home. However, on this day he was clearly inspired, and the McLaren was working well on the long straights. On lap seven he took Stewart for second, and not long after that reeled in Ickx and passed him to claim the lead. And having done that, he began to pull away.
By now Bruce McLaren’s disappointment at his early demise had been forgotten as he cheered on his team mate.
“I had a close-up view of the opening stages when Denny just plain outdrove everyone,” he noted in his Autosport column. “In short, I was delighted to see our car working so well, and even more delighted to see Denny driving harder and faster than anyone else.”
The big worry was reliability over the 65-lap distance, especially after Denny’s run of bad luck. It had extended all the way back to the French GP in July, when he had brake problems while running a strong second.
Fortunately, this time there was to be no heartache. Denny stayed safely ahead of Ickx for the duration, letting the gap drop to just over 2secs on the final lap. Brabham meanwhile moved ahead of Stewart to claim third. Although he didn’t score in Mexico Bruce managed to hold on to third place in the championship.
It was a great end to the season for the McLaren team, and also the last Grand Prix of the tumultuous sixties. Fittingly the decade had begun when none other than Bruce won for Cooper in Argentina in February 1960. Both the New Zealander – and the sport – had come a long way since then.
As Bruce said in his column, “When you are planning ahead for a new season you need a boost for your enthusiasm, and a win in the last race is just the answer.”
Targeting a victory might be a trifle optimistic for the time being, but let's hope that the team Bruce founded can finish 2015 on a high in Brazil and Abu Dhabi...