GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #49 - Ricardo Rodriguez

26-01-2020 19:00 | Updated: 26-01-2020 20:45
by Adam Newton
General
GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #49 - Ricardo Rodriguez

Welcome back to GPBlog’s top 50 F1 drivers of all time countdown! Its seven weeks to go until the race in Australia, which means number 49 on our list is up next. Yesterday was Keke Rosberg and you can check that one out here, but today we’re talking about Ricardo Rodriguez…

Rodriguez is perhaps a name many reading this won’t have heard, and with just five Grands Prix to his name in the early 1960s, it may be a shock to see him on this list.

But the Mexican was far from an average driver in Formula One’s early days, instead a supremely talented youngster who had a tragically short career.

Charles Leclerc became Ferrari’s second youngest driver in 2019 when he raced for the Italians, behind Rodriguez.

He started with motorbikes in Mexico, winning plenty of national titles before moving onto car racing, where he found another talent.

He was quick immediately and wanted to enter the 1958 24 Hours of Le Mans with his brother Pedro, but was denied entry as he was too young, at just 16 years of age.

The following year he was allowed in and in 1960 he finished P2. To this day he is the youngest driver to finish on the podium at the famous race.

Rodriguez was attracting attention from the biggest racing teams in the world and it was Enzo Ferrari’s call he answered, signing to race for the Prancing Horse at the 1961 Italian GP.

Shockingly, Rodriguez took second place in qualifying, becoming the youngest front row starter until Max Verstappen, 55 years later.

He led for parts of the race but sadly was forced to retire with reliability problems, as happened so often in those days.

Given his age and inexperience, Ferrari didn’t give him a full-time driver in 1962, but whenever they used him, he impressed, finishing fourth in Belgium and sixth in Germany. It was a tough year for Ferrari, with BRM, Lotus and Cooper all quicker than the Italians, but their 20-year old superstar was showing promise.

He was tipped as a future champion, but when Ferrari didn’t enter the non-championship race in his homeland, he signed for Rob Walker’s Lotus team.

In first practice, the car’s right rear suspension failed and he was killed in the resulting accident at Peraltada corner.

The track was renamed in his honour and is know known as the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the current home of the Mexican Grand Prix.

Rodriguez may never have gotten the opportunity to show his extreme talent, but he left a lasting legacy on motorsport, with some of his records still unbeaten.

A 19-year old in F1 today is still a rarity even with the youth revolution of recent years, but in the early 60s it was unheard of, so that tells you all you need to know about Rodriguez’s ability. 

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