By Alan Baldwin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Mexican driver Sergio Perez fears his country could spend decades in the Formula One wilderness if Mexico City loses its slot on the calendar after this year’s grand prix.
Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday that funds used to pay for Formula One would in future go towards a tourist train the government plans to build in the south of the country.
“I really hope we can keep it (the race),” Perez told reporters during pre-season testing at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya on Wednesday.
“It cost us so much to get a place and now if we lose the place, I think probably that will be the end,” added the Racing Point driver.
“We will have to wait another 30 or 50 years to get it back. I think it’s a great exposure for your country to have a grand prix. It will be a shame if we really lose the Mexican Grand Prix.”
Mexico’s return to the grand prix calendar in 2015 was the first Formula One race in the country since 1992. This year’s race is the last of a five-year contract signed before U.S.-based Liberty Media took over Formula One.
The race is organised by CIE, whose chief executive Alejandro Soberon has collected Formula One’s Promoter of the Year award for the past three seasons, but relies on state funding.
A tourism ministry official said earlier this year that the Mexican government would have to pay $45 million per year for the race to continue.
Last year’s title-decider at the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit drew a sell-out crowd of 135,407 with a three-day attendance of 334,946 — only slightly less than the season’s best British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Soberon told Reuters last October that the race had to be positioned as a country marketing project with state support.
Figures provided by CIE stated that it generated an economic impact for Mexico of $1.3 billion, or 12.2 times the original investment, and created 31,600 jobs in the first three years.
“The last four races have been the best, a great venue,” said Perez.
“There are so many countries out there that want a grand prix, so once you lose your venue I think it’s very hard to get it back for many years.
“I really want my country to be seen all around the world to show how good Mexico is. I think Formula One is what offers you that platform.”
Perez said the lack of a race would also a affect young Mexicans wishing to follow in his footsteps.
“The grand prix created a lot of interest for the younger generations to race in your home country,” he added. “Before the Mexican Grand Prix I spent probably 15 years without racing in Mexico.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)