A CAREER IN REVIEW: THE RODRIGUEZ BROTHERS
Two highly talented brothers, both tragically killed doing what they did best. Here's the story of Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez.
Whenever the topic of 'siblings' is brought up in the context of F1, the conversation immediately turns to Michael and Ralf Schumacher. That's unsurprisingly considering the amount of success they had in the sport, especially Michael. However, another set of brothers that should't be neglected are Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez who both raced in F1 during the 1960s. Their tale is one of 'what could have been?', particularly in the case of Ricardo. Two careers that had so much promise but were cruelly ended before this could be realised.
As youngsters, the brothers were fortunate enough to have a father that was relatively wealthy and was able to finance their careers as they went up through the ranks. It was Ricardo Rodriguez, the younger brother by two years, who had a more successful start to his racing career. Despite the fact that he got into F1 later than his brother, he regularly had the edge and managed to win a Sportscar race at Riverside at the age of just 15. As he approached his late teens, he started racing outside of his home country of Mexico and thus gained a reputation as a future star of F1 with many even suggesting he could go on to win a world championship.
In terms of raw pace, Pedro Rodriguez was not far behind his brother, however it was consistency that often let him down and the main reason why he wasn't quite as highly regarded. Despite this, he still had a number of respectable results including 2nd place finishes in the Nassau Trophy and the Ferrari Classic.
The first big break for either of the brothers was at the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans. Pedro Rodriguez alongside Ludovico Scarfiotti was unable to finish, but Ricardo obtained second place with Andre Pillete. At just 18 years old he became the youngest person to stand on the Le Mans podium and 57 years on this record remains unbroken. There's no doubt this race went a long way in Ferrari offering Ricardo a drive at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that a 19 year-old making his debut might struggle, but you'd be very wrong. Rodriguez qualified 2nd making him the youngest driver to achieve a front row start, that record stood until a certain Max Verstappen came along. In the process he out-qualified fellow Ferrari drivers Richie Ginther and eventual world champion Phil Hill.
Ricardo Rodriguez, Monza 1961
He showed more signs of his immense talent in 1962 as he picked up his first championship points with a 4th place at Spa. As well as this he finished 2nd in the non-championship Pau Grand Prix. Another non-championship event was the Mexican Grand Prix that Ricardo was desperate to drive at, Ferrari opted against competing in the race therefore Ricardo secured a deal to drive Rob Walker's Lotus 24. At his home Grand Prix, Ricardo was tragically killed in practice and so ended a career full of promise before it had the chance to even get started.
Understandably, Pedro was shook by the incident and seriously considered retiring at the end of 1962. Whilst he did take a short break from racing, he eventually did return and made his F1 debut in 1963. Whilst Ricardo's potential was evident from the start, Pedro was more of a late bloomer. He competed irregularly in his first four years of F1 and had no better than a solitary 5th place, but a move to Cooper in 1967 gave him a 6th place finish in the standings as well as his first win at the South African Grand Prix. To this day, he is the only Mexican driver to win an F1 race.
Pedro taking victory at Spa in 1970
More good years were around the corner as he took 3 podiums in 1968 and his second career win at the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix. Strong results continued for the rest of 1970 and at the beginning of 1971, but just as he had seemingly hit his prime, tragedy struck the Rodriguez family once again as Pedro was killed at an Interserie sports car race.
Who knows what the brothers could have achieved in F1, Ricardo was arguably a once-in-a-generation driver who had a whole career ahead of him and Pedro was killed just at the time he was given a car that had a serious chance of winning. These two drivers are part of a long list that lost their life to motorsport in this era, it's important to be thankful that safety measures have come so far since then. Wondering how well the two would have done in another era is of course pure speculation, but the mind can't help wondering.