Wrestling, derby day, and Hamilton’s F1 win… 72 hours in Mexico City

Lucha Libre wrestling, the hidden waterways of Xochimilco and Lewis Hamilton’s F1 title-winning drive… Sportsmail’s 72 hours in Mexico City

  • Sportsmail was invited to experience a Formula One weekend in Mexico City
  • Heineken are trying to prove there is more than just the race to Grand Prix week
  • We were taken to a night of Lucha Libre wrestling, and on canals of Xochimilco
  • Weekend was finished watching Lewis Hamilton wrap up the Formula One title 

The final Sunday in October saw Lewis Hamilton secure the Formula One drivers’ championship with two races to spare.

Mexico City was awash with colour as the F1 roadshow hurtled into town, but there was plenty more going on away from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

From Lucha Libre wrestling to the hidden waterways of Xochimilco, Sportsmail brings you the story of an exhilarating 72 hours spent in Mexico City…

Sportsmail was invited to spend 72 hours in Mexico City; pictured are the group in Xochimilco

Sportsmail was invited to spend 72 hours in Mexico City; pictured are the group in Xochimilco

The Mexican Grand Prix was special, given that Lewis Hamilton had the chance to win the title

The Mexican Grand Prix was special, given that Lewis Hamilton had the chance to win the title

As soon as wheel touched tarmac at Mexico City Airport, it was clear this was going to be a fast-paced weekend. In a taxi to the hotel, my driver weaved through the streets, with buses, cars and motorbikes bustling for what little space was available.  

I already felt like I was in an F1 race of my own as lights flashed and horns beeped, and whatever jet-lag I was suffering from the 11-hour journey was soon shaken off. I had been invited to Mexico City by Heineken to experience my first F1 weekend, but with a significant twist.

The race’s lead sponsors are on a mission to prove that there is plenty more to do and see than fast cars and flashy stars; they are opening up host cities for 72 hours, using Sunday’s race as a big finale. Monza and Montreal had been ticked off, and now it was my turn to experience Mexico City. 

FRIDAY 

I awoke early on Friday morning, opening the curtains to see the sun shining across the city from my 20th-floor room at the W Hotel. After a spot of breakfast, I awaited instructions, eager to learn what was first on the agenda for my maiden trip to Latin America. 

‘It’s time to kick off our 72 hours in Mexico City,’ read the first message. ‘We are off to a legendary, hidden gem to freshen up ahead of the weekend.’ 

No real clues there, but I headed to the lobby to meet the rest of the group before lunch. Our party was mostly made up of social media influencers far more important than I, with every cough and spit of the journey recorded through a camera lens for their significant YouTube and Instagram followings. 

The first stop of the journey was a trip to a plush barber shop in the Polanco district of the city

The first stop of the journey was a trip to a plush barber shop in the Polanco district of the city

Sportsmail's Ben Nagle (L) takes in his surroundings after arriving at Baberia Royal in Polanco

Sportsmail’s Ben Nagle (L) takes in his surroundings after arriving at Baberia Royal in Polanco

We walked through the plush neighbourhood of Polanco to a place called Barberia Royal, quickly revealed as a barber shop. Beers were waiting for us, and a dedicated team of staff ready to trim, shape, massage and just generally get us ‘race ready’.

Next up was a trip to Avenida Presidente Masaryk, described as Mexico City’s Fifth Avenue by our esteemed tour guide Mariana. One of the most expensive shopping districts in the world, we were taken from shop to shop to find an outfit worthy of an afternoon at the track.

My peers tried on silver jackets and crop-tops created by top Mexican designers, while I played it safe with a pair of black boots and trousers that I still would be unlikely to get away with on more modest British shores.

With our fresh trims and new clothes, it was off to the evening entertainment, an hour’s drive away from Polanco. As we approached our destination, the noise levels increased. The streets buzzed with people, and stalls popped up selling every Mexican delicacy you can think of.

The group were introduced to all the wrestlers at Lucha Libre; pictured is Kawato San (left)

The group were introduced to all the wrestlers at Lucha Libre; pictured is Kawato San (left)

It was quite a spectacle as 7,000 fans watching fight night from the stands at Arena Mexico

It was quite a spectacle as 7,000 fans watching fight night from the stands at Arena Mexico

The car pulled up outside the Arena Mexico and all became clear: it was fight night. We piled into the venue with 7,000 fanatical wrestling fans ready for a huge night of Lucha Libre… but there were plenty of surprises along the way.

Before the doors were opened to the masses, we met the wrestlers, some of which with hundreds of thousands of supporters. They signed autographs and posed for photos, and we were let loose in the ring to try out some moves of our own.

Before long, it was show-time and we retreated to the relative safe haven of our seats, ready to watch the show. That was, until the headline act rolled around. A man beckoned us out of our seats: ‘You have to come with me now.’

We were ushered through the bowels of the stadium, the roars of the crowd echoing around the walls while we wondered where on earth we were being taken. White jackets and flags were thrust into our arms, before all became clear. We were to walk the main fighters to the ring.

While others filmed the experience for the masses on YouTube, I was left to lead the boys out. I was part of Los Ingobernables — ‘The Ungovernables’ — wearing Rush’s jacket and waving to 7,000 fans in the arena and hundreds of thousands more watching on Mexican TV. How did I get here? 

The group pose with a Lucha Libre wrestler before the night of action at the Arena Mexico

The group pose with a Lucha Libre wrestler before the night of action at the Arena Mexico

YouTuber George Benson was quick to try on his mask after being allowed into the ring

YouTuber George Benson was quick to try on his mask after being allowed into the ring

SATURDAY 

Saturday began in a slightly calmer fashion as I enjoyed a walk around the local neighbourhood, before receiving the text to begin day two.

‘The host city comes alive when the #HeinekenF1 Grand Prix is in town, and Mexico City is no different,’ it read. ‘Today we’re going to take a journey to the city’s underground culture.’

We piled into the cars once more and began our next adventure, unaware of where we were headed. We passed through suburb after suburb, some poor, some less so, before reaching our destination at Xochimilco.

A short history lesson revealed that the city was originally built on a lake, with the Aztecs crafting an artificial island by dumping soil into the lagoon. Later, the Spanish came along and built a second Mexico City atop the ruins… and here we are.

What’s left of the waterways is in Xochimilco, and the locals have created a vibrant and colourful Mexican experience.

Saturday involved a trip to the incredible waterways of Xochimilco for a ride on a Trajinera

Saturday involved a trip to the incredible waterways of Xochimilco for a ride on a Trajinera

Mariachi bands jumped from Trajinera to Trajinera, singing songs and playing instruments

Mariachi bands jumped from Trajinera to Trajinera, singing songs and playing instruments

We jumped on a wooden Trajinera — a flat-bottomed boat — and were steered through the hidden waterways, lined with trees and houses, watching families go about their days. 

A boat alongside ours provided the food, an incredible eight-course Mexican feast to give us the best taste of the cultural as was physically possible. There were also cockroaches, scorpions and flying ants, but the less said about that Bushtucker Trial, the better.

When the plates were clean, and washed down with a beer or two, we entered what was colloquially described as the ‘party district’. Almost immediately, the atmosphere changed, and we jumped onto a specially prepared ‘Heineken’ Trajinera.

The water became busier, music blared from speakers, Mariachi bands jumped from boat to boat… this was a real taste of the Mexican culture. 

That night, Cruz Azul and Club America — the two biggest football teams in Mexico City — faced off at the 87,000-capacity Azteca, and this was the pre-match party.

Beers were thrown around as fans draped in the scarves of their team chanted, and shouts of ‘Salud!’ punctured the air while the boats rocked around the river.

It was a real Fiesta… and we hadn’t even reached F1 day yet.

Social media influencer Tobias Russwurm stands on the Trajinera at the start of the voyage

Social media influencer Tobias Russwurm stands on the Trajinera at the start of the voyage

A specially-prepared Heineken Trajinera came from nowhere for the group to jump on

A specially-prepared Heineken Trajinera came from nowhere for the group to jump on

SUNDAY 

My phone flashes with the morning’s message… ‘It’s race day! We hope you’re feeling sharp in your new race day outfits. 

‘Please get down to the lobby ASAP for all the thrills, twists and turns of the race. We’ve got a special guest waiting to greet us in the Paddock Club.’

Today’s the day… Lewis Hamilton can secure the drivers’ championship if he finishes seventh or higher, and if Sebastian Vettel finishes anywhere other than first, the Brit lifts the trophy.

We head to the lobby, and make our way to the track. Mexico City traffic had proved to be a nightmare on previous days, but the roads were almost clear despite it being the biggest day in the city’s calendar.

Over 150,000 are expected at the venue, with fans having travelled from all around the world to experience a potentially history-making day of racing.

We are in Paddock Club for the duration, a plush hospitality area usually reserved for the most exclusive of clients. Needless to say I feel incredibly out of place, despite the presence of my new designer boots.

The ‘special guest’ greeting us on arrival turns out to be none other than world-famous Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren, who will play to over 55,000 people as soon as the podium celebrations are over that afternoon.

I sit down for a chat with him, and it is immediately clear how excited he is for the big day. ‘I’ve played many concerts in Mexico and I have a special connection with the Mexican crowd,’ he explains.

YouTuber Benson keeps his 1.1million subscribers up to date as he records a vlog of the journey

YouTuber Benson keeps his 1.1million subscribers up to date as he records a vlog of the journey

On race-day, Armin van Buuren (right) poses with Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo on the track

On race-day, Armin van Buuren (right) poses with Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo on the track

‘There’s something about Mexicans and trance music, they just love it. We’ve been preparing for this for months and I feel deeply honoured, especially as a fan of F1, to be here. 

‘Any DJ will tell you, there are a couple of crowds around the world that are up there… you can feel the earth trembling when they jump, and Mexico is one of them. I can’t tell you a reason, but they’re just amazing. 

‘It’s really special… and in the race, I secretly hope that Max Verstappen wins, for the Dutch connection!’

We later meet David Coulthard, who says much the same thing about the Latin American crowd — ‘There’s a reason it’s called the Mexican Wave’ — and as the stands fill the noise intensifies.

We are shown the pit lane and an incredible spot to watch the race in the Foro Sol Stadium part of the track, right next to the podium.

Sportsmail had an amazing vantage point to watch the Mexican Grand Prix from last month

Sportsmail had an amazing vantage point to watch the Mexican Grand Prix from last month

The race was eventually won by Max Versappen on a real day of Dutch success at the track

The race was eventually won by Max Versappen on a real day of Dutch success at the track

As the race begins, the noise of the cars is incredible, far louder than expected, and some onlookers around me reach for their complimentary ear-plugs. 

The lack of a big screen in the vicinity almost adds to the excitement, with the order of the drivers only apparent when they flash past us in the stadium. Mexican Sergio Perez’s arrival is greeted by manic cheers from the partisan crowd.

It is a 71-lap race, but it feels like half that as Hamilton climbs from third to second, but then back down to fifth. ‘He’s got the wrong tyres,’ someone shouts from nearby.

For a few minutes there are concerns that he won’t get the job done, but an eventual fourth-placed finish secures the title and there is wild applause for all the drivers as they are paraded through the stadium.

In a moment of magic I will never forget, Hamilton finishes his lap of honour right in front of us, doing donuts while smoke billows up from his wheels. ‘Vamos Lewis,’ scream the Mexicans.

Van Buuren wowed the crowds with a lengthy set after Verstappen had been crowned winner

Van Buuren wowed the crowds with a lengthy set after Verstappen had been crowned winner

The Dutch trance DJ sips a beer during his set, which was watched by around 55,000 fans

The Dutch trance DJ sips a beer during his set, which was watched by around 55,000 fans

Before long it is time for the podium antics, and we have front-row seats to watch Verstappen pop the champagne and spray it all over his rivals in front of the millions watching on TV.

Van Buuren pops up from underneath the stage with the words, ‘Mexico, are you ready to party?’ and a 45-minute set turns into well over an hour.

Incredibly, the crowd only seems to get larger, with people as far as the eye can see listening to hit after hit from the Dutchman. A man in a wheelchair is lifted above the crowd, and a grinning Van Buuren spots him and gives a thumbs up.

A magical moment to finish a magical weekend. As I stand to the right of the stage, looking out at 50,000 Mexicans jumping to the beat, it becomes pretty clear that there is indeed much more to a race weekend than fast cars and a chequered flag. 

As major partners of F1 Heineken are opening up host cities and showcasing there is more than just the race to a Grand Prix weekend. Search #heinekenf1 for more info

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