When the Isle of Man Post Office conducted a poll back in 2011 to discover which race the fans thought was the Greatest TT race of all time, the clear winner was the 1992 Senior TT, and for good reason. The six laps had everything – record breaking speeds, drama, and nail-bitingly close racing with some of the best-known names in motorcycle racing history.
Steve Hislop, the Scot who eventually made the Island his home, was aboard the Norton NRS588, aka The White Charger, while Carl Fogarty contested on the Loctite Yamaha OW01. Although these were unfamiliar bikes to both riders, the spectacle that unfolded was in no way affected. Fogarty and Hislop both had spells leading the race, and between them set a record lap of the course and the fastest ever speed.
Talking about the race, Hislop recalled setting off with a determination to win, but rather than go flat out aggressive, he decided to change his tactics and settle quicker – aiming to improve speeds by riding more smoothly and improving on his braking points. At the end of lap one though, it was Fogarty who had the early lead of 1.2 seconds. Completing the top 3, Robert Dunlop was just 3.4 seconds down. All three had lapped at over 121mph.
Over the course of the second lap, Steve had the edge, leading Carl by 2.8 seconds. Dunlop held 3rd but was already some 15 seconds down. In the pits at the end of the second lap, Hislop’s rear tyre was changed, meaning that he would have good fresh rubber to last the remaining four laps, and hopefully give him the edge should the later laps become close. Setting out from the pits, Hislop knew he had time to pull back, and as they completed the third lap he was just one second behind Fogarty. Dunlop remained in 3rd.
Having maintained his approach with the riding style and braking, Steve pulled the lead back and by the end of lap 4 had a 7.4 second advantage. The fifth lap played out in much the same way, and this was the first lap that the lead didn’t change. At the end of the lap, the gap between first and second was just 5.4 seconds. Whilst brother joey had retired during the previous lap, Robert Dunlop still held the third place.
It was now the final lap, and Foggy knew he had to pull something special out of the bag. He found a blistering pace, setting a new absolute lap record of 18 minutes 18.8 seconds (3 seconds under the old one). That equated to a speed of 123.61 mph, but even that just wasn’t enough. Hislop was as close as he could be on the final lap – also inside the old record and just one second slower. Giving Norton their first TT win in just under 20 years, and their first Senior since 1961 Steve Hislop and the White Charger, topped off with the familiar pink, white and blue helmet, took the win by 4.4 seconds.
It was a record-breaking race in many ways – the previous race record had been held by Hislop on the RVF at 121.09mph, 1hr 52mins 10.2 seconds. It was broken by the same rider on his Norton mount, with a new record of 121.28mph in one hour 51mins 59.6 seconds. It surely must have been some consolation to Fogarty that he broke the previous lap record held by Hislop (18 minutes, 21.8 seconds, 123.27mph) with his 18mins, 18.8 seconds, 123.61mph lap – not just a new lap record but an absolute record.
The underdog. Why do we love them so much, huh? There’s just something about witnessing the flawed become bulletproof; when a driver’s stars align for that one glorious time, a team defies all the odds, or even both, it’s an occasion like no other.
And when I think of underdogs in Formula One, I catch my mind thinking back to the 1999 season. Heinz-Harald Frentzen challenging for the championship with the privateers Jordan after a sour exit from Williams, Eddie Irvine mounting his only title challenge, Mika Salo’s mid-season super sub duties… there were plenty of them.
That year’s European Grand Prix symbolised the theme of the season perfectly in that regard. The weekend started with the Drivers’ Championship in the balance – both Mika Hakkinen and Irvine were level-pegging at the top on 60 points, Frentzen’s annus mirabilis had him just ten points behind on 50 and David Coulthard was just behind on 48. Michael Schumacher was still nursing his broken foot sustained at the British GP, leaving Mika Salo to fill his vacant seat at the Scuderia.
The day belonged to a team that would cease to exist as we know it the next year, though: Stewart Grand Prix. Late in the day, short on the margin, it never seemed as though three-time World Champion Jackie’s namesake outfit would replicate even one of his wins. Neither did it seem like their elder driver, Johnny Herbert, would have time left to add to his two Grand Prix victories, and was fast becoming a set-in-stone figure in the history books.
So when he qualified 14th for the race, all hope of that changing was a pipe dream. Frentzen took pole to continue his own underdog story, while Irvine was 9th, behind Coulthard and Hakkinen in 2nd and 3rd. Herbert’s teammate Rubens Barrichello, he himself a Stewart defective to Ferrari for 2000, was just behind him in 15th.
The race began with a delayed start, as Williams’ Alex Zanardi and Minardi’s Marc Gene lined up out of sequence on the grid. The top five cars all jumped the start, but their blushes were saved. When the start did take place, it wasn’t long before the real drama started – Damon Hill’s Jordan suffered an electrical failure on the first lap, causing Alex Wurz to swerve into Pedro Diniz and send the Sauber driver into a dramatic barrel roll.
Diniz was able to walk away from the shunt, and while the race began to mellow as far as the rigidity of carbon was concerned, the fate of other mechanical parts across the grid were to be far worse. The top six remained static for the opening stint – Frentzen led with aplomb from the McLaren duo led now by Hakkinen, Ralf Schumacher, Giancarlo Fisichella and Irvine. Not long after the Irish title hopeful passed Fisichella though, did the rain begin to pour.
And the raindrops sparked the rising of a tech-xodus. Hakkinen and Irvine were the first to blink, but Ferrari’s pit crew had their new hope wait 28 seconds in a delayed stop, dropping him down the field. The dice of retirement rolled on race leader Frentzen first, striking down his Jordan with the same technical failure his teammate Hill suffered. His title ambitions were dented, and the story of the underdog had its ink smudged.
The racing gods sought to clean up that ink, when they oversaw the next drop-out – Coulthard gambled on dry tyres in the worsening conditions, and on lap 38 his McLaren met its maker in the barriers. Fisichella inherited the lead ahead of Schumacher after Hakkinen was forced to conceding into replacing his wet tyres with new dries, and under the radar unexpected stars were emerging.
Lap 49 saw Fisichella spin out in another botched case of leader’s demise, kissing his maiden victory into the arms of a man seeking his own first. As soon as it was sent his way, however, a rear tyre puncture cruelly denied him the chance to notch Williams’ first win in almost two years, and left him ruing what could have been along with a string of broken-hearted challengers. But the next inheritant of the lead was to have his day against the odds.
Herbert had been building a head of steam all race long, and emerged from the lower reaches of the podium before the final double-blow into an unlikely lead, shouldering the weight of his team’s prayers. Hakkinen and Irvine were scrambling to keep their title hopes alive while a sea of malnourished drivers were enjoying the photosynthesis of World Championship points – they just had to cling onto them. Minardi hadn’t scored in four years, so when Luca Badoer found himself in fourth with 13 laps to go tears were beginning to flood in the eyes of Faenza faithful.
There were tears that lap, but they were ones coming agonisingly from Badoer – his car broke down, and he broke down with it by the side of the track. Jarno Trulli was a fine second for Prost Grand Prix just ahead of Barrichello in the second Stewart, and it was to stay that way come the end of the race. The podium was filled out for the first, and so far the only, time with teams named after and owned by ex-F1 drivers. Gene managed to salvage a point for Minardi, taking the private champagne back off the ice. But this was Johnny’s day, and even Hakkinen’s fighting fifth couldn’t dampen the energy around him and his team.
With just one more season on the horizon, this marked the end of Johnny’s podium escapades. None tasted sweeter. Unlike the other two, there was no shade of a World Champion hanging over him, nor a winning machine expecting of such results. This time the underdogs had their day all to themselves. Aside from the attrition, aside from the battles, aside from the conditions, the reason Europe 1999 was so brilliant is because of the message it sent. You can be in a race against time, with the worn tyres of doubt and the broken front wing of resignation, but as long as you stay in the race, your day will come. It’s why we love the underdog, after all.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans 1966 is such a legendary race that a Hollywood film about the fierce competition between rivals Ford and Ferrari is being released later this year. But so much about what makes this race legendary isn’t just what happened during the 24 hours itself, so much as the months and years leading up to it.
For Ford, active involvement in racing had been limited by Henry Ford II’s position in the Automobile Manufacturers Association and the focus on safety that it championed, with Ford finally entering the racing world after seeing its competitors’ success in racing fuel their sales on the road. Meanwhile, for Ferrari, the years preceding 1966 had been hugely successful, but somewhat bloody, with Enzo Ferrari having been cleared of manslaughter for the deaths of aristocrat racing driver Alfonso de Portago, his co-driver Edmund Nelson, and nine spectators in a horrific 1957 crash.
In 1963, Enzo Ferrari had put his company on the market, entering talks with Ford. Ferrari wanted to protect his racing team, which he intended to continue running, while handing the majority of the road car business to Ford. However, the contract proposed by Ford outlined that Ford would have control of the budget for racing and the deal was called off, with both parties determined to beat each other on track.
Ford unveiled their first Le Mans challenger, the GT40, in April 1964. By all accounts, it looked good, and Ford boasted of its power, but in reality there was little idea how it would perform on track. Ultimately, it failed to live up to expectations, and Ford suffered a humiliating introduction to Le Mans in 1964, while Ferrari celebrated their fifth successive victory.
For 1965, Henry Ford II sought the involvement of Carroll Shelby, who had enjoyed some success with his own 1964 entry which had finished top of the GT class and placed 4th overall. With Shelby’s involvement, 1965 finally saw speeds Ford could be happy with, but in the race their cars were dogged with unreliability and failed to go the distance. The winning car, yet again, was a Ferrari, run by Ferrari North American Racing. The result was a further bitter and ironic blow to Ford, who had hoped to be the first American team to claim victory at the prestigious event.
And so came 1966. Ford had finally been able to balance speed and durability stateside, with Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby winning the first ever 24 Hours of Daytona. For the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ford fielded three cars built by Shelby, as well as five cars built by other manufacturers. The plan for the race was clear, however: they would work together to secure a win, with drivers following clear orders and being instructed to stick to pre-agreed lap times, with Gurney having the fastest target, to avoid intra-marque battling. All teams would run Goodyear tyres, with the exception of the #2 car, whose driver Bruce McLaren had a contract with Firestone.
Ferrari had a total of seven cars, including two factory cars. Following months of rehabilitation after a crash, John Surtees was ready for the race at the helm of the Ferrari 330 P3, and came prepared with a plan to help take Ferrari to victory once again, despite the growing might of the Fords. Surtees was confident in the Ferraris’ reliability, and so he suggested attack the Fords heavily early on, forcing them into responding and causing them to fall foul of unreliability problems. However, Surtees would not get the chance to put his plan into action.
Surtees’ position at Ferrari had been on shaky ground for some time. The team’s manager, Eugenio Dragoni, had convinced Ferrari to oust him, only for Surtees to win the Belgian Grand Prix, causing that idea to be abandoned, or, at the very least, postponed. Now, however, Dragoni had suggested that Surtees take somewhat of a back seat at Le Mans, suggesting instead that Ludovico Scarfiotti start the race in his place with Surtees’ driving duties reduced, apparently because of concerns over his health. Surtees was adamant that the suggestion had nothing to do with his health, and refused to race, with Scarfiotti and Mike Parkes sharing the car without him.
Enzo Ferrari himself had all but admitted defeat before the race had even begun, viewing a Ford victory as an inevitable consequence of their practically uncapped budget. Qualifying soon confirmed his fears: Dan Gurney’s #3 Ford set the fastest lap, with Ken Miles’ #1 car in second. The top-placed Ferrari was fifth.
On race day, Gurney set the initial pace in the #3, as Ford had planned. The #1 car, piloted by Miles, was forced to pit as soon as the race had started due to door damage. The setback meant that the pre-agreed lap times went out of the window and Miles fought back to third place, with Fords running in first, second and third at the 1 hour mark.
Without Surtees and his plan, the Ferraris stuck to a fairly conservative pace, but remained close behind the leading pack of Fords, waiting to take advantage of any problems they might face. As the cars started to come in to the pits for their first scheduled visits, it became clear that while the Goodyear tyres were holding up well, the Firestones were struggling with heavy graining. Bruce McLaren, despite being contracted to Firestone, made the call to switch to Goodyear tyres as well, knowing that there would be little chance of victory otherwise.
After the first round of driver changes, Denny Hulme had taken over for Miles and the #1 car now sat in the lead. By 10pm, however, the Fords endured long pit stops, allowing the Ferraris to leapfrog into the top two positions. This was to be short-lived, however.
Rain hit overnight, and the Fords set staggering lap times and charged ahead. The Ferraris, meanwhile, were not so lucky, with Jean Guichet spinning in his factory Ferrari. Scarfiotti, in the other factory car, suffered an accident, ploughing into the wreckage of an earlier incident. He escaped relatively unscathed, but his race was over. Before morning came, Ferrari suffered more bad luck, with their non-factory entries running into mechanical problems, and one-by-one, retiring from the race. Ferrari had now given up the fight, but would Ford go on to win?
Gurney and Miles had been trading lap times throughout the early hours of the morning, ignoring any ideas of pre-agreed lap times. At around 9am, disaster struck. Gurney was forced to retire the #3 car with a radiator leak. Had the Fords been pushing each other too hard?
However, the other Fords managed to go on without problems. With the clock ticking, and with Ford running in the top three positions several laps ahead of any other competitors, the race was all but won, but the controversy was far from over. The team instructed Miles and McLaren to cross the line side-by-side, with the third placed car behind them in formation, to create a tie for first place.
However, what looked like a dead heat resulted in McLaren and Amon in the #2 car being declared the victors on the basis that they had started further back in the field, and therefore had travelled further over the course of the race. Ken Miles and Denny Hulme would be second, and Miles especially was far from happy. Debate would rage for years about whether Ford knew what the result would be, and if they should allowed a race to the finish. But Ford had won the war with Ferrari, and they would go on to take victory at Le Mans for the next three years.
The proposal for a city-based electric car championship was initially conceived by Jean Todt, and presented before politicians Alejandro Agag, the eventual CEO of the sport, and Antonio Tajani in Paris on the 3rd March 2011. However, it would be over another three years before the series would actually come into fruition. The first Formula E race was held on 13th September 2014 in Beijing, the capital city of China. Twenty cars, all of the same specification lined up on the grid, all run by different teams, with some household names such as Renault and Audi amongst the mix. Many of the drivers involved too were familiar to people in motorsport – with the likes of Sebastien Buemi, Jaimi Alguersuari and Nick Heidfeld all participating in the inaugural race.
Nico Prost of Renault e.dams snatched pole position, ahead of the Audi Sport Abt cars of Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt, taking three valuable points for the coveted position. It was a sign of things to come – of the dominance that Renault would hold over the championship for the next three years, and the fierce rivalry between themselves and the Audi Sport Abt team. Prost held off pressure from the two chasing Abt cars at the start to keep hold of his lead, whilst Nick Heidfeld managed to get an excellent start off the line, picking off Franck Montagny and Karun Chandhok to place himself directly behind the leading trio. Contact on the opening lap lead to a broken suspension for Bruno Senna who found himself out of contention whilst Jarno Trulli was forced to stop after battery issues. The technical problems faced by the drivers and their teams were to be expected in a newly-fangled championship in which much of the technology had not been subjected to true racing conditions.
Senna’s stricken car brought out the safety car on the second lap, where it remained for three laps before racing resumed. Montagny was immediately aggressive on the restart, forcing his way through on Alguersuari in the exit of turn 19 for P6. The Spaniard also fell victim to teammate Sam Bird, who monopolised on the opportunity to snatch away P7. Montagny continued to push as he disposed of Chandhok in the final corner on lap 10 before moving onto Heidfeld as the race approached half distance. However, Heidfeld held firm as the two cars entered the pitlane to jump into their second cars. The car-swap pitstop is another indicator of how far the battery technology Formula E has come within the last few years, with the Gen 2 cars lasting a maximum of 45 minutes without the need for a second car.
As the pitstops were completed, Prost continued to lead as Heidfeld got the jump on the two Audi Abt cars ahead of him slotting himself into P2, with Montagny beating Abt into P4. Heidfeld began to be pressured by Di Grassi almost immediately, allowing Prost to pull a gap of around 3.5 seconds, extending to just under 4 seconds on lap 16. However, within the next three laps, Heidfeld began to gain vital ground on the race leader, slashing Prost’s advantage to just under a second. The German continued to apply pressure on Prost until the final lap. Heidfeld swung to the right as they approached the final corner at turn 20, only for Prost to turn into the Venturi at the last moment, sending Heidfeld careering off the track and into the barriers. Prost sheepishly pulled over, allowing di Grassi to take the lead of the race and win the first ever Formula E race. It was almost apt in a way – di Grassi was sought out by Agag to become the official test driver for the first Formula E car and was heavily involved in aspects of its development. He was joined on the podium by Montagny and Bird after Abt was penalised for exceeding the maximum amount of permitted energy, demoting him from the final podium position.
However, as Heidfeld crawled out from underneath his stricken car, he probably never thought that he could have been the one to make history, his mind no doubt was clouded with anger towards Prost for ending his race. Looking back on the race now, and the strong position that Formula E finds itself in, with arguably the largest number of manufacturers in any single-seater motorsport series and the highest pedigree of drivers now pushing for careers within the championship, it showcases how far the series has come in a few short years – both in terms of technical development and public opinion.
Formula E is becoming a well-known brand, a far cry from the days where it was written off as a graveyard series for ex-F1 drivers – it now flourishes, bringing the concept of sustainable energy into the heart of cities with competition for seats in the series fierce and manufacturing giants such as Mercedes, Porsche and Audi actively creating programmes to race in the series. But every legend has to start somewhere – and for Formula E, it was in Beijing, where twenty cars lined up on the grid, not knowing that in a few short years, they would help to forge the beginnings of a new championship that grows from strength to strength. It is for this reason, that the Beijing ePrix will be remembered as a legendary race and for sparking the beginning of a new, exciting motorsport series that would continue to divide opinion.
Juan Manuel Fangio’s record in motorsport speaks for itself.
In a career that spanned nine World Championship F1 seasons, ‘El Maestro’ won five titles for four different teams (Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Maserati), and took victory in 24 of the 52 races he entered. That 46.15% success rate is the best of any driver to have ever raced in F1, a feat which is made all the more impressive when it considered that, in the period he raced, there was an average of just eight races per season.
Of those 24 wins, Fangio arguably saved the best for the last.
He arrived at the infamous Nurburgring Nordschleife for the 1957 German Grand Prix with a chance to claim a fifth World Championship.
Things initially looked promising when Fangio qualified on pole, but at the start of the 22-lap race he dropped back to third behind the Ferraris of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins. By the third lap, Fangio managed to retake the lead, making use of his softer Pirelli tyres, and set five new lap records in quick succession.
However, Fangio had started the race with only half a tank of fuel, and so on lap 12 he came into the pits for refuelling and for new tyres.
Even by 1950s standards, his stop was slow. A fumble with a wheel nut meant Fangio lost over a minute and he emerged back out on track over 40 seconds behind Hawthorn and Collins, who were on a ‘no-stop’ strategy and harder Englebert tyres. Any attempts to retake the lead would have to be done on track.
To Ferrari, it looked as if Fangio’s first two laps were positively sedate, and they signalled to Hawthorn and Collins that it looked like Fangio would not be a threat, lulled into a false sense of security.
Owing to the technology of the time and to the length of the Nurburgring circuit, the teams were only able to communicate with their drivers once every fourteen miles using boards held out from the pits, and Fangio used this to his advantage. He put the hammer down, carving into their lead at a rate of 10 seconds a lap. Once Ferrari realised what the Argentinian was doing, it took them a long time before they were able to make Hawthorn and Collins aware and urge them to pick up the pace.
On lap 18, Fangio completed the first ever lap of the Nurburgring with an average speed above 90mph. He would go on to break the lap record a further ten times, with his fastest lap of 9mins 17.4 seconds a huge 8.2 seconds quicker than his pole time.
Fangio ate up the distance between himself and the top two drivers and, on lap 21, he caught and passed both Collins and Hawthorn to retake the lead.
Three and a half hours after the race started, Fangio took the chequered flag to claim victory, 3.6 seconds ahead of Hawthorn.
His fastest lap was over 24 seconds faster than the lap record from the previous year, and neither Hawthorn nor Collins could get within 10 seconds of it. To add the icing to the cake, his victory meant Fangio wrapped up a fifth World Championship, a record which would take 47 years to be beaten.
“I have never driven that quickly before in my life and I don’t think I will ever be able to do it again,” Fangio would later say, somewhat prophetically. He would retire the following year having not won another race.
His performance at the 1957 German Grand Prix has rightfully gone down in history, cementing the race’s position as one of motorsport’s most legendary.
As part of our special week in which we celebrate some of the greatest races in the history of all forms of motorsport, we take a trip back to the dramatic Brazilian Grand Prix of 2008, in which McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton was up against Ferrari’s Felipe Massa for the title, with the two taking their fascinating, remarkable title fight going all the way to the last day of the season. Whoever would win, we were guaranteed a new champion, with Kimi Raikkonen out of the fight having taken the title from Hamilton in an equally amazing 2007 season at the same race.
The afternoon began with Hamilton leading the championship on 94 points – seven ahead of Massa. Almost as if the script had willed it, Massa had qualified on pole position, with Hamilton fourth. If Massa were to win the championship, he would need to win the race and hope that Hamilton finished sixth or lower, and he would win the title.
Prior to the race, the racing gods decided they wanted to gaze down upon a legendary race that would be talked about for generations to come, and thus, with the tension palpable already, the heavens opened.
Off the start, Massa held the lead from Toyota’s Jarno Trulli heading into turn one, and Lewis Hamilton maintained his grip on fourth ahead of Sebastian Vettel and former McLaren team mate, at this point in the Renault, Fernando Alonso. Further towards the back, chaos ensued through the Senna S, as David Coulthard took a whack from not one, but both Williams cars, end his last ever Grand Prix ended in retirement.
Around lap 10 of the race, many drivers started to notice that the track was drying, and so several took the option to pit for dry tyres. Hamilton was left out perhaps a couple of laps too long on his intermediate set of boots, and he falls behind Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella, who had all made earlier stops. Hamilton had however managed to negotiate his way past Jarno Trulli, who had lost ground due to a slow stop, and this left him in P6, with Massa still leading. If things were to stay like this, Massa would claim the title on races won, as he and Hamilton were level on points as things stood.
Eventually, Hamilton did manage to get past Fisichella – though it nearly ended in tears – and he made his way up into fifth, right where he needed to be to take the title.
Vettel, meanwhile, was pressuring Massa for the lead, but to no avail, and he would eventually pit and re-join behind Hamilton, promoting the Briton to fourth.
The pit stops would all level out, and Hamilton found himself in fifth having needed to switch back to the inters because the rain had started again. Timo Glock, who had suffered an awfully long stop due to a sticky fuel nozzle, had actually found himself fuelled to the end. As a result, Hamilton had fallen behind him to fifth, and Vettel was breathing down his neck.
Then, unbelievably, Sebastian Vettel made his way past Hamilton with 3 laps to go, and for the second year running, it looked like Hamilton is going to lose out on the championship at the final hurdle!
The chequered flag fell at the end of the seventy-first and final lap of a simply extraordinary afternoon of racing, and Felipe Massa won the race, and surely with it, the title.
Until… Timo Glock’s slick tyres had completely given up the ghost on the last lap of the race in the wet conditions. He crawled, slithered round the track, and as he got to Juncao, who’s on his inside? None other than Lewis Hamilton, who has just snatched the title from the jaws of the prancing horse, much to the disbelief of the Ferrari camp and the delirium of the McLaren garage.
In the most spectacular of circumstances, Lewis Hamilton had finished fifth, and by the finest of margins, at the final corner of the final lap of the final race, he took the championship that had so cruelly evaded him the year previous.
Massa, tears in eyes, displays the most heart-wrenching solidarity as he stands atop the podium in front of his adoring and equally distraught home fans, knowing that he did all he could, but believing that his chance, Ferrari’s chance, Brazil’s chance, would come again.
Hamilton, his father Anthony, his brother Nic, and all of the McLaren team start the celebrations, although they are almost too shell-shocked themselves to fully ascertain what has just happened in one of the craziest days in Formula One’s already esteemed and rich history.
A race that has been watched, re-watched, recalled – sometimes painfully so – in utter disbelief at the sheer drama of what happened that day and the tantalising way it ended. A drama so deep and rich that even the great William Shakespeare would struggle to conjure, this was the epitome of everything F1 should be about – the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2008 truly was a legendary race, not just in Formula One, but in all of motorsport.
Nigel Mansell took his first F1 victory after 72 starts and Alain Prost celebrated his first F1 world championship on a track that was not supposed to hold a Grand Prix that year.
Brand Hatch has come to be an iconic motorsport venue over the years. It has held 14 Grand Prix, but it was not meant to be the place that the European GP would be held, back in 1985.
The provisional calendar of that season had New York and Rome as the new locations in the F1 championship. However, both were utterly ill-prepared, and John Webb stepped in and offered the Brands Hatch circuit as the venue of the European GP, the 14th round of 1985 Formula One World Championship.
The track was familiar to all the teams and drivers, as it was a popular testing venue back in the day.
For a race that was not scheduled to be held that year, it proved to be a landmark. However, it is necessary to take a step back and see why this Grand Prix has so much importance in the history of the sport.
The 1985 F1 season was a fight between McLaren and Ferrari, or Alain Prost and Michele Alboreto, if you prefer. Alboreto had the early lead in the championship, but after the first few rounds, Prost and his McLaren MP4/2B made a resurgence that saw the Frenchman (who lost the previous two titles by minuscule margins) get back on his feet, with the fate of the world championship in his hands. Couple that with the unreliability of the Ferrari 156/85, and it all was in favor of ‘the Professor’.
Coming to Brands Hatch, Prost needed to score two more points than Alboreto to be crowned champion, three rounds before the end of the year. He was determined to do just that, even without the help of Niki Lauda behind the wheel of the other McLaren. The Austrian had broken his wrist during practice in Belgium and was ruled out of the event early on.
In qualifying, Ayrton Senna took his sixth pole position of the year, with the very fast on one-lap pace of the Lotus 97T. Nelson Piquet came in second, 0.3 seconds behind his compatriot, with championship rivals Prost and Alboreto in 6th and 15th place respectively.
Senna held on his position at the start, keeping his head cool over the next few laps, until lap 13.
Keke Rosberg had managed to squeeze past 2nd, having started 4th, and he had set his sights on 1st place. The Finn made a desperate lunge down the inside of the leading Lotus, before the Bottom Straight, which got him in trouble, as he span onto the grass. To this day, he will argue that it was Senna’s fault.
Piquet was a victim of that clash, too, as he hit the Willaims on the rear left, leaving him out the race, and Rosberg with a puncture.
The 1982 champion went straight into the pits, and after a 20 second stop, he rejoined, crucially, just ahead of Senna and Nigel Mansell.
Let’s just pause it there for a moment. At the time, Mansell was a 32-year-old driver with a respectable four-year stint at Lotus to his name, before he moved to Williams-Honda to partner Rosberg. However, he was still waiting for his breakthrough and first ever win in Formula 1. Even though he had driven some cars with winning potential, the Brit could not capitalise on his potential – yet.
So, the motorsport gods handed him a golden opportunity. Rosberg, furious with Senna after their incident, decided to hold him off as much as he could in the twisty Brands Hatch layout, giving Mansell some time to catch the Brazilian and pass him.
Sure enough, he did. Mansell got past the Lotus and then his teammate, who in return tried to stall Senna a little bit more, to give Mansell a further advantage.
Even though the drama of the first-place battle was delightful to watch, there was a championship on the line, too. Prost, having had a poor start, made his way up through the order, driving on the edge lap after lap. His work was made easier when Alboreto was forced to retire with a failure in the turbo on the 13th lap. Memorably, he decided to drive his burning car right down the pit lane, unbuckle his belts and stand up as he coasted along to the Ferrari pits. He was fuming – literally and metaphorically.
Prost continued to push forward. When Stefan Johansson in the other Ferrari suffered electrical problems, the Frenchman was promoted 4th, having passed Elio de Angelis for 5th some laps before. With Alboreto out of the picture, a fifth-place finish would be enough to secure the title.
Shortly after, he conceded fourth place to Rosberg without a fight to ensure he would finish the race. It was such choices that earned him the nickname of ‘the Professor’.
At the front of the pack, Mansell drove an excellent race and cruised to his first Formula 1 victory, after 72 starts. Ayrton Senna finished second, with Keke Rosberg rounding up the podium.
Fourth was Alain Prost, the newly crown world champion. One year after he lost the title to Lauda by just half a point, the Frenchman didn’t put a foot wrong and he took the 1985 championship, whilst also helping McLaren to take its third ever Constructors’ Championship.
Brands Hatch would host the British GP the following year, which was the last time the iconic circuit held an F1 race.
That 1985 edition, though, was memorable and hugely significant to the history of this sport.
In 2019, Robert Kubica returned to racing in Formula 1. The 34-year-old Pole was the main star of this year’s edition of Verva Street Racing in Gdynia, Poland.
“I am glad that I am here and I am part of this event and I can once again present myself in an F1 car, although in compromised conditions,” Kubica said about the event.
“I think that for fans this is a great opportunity and I hope that I encourage new fans to watch motorsport and instil a passion for this sport into them.”
Before returning to F1, Kubica was to be the driver of the ByKolles team, which competes in WEC in the LMP1 class. The Pole gave up being part of the team, which cancelled his starts in this series. He commented his chances to start in the legendary 24-hour Le Mans race were as follows:
“My adventure [with ByKolles] ended quite early, actually before it began. At the moment I am focusing on my work and I don’t know what will happen in the future. I think the situation, where I was in three years ago and now where I am, is completely different.”
The 2019 season hasn’t been the most successful for Williams so far. The team from Grove for a long time was the only team which hasn’t scored a point during the first half of the season. After the rainy German Grand Prix and a penalty on both Alfa Romeo drivers, one point appeared on Williams’ account.
“I think the season started very hard,” Kubica said. I think that there were a lot of problems not only when it comes to the performance of the car, but also other problems that unfortunately disturbed the racing process and I think that it had the biggest influence of later driving and the result .
“The most emotional race so far was definitely in Australia, because it was the first race after a really long break, and when it comes to driving, I think the coolest ride was on the streets of Monaco.”
This week F1 returns after the summer break and the 13th race of the 2019 season will take place at Spa-Francorchamps. There are a lot of rumours about the future of 34-year-old Williams driver. When Kubica was asked about being in F1 in 2020, he answered:
Earlier in the year, Sabré Cook spoke to us for International Women’s Day as she prepared for both the upcoming W Series evaluations and her Infiniti Engineering Academy placement with the Renault Sport F1 Team. Since then she has taken three points finishes across the season, as well as third place at the non-championship round at Assen.
With W Series now over for 2019, we caught up with Sabré to hear her reflections on the inaugural championship and her plans for the future.
James Matthews: First of all, congratulations on taking your third points finish of the season at Brands Hatch. How would you rate your season overall, and what has been your personal highlight?
Sabré Cook: Thank you! Overall the season has been a great experience and I’ve learned an immense amount. I definitely made mistakes along the way but I’m a better driver now because I learned from them. The highlights would probably be my 7th place and third-fastest lap at Norisring, and my reverse grid podium at Assen.
JM: Your P12 in the championship has guaranteed you a place on the 2020 W Series grid. Have you decided yet to return next year, and if so what will be your goals for your sophomore season?
SC: I will definitely be returning next year. I’ll continue to focus on improving my skills along with applying what I’ve learned this year. A top five result in the championship next year would be a satisfying result for me.
JM: What impact has being part of the W Series had on your career, both in terms of your development as a driver and your presence in the media?
SC: The W Series has given me the opportunity to work consistently on my performance as a driver more than I’ve ever been able to in the past. I feel like I’m making steady progress and it feels great. The media coverage and excitement over the series has certainly helped grow my media presence.
JM: Catherine Bond-Muir told the media after Brands Hatch that W Series will be expanding to the US for 2021. Is there any US track in particular you’d like to see the series race on?
SC: I cannot confirm that the W Series will be going to the US for 2021, but I’d certainly welcome the addition to the race calendar. There’s so many great tracks in the US but I’d particularly love to see them go to Road America or WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
JM: Having spent most of your career so far racing in America, what were the biggest challenges you found racing in a predominantly European series?
SC: I’ve raced in European races before in karting, so from that I knew the high level of talent and aggression to expect. The challenges mostly came from trying to learn new tracks with limited track time, and getting used to some of the different rules and operating procedures.
JM: You told our Emily Inganni earlier this year that you have been balancing W Series with an engineering placement with the Renault F1 team. Have you been able to draw on the experience gained in that placement to improve your driving skills?
SC: My time at Renault F1 teaches me so much each day on how to be a better engineer. While that doesn’t always directly relate to my driving development it does give me a greater overall perspective as a driver and helps me see the design intent behind engineering decisions. But having access to feedback that [Daniel] Riccardo and [Nico] Hulkenberg give to their engineers on the RS19 each race, does directly show me how the top drivers communicate their feeling of the car.
JM: From your unique perspective as an engineer and a driver, what have been the most enjoyable and most challenging aspects of driving the W Series Tatuus-Alfa Romeo car?
SC: Driving a turbo engine is always fun and a new experience for me. It was a challenge but also enjoyable to figure out how to drive the oversteer balance of the car confidently. It was challenging from an engineering perspective not to be able to make any major changes to the car’s set up because I’d love to see, learn, and feel for myself what some of the larger changes would do to the balance of the car on each individual track. But I was there to drive, not engineer, and limiting us to a standard set up window is definitely the best layout for the series.
JM: W Series has been praised this year for the level of close racing throughout its field. Which driver have you most enjoyed battling with?
SC: I’ve enjoyed batting with each of the drivers, and really appreciate the opportunity to learn from the more experienced ones.
JM: What are your thoughts on how W Series has developed in its inaugural season?
SC: I think the W Series Team should be extremely proud of how amazing the champion has been in just the first season. I’ve never seen a series be so successful and have such a positive reaction and impact as much as the W Series has. I hope it continues to grow and affect so many people in a positive way.