Our Top 5 British Grand Prix
Published 3rd July 2012 - Written by Craig Norman
It’s that time of year again – the British Grand Prix. And what better way to celebrate F1 on home soil than to have a look back over the races held under the banner? Join us as we count down our Top 5!
Over 50 years ago, Aintree wasn’t just famous for the Grand National. The outer roads were used for a different kind of horsepower, and for the first time in 1955, the home crowd had a real chance to cheer on a home-grown winner for the first time – Sir Stirling Moss.
Being part of the dominant Mercedes team of the era, it’s a surprise that this was the first race win for the Brit. Indeed, the German marque was so dominant that they achieved a 1-2-3-4 finish. Moss’s illustrious teammate, the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, finished 2nd, only 0.2 seconds behind. After 3 hours of driving, it was the finest of margins.
Unfortunately, any chance of Stirling taking the title that season were dashed after the Le Mans tragedy. The cancellations of the French, German, Spanish and Swiss rounds meant that the 2nd place Fangio earnt was enough for him to take his second World Title.
This race is also notable for being the last Mercedes victory until Nico Rosberg’s maiden triumph in China, a whopping 57 years later.
James Hunt and Niki Lauda was a rivalry for the ages, and the 1976 season was a battle that still stand the test of time. At Brands Hatch, home of that season’s British race, public pressure from the rabid home fans allowed Hunt to race, when he really shouldn’t have.
Hunt had lined up 2nd on the grid, and at the start Lauda led from pole. His teammate, Clay Reggazoni, got an even better start from 4th on the grid and challenged the Austrian for the lead, only for the Ferraris to touch. The resulting pile-up brought out the red flag.
Then the confusion began. With the stewards only allowing cars to take the restart if they completed a whole lap, it emerged that Hunt had taken a shortcut, and was technically disqualified. With the crowd’s anger rising, they allowed him to take the restart. Hunt promptly won.
Ferrari protested the result and got their hearing a few months later, far away from the British public. Hunt was excluded, Lauda inherited the win, and the scene was set for a titanic showdown in Fuji.
How can we have an F1 list without a little sprinkling of Michael Schumacher controversy?
In 1998, the Red Baron had been battling with Mika Hakkinen for the title all season long, and moving into the British Grand Prix, both drivers were at the sharp end of the grid. Yet again, race day was rainy and damp, and both drivers moved ahead of the field, with Hakkinen in front and building a hefty gap. A mistake led to a spin and front wing damage though, and a safety car period would define the race.
Schumacher would lap Alexander Wurz under the safety car whilst keeping up with Hakkinen, and the race stewards issued a penalty at the very end of the race, but it was unclear whether it was a 10 second stop-go or 10 seconds added to his race time. Making sure they obeyed protocol, and now that Schumacher had a healthy gap ahead of Hakkinen, Ferrari brought their lead driver in for a stop-go penalty. The timing couldn’t have been more confusing – the penalty was served on the final lap, so technically Michael won the race in the pitlane.
Due to the race stewards bungling the result stood, even after McLaren protests. Yet another controversial decision had been attributed to the German’s already chequered past.
A more recent entry on the list is also the last British winner of the race. The English summer of 2008 delivered a rainy day for Lewis Hamilton’s second attempt at winning his home race, and what occurred that afternoon was one of the most dominant displays of wet-weather driving.
By the time Hamilton crossed the finish line, he was a monumental 68 seconds ahead of second-placed man Nick Heidfeld, and another 14s ahead of third placed Rubens Barrichello. Everyone else in the race had been lapped. No-one had dominated a Grand Prix in such a manner for over 13 years, and it set the ball rolling for the young Brit to claim the World Drivers crown many months later in Brazil.
No driver has captured the British public’s imagination quite as much as Nigel Mansell. In 1985, he finally secured his maiden win, on British soil at Brands Hatch at the European GP, and then made it one better a year later by winning at Silverstone. But, another 12 months later would prove to be his most impressive victory.
By the time the 1987 season began, it was plain to see that the Williams-Hondas of Mansell and Nelson Piquet were the class of the field. Silverstone that year was no different, as both drivers worked their way to the front.
By mid-distance, Mansell had picked up a wheel vibration and made an unplanned stop for tyres, and rejoined 29 seconds behind his team-mate with 28 laps remaining. In that period not only did Mansell catch Piquet, but also broke the lap record a stunning eleven times. On lap 62, while being right behind Piquet, Mansell faked to pass right, only to dive down the inside left, taking the lead and holding on until the end.
On his Victory Lap Mansell’s car ground to a halt, petrol tank empty. The Silverstone crowd, as partisan as ever, engulfed their hero.