Being as there have been just two European Grand Prix at Valencia (and neither of them particularly outstanding) Badger is breaking with tradition this week. Rather than three to remember from the Valenica street circuit may we present three classic European Grand Prix. It just so happens that there have been some absolutely cracking races held under this title, the stuff of F1 legend in fact- enjoy!
1993 (Donington Park, Great Britain)
I am speechless, really over the moon!
The European Grand Prix of 1993 was the scene of one of Ayrton Senna’s finest performances in a Formula One car. Held at British track Donington Senna started 4th, a whopping second and a half off poleman Alain Prost. The ’93 Williams was a gem of a car, but when rain fell on race day Senna’s hopes were raised. He knew that wet conditions would give him a shot at glory.
The majority of the excitement happened on the first lap. Senna made a bad start, being beaten in to turn 1 by the Sauber of Karl Wendlinger and dropping to 5th. However he quickly found his feet, passing the Benetton of Michael Schumacher and then flying round the outside of Wendlinger. A few corners later he scythed up the inside of Damon Hill (Williams) to take 2nd and quickly took off in pursuit of Prost. Amazingly it took him just a few more turns to get alongside Prost and pass him in to the Melbourne hairpin. The Williams cars may have been 1.5 seconds quicker in qualifying but in this wet race Senna was in a class of his own.
The Brazilian would later lose the lead when a pitstop problem cost him over 20 seconds, Prost retaking first place. But when rain returned Senna kept his head, staying out on track whilst the Williams cars came in. The track quickly began to dry again, meaning the Williams crew had to switch their boys back to slicks- they’d blinked too soon. Prost then stalled and took an age to get moving again, eventually losing a whole lap. He clawed his way back to third, but was out of contention for the win.
As the rain came down once more later in the race Senna was able to make another stop for wets, his lead so large that he easily rejoined in first place. The Brazilian would eventually win by nearly a minute and a half from Hill, the Englishman the only driver Senna failed to lap that day.
The 1993 McLaren was nowhere near the pace of the Williams, but Senna somehow won 5 races that year. Donington was the pick of the bunch, and ranks up there with his finest victories.
1997 (Jerez, Spain)
There have been happier days in my life…
A truly unique qualifying session, a collision that will forever be part of F1 history and the first race win for a future champion. Yep, the 1997 European Grand Prix is definitely one to remember. Heading to the final round of the championship Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher led Jacques Villeneuve of Williams by a single point. The scene was set for a real belter.
The excitement started in qualifying. First Villeneuve set a time of 1:21.072. Schumacher emerged with the intention of beating this but failed to do so- though nor did he go slower. In fact Michael set an identical time to Jacques’. Next up was Villeneuve’s teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Living by the old if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em approach HHF produced another lap of 1:21.072!
Amazingly, three drivers had done identical times, Villeneuve taking pole by dint of having set his time first. But it was Schumacher who led at the end of lap 1, his Ferrari getting the jump on Villeneuve at the start- advantage Michael.
After the second round of pitstops Schumacher held the lead but Villeneuve, knowing the championship was slipping away from him, upped his pace. Soon he was right on Michael’s tail, and as lap 47 began a pass looked imminent.
And that’s when it happened. Jacques got a run on the Ferrari, drew alongside Michael on the straight and tried to outbreak him at Curva Dry Sack (anyone know why on earth it’s called that?). We may never know what went on in Michael’s head at this moment, but the German turned in to the Williams in what looked like a cynical attempt to take him out of the race- but it didn’t work. Michael took himself out and Jacques continued on, the title within his sights.
Villeneuve now had a comfortable lead over the McLarens of David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen but slowed dramatically, allowing the pair to quickly catch him. With three laps to go Coulthard allowed Hakkinen through in to 2nd, and on the final lap both passed Villeneuve, who nearly stopped to allow them by. Was an agreement made between the two teams? It certainly appeared so. Either way Mika had won his first F1 race, and carried the momentum in to the following year when he would become champion. That day, however, belonged to Villeneuve.
The ’97 European Grand Prix was both strange and thrilling, a race mired in controversy that will not be forgotten by anyone who saw it.
1999 (Nurburgring, Germany)
I was just hoping and praying towards end that everything would hold together.
Before being bought by Dietrich Mateschitz Red Bull Racing were the Jaguar team, who were, quite frankly, awful. But before that the team had been Stewart Grand Prix who, in 1999, were very good. But good enough to win a race? Well, no, not really. But, on a crazy afternoon at the Nurburgring, they did just that. And, to near-universal approval, it was cheeky chappy Johnny ‘The Romford Rocket’ Herbert who stood atop the podium that soggy day.
Herbet started the race in 14th position. Out front Frentzen led early on, followed by David Coulthard (McLaren) and Ralf Schumacher (Williams). Frentzen was looking comfortable, but suddenly slowed and stopped. The lead would prove to be a curse, as Coulthard spun not long after inheriting it from the Jordan.
Ralf now led from Giancarlo Fisichella (Benetton), Herbert, Jarno Trulli (Prost) and Luca Badoer’s Minardi. But the curse of the lead continued, as Ralf’s tyres gave up. He skidded off the track and was forced to pit for a fresh set. Fisichella was now set for his first F1 victory, but he spun off (for the second time that day), this time out of the race.
So Johnny Herbert now led in the Stewart, and unlike his competitors was able to stay there and claim his third, last and least likely Grand Prix victory. Behind him was Trulli, with teammate Barichello completing a podium very different from that which we’d become accustomed to in 1999.
There was more disappointment down the field though, as Luca Badoer retired from a lofty 4th place in the Minardi. His Ford powerplant had let him down, and Badoer was heartbroken. He sat beside his stricken car crying his eyes out at what would have been a career changing result for him. Teammate Marc Gene was able to grab the final point, but this was little consolation to Luca.
For Herbert though it was a happy day. “I was just hoping and praying towards end that everything would hold together,” he said afterwards. “I was able to relax a little since I had quite a gap down to Trulli. After what was not a very good qualifying I hadn’t expected to be top of the podium today. There is always an element of luck in a race and today was our day”.
Now come on Valencia, let’s have a cracking race on Sunday, something Badger can shout about in next season’s three to remember. We have faith- we believe you can provide a real spectacle. After all, Formula One isn’t boring.