In preparation for Sunday’s race Badger has taken a look back at all six decades of the British Grand Prix. In part two we’re focusing on the last thirty years of the race, from the eighties through to the present day.
In 1981 two winless streaks came to an end at Silverstone: John Watson claimed his first race victory in five years, whilst for his McLaren team it was a first success in nearly four years. McLaren were now back on song in Britain, claiming further wins in 1982 and ’84, both courtesy of Niki Lauda, and 1985, when Alain Prost took the second of his five British GP victories.
Nigel Mansell won back-to-back British Grand Prix in 1986 and ’87, becoming the first Brit since Jim Clark to achieve the feat. The 1986 race, held at Brands Hatch, was marred by a startline crash that resulted in two broken legs – and earlier than planned retirement from F1 – for French veteran Jacques Lafitte.
The second was a classic battle with teammate Nelson Piquet. The Brazilian out-qualified Mansell by just seven hundredths of a second, and the scene was set for a belter. An unplanned tyre stop left Mansell nearly half a minute behind with 28 laps to go, but being on fresh rubber gave the Englishman the advantage, and he set a blistering pace to catch Piquet and harry him in to the closing laps.
Piquet defended with all his might, making the Williams as wide as possible. But, with under three laps to go, Mansell got the better of him. Heading down Hanger straight the Brit feinted left then quickly darted right, fooling his teammate and gaining the line for Stowe. Piquet squeezed him but Mansell held his nerve and took the lead – and two laps later the race victory. He ran out of fuel on the slowing down lap, and was joined on-track by many members of the overjoyed crowd.
In the nineties the British Grand Prix belonged to the Williams team, who took six wins at Silverstone between 1991 and 1997. Armed with the superb FW14 and FW14B Nigel Mansell once again took back-to-back victories at his home race, winning in 1991 and 1992. The ’91 running saw Mansell give Ayrton Senna a lift back to the pits after his McLaren had expired, one of the classic images of this era in F1.
A year later Silverstone was Mansell’s seventh win in nine races, and resulted in another track invasion as the fans greeted the champion-in-waiting. That day also saw the debut of a future British champion, as Damon Hill made his first start in a Brabham. He finished last, four laps down, but two years later claimed victory himself. With pole, the win and the fastest lap in ’94 Damon had a perfect weekend, and achieved something his legendary father never managed: victory at his home grand prix.
Then there was 1998, one we simply can’t forget. Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari led with just two laps to go, but he was issued with a stop-go penalty for overtaking under the safety car earlier in the race. It seemed he’d lose top spot to Mika Hakkinen, but Michael didn’t enter the pits until the very last lap. He crossed the finish line and won the race in the pitlane, before he’d even reached his pit stall. Everyone was mighty confused, but Michael would hold on to his victory, partly because the stewards had failed to issue the penalty in the correct time. McLaren’s protests were rejected by the FIA, and the German legend had added another controversial chapter to his career.
The new millenium kicked off with a British winner, David Coulthard following up his 1999 success with a repeat Silverstone victory. Team-mate Mika Hakkinen bagged another McLaren victory in 2001, the penultimate win of the great Finn’s F1 career.
2003 provided one of the oddest moments in British Grand Prix history, not to mention one of the more scary. On lap 11 a man dressed in a green beret and orange kilt somehow found his way on to the track. Brandishing a banner with a confused religious message the man ran up Hanger straight in the direction of oncoming cars. That he wasn’t hit is quite remarkable, and a safety car was immediately deployed as the man was removed.
He turned out to be one Neil Horan, a defrocked priest who has since attempted invasions of several other sporting events, including the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 football World Cup. The invasion worked in the favour of Ferrari’s Rubens Barichello, who used the safety car period to leap to the front and win the race. This is definitely one incident we won’t ever forget – and never want to see again.
2005 saw a great battle between the McLaren of Juan Pablo Montoya and Renault’s Fernando Alonso. The pair traded fastest lap times at the head of the field, with the Colombian eventually coming out on top, winning by under three seconds from Alonso. Fernando would take the victory the following year, beating title rival Michael Schumacher.
In 2008 Lewis Hamilton produced a stunning wet weather drive that cemented his place among the current F1 grid’s elite. Whilst title rival Felipe Massa seemed unable to go more than a lap without spinning Lewis was serene out front, and deservedly won by over a minute from Nick Heidfeld’s BMW. In the process Hamilton lapped reigning world champion Kimi Riakonnen, team-mate Heikki Kovalainen and Fernando Alonso. Dominant stuff.
Which brings us up to the two most recent races, won by Sebastian Vettel (2009) and Mark Webber (2010) for modern day powerhouse Red Bull. Silverstone was the first glimpse of just how mighty the RB5 was, confirmed the dominance of the RB6, and should allow a similar show of strength from the RB7 at this year’s race. Whoever takes victory this weekend we’re hoping for a real belter of a grand prix. After the excitement seen at the British GP over the past six decades this year’s running certainly has a lot to live up to.