My Top Ten Formula One Races
(as at 17 March 2008)
If there's one sport I do admire, it has to be Formula One motor racing. There's such a spectacle seeing drivers absolutely push themselves and their vehicles to the absolute limit, trying to gain as much speed where possible and getting eleven tenths out of the car. This often results in spectacular racing, the occasional crashes, and having to drive in tricky weather conditions, especially when the rain is involved, always a good leveller that one. Picking ten Formula One races that stand out in the memory of the last thirty years or so, as I've pretty much been watching the F1 since the BBC showed highlights of every round and then all the races live, and it's been that way in the UK since (ITV now have the long term rights) was not an easy task. And especially when you've got Murray Walker doing the commentary and absolutely going for it until 2001. I just wish ITV would replace James Allen, but that's a different story. Anyway, here goes in no particular order, apart from the number one:
1 - Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco, 1982
A lot of classic races have occurred at Monaco, and with the 1982 season having already claimed the life of Gilles Villeneuve, the season needed some lifting from its gloom and political infighting. No one expected a classic particularly with the two turbo charged Renault cars forging ahead, but after Rene Arnoux's car failed, it was then up to Alain Prost to surge ahead, and he had done by a considerable distance. However, rain and dark clouds were falling on Monaco, and with just a few laps left, Prost left the chicane, spun on the wet track and hit the armco. Riccardo Patrese was a fair way behind in the Brabham but could see the damaged Renault ahead and took the lead, only for him to spin off at the Loews hairpin. Then it was Dider Pironi in the Ferrari who then went into the last lap in the lead, but a severe lack of fuel meant that he ran out of fuel in the tunnel. Andrea de Cesaris was then leading, but he also ran out of fuel just before Portier. So, this meant Derek Daly, who had two laps left, was in front, but he then crashed just before La Rascasse. While all this was going on, Patrese had bump started the car down the hill, got round and then put in a gradual last lap to win. Despite both running out of fuel, Pironi and de Cesaris were classified second and third, with Nigel Mansell one lap down in fourth. Cue classic Muray Walker and James Hunt commentary, because it's that good :
And if Murray says it's the most eventful and exciting Grand Prix, then who am I to argue? I was watching this one and staring in disbelief, thinking "Well someone's got to win this race, what do they do?" Absolute classic, and I never tire of watching the footage from this one.
2 - Spanish Grand Prix, Jerez, 1986
The 1986 season proved to be a battle royal with the likes of Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna all battling each other throughout the season. At Jerez, three of them combined to produce an absolute classic. First, it was a three way titanic scrap between Prost, Mansell and Senna, with Mansell taking the lead from Senna using Martin Brundle as a distraction. Then Prost joined the party further on and both he and Senna passed Mansell in the space of two corrners. Prost then faded from Senna, but despite a tyre stop, Mansell was charging back through and passed Prost to regain second place. Then it was all about if he could catch Senna, and on the last lap, even with a few corners to go, he was visibly gaining. Out they came out of the final hairpin, and absolutely sprinted to the line. Mansell tried to go either side of Senna, but Senna moved across enough to hold Mansell back and they went over the line virtually together. Once the electronic timing had done its job, Senna had won - holding off Mansell by 0.014 seconds. That's right - fourteen one thousandths of a second, and approximately around a foot of distance. The way Mansell fought back and almost snatched the win was typical of his attitude, and it wasn't the lash epic clash between Mansell and Senna over the years, two drivers who had utmost respect for each other but absolutely were proper racers out on the track. Nor will it be the last Mansell race here either.
3 - Belgian Grand Prix, Spa, 1998
If anyone could have predicted this race, then they'd have been wrong. Badly wrong. It was a wet race and usually when the rain takes a hold at Spa, it can be an absolute drivers' nightmare, particularly heading up Eau Rouge. Except on the first start they didn't even get that far. Coming out of La Source, David Coulthard spun across the track, hit the wall and in everyone's efforts to avoid him, a concertina effect meant several more collisions happened. It was absolutely horrible to watch and thankfully only minor injuries occurred. With several drivers not having access to two spare cars, it was a reduced grid. Damon Hill took the lead in the Jordan, and held off Michael Schumacher for a few laps but had to eventually yield. Schumacher was running away with it, but then as he went to lap David Coulthard, Coulthard slowed down on the racing line and Schumacher hit him through the spray so they both went out. This meant that Damon Hill re-led the race, and both he and team mate Ralf Schumacher kept their heads and kept their cars on the track. As it turned out afterwards, team orders meant that Ralf wasn't allowed to overtake Damon, which soured the victory a bit, but nonetheless a one two for the Jordan team and their first team win, and Damon's first win since the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix (his last for Williams). I was rooting for Damon, pretty obviously, and as all the chaos ensued around him he was calmness personified as he just rattled off the laps and kept the car on track, which for me was his best ever driving performance, considering the car, the conditions and the circumstances. The number of incidents and crashes throughout with all that rain made it pretty eventful, and Murray was on absolute top form alongside Martin Brundle - the best F1 commentary partnership. Ever.
4 - Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco, 1992
Another epic Mansell-Senna battle, and rightly so. Mansell had won the first five races of the year on the way to his world title of that year, and he was leading Senna at Monaco and on course for his first ever Monaco win. However, fate intervened and one flat tyre meant that he needed to make a late pit stop to get the tyre changed, handing the lead back to Senna. Mansell then caught up with Senna, and for the last few laps, some of the finest close racing you'll ever see was there to behold. Mansell with fresh rubber clearly had more grip and the faster car, but Senna tried every single trick in the book possible at that time, and positioned the car mainly on the racing line and kept going enough to make it impossible for Mansell to pass. It was truly epic stuff with Mansell attempting all sorts of passing moves, but just not able to pull it off. Both drivers kept their heads during the battle, and even a late lunge at La Rascasse on the final lap wasn't enough for Mansell, as Senna won by a very close margin to ensure the fifth of his six Monaco Grand Prix wins. In the press conference afterwards, Mansell sportingly congratulated Senna for not only driving fairly but also for absolutely getting eleven tenths out of the McLaren to hold on and win. I remember myself watching this and rooting for Mansell (as all Brits would have done of course) and you could see how much Il Leone (the Lion - Mansell's nickname when he drove for Ferrari) wanted this win. It was an absolute classic, and one which stays with me. I've watched the last laps on a number of occasions and you can't help but admire both drivers for absolutely giving their all in an epic battle. Now if only we could get some of those battles back today..
5 - French Grand Prix, Dijon-Prennois, 1979
One very early race that I have fond memories of is the 1979 French race. No one will remember that Jean-Pierre Jabouille won in a Renault, nor that it was an all French victory, with a French driver and constructor on French tyres (Michelin) and French fuel (Elf) along with being the first ever victory by a turbocharged car. Oh no, what people remember is the absolutely titanic scrap over the last few laps between the Ferrari of Gilles Villeneuve and the Renault of Rene Arnoux. Constantly the position changed hands, mainly at the first corner, and as they came out of it, they'd often bang wheels together in the clash. It was on the absolute limit for most of the time and with three laps to go, Arnoux had the lead, then Villeneuve took it back off him with two laps to go, and then the last lap. And what a last lap! Arnoux went into the first corner Villeroy first, with Villeneuve going round the outside of the corner, and as they came out, they banged wheels for the first time as they headed to the left right at Sabelieres. Then another change of position and more wheel banging as they headed to the first la Bretelle corner and with Arnoux now in front, Villeneuve pulled up on the inside of the hairpin and Parabolique and took the lead again! And that was how it stayed to the end of the race, but what a race! Rene Arnoux has frequently said that "The duel with Gilles was something I'll never forget - my best souvenir of racing" and that pretty much says it all really. This was one of the first races that got me into F1, and Murray Walker was doing his best to go absolutely mental as well. Just epic stuff.
6 - European Grand Prix, Donington, 1993
Without doubt Ayrton Senna's finest race (and there were several, believe me). In the incessant rain at Donington, for its first and only ever Formula 1 race, Senna showed that he too was a bit of a rain meister when it came down to it. Back in 1984 at Monaco had the race not been red flagged due to Prost's protestations at the marshals, Senna would have won, and here at Donington no prisoners were taken. Starting fourth on the grid, Senna didn't have the best start and was soon passed to be in fifth place. No worries for Senna though, as on the first lap he passed Schumacher, and then went around the outside of Karl Wendlinger's Sauber a couple of corners later. He crept inside Damon Hill on the inside of McLean's corner, and that meant just one man left - his arch rival and occasional nemesis, Alain Prost. As they headed to the Melbourne hairpin, Senna took Prost and in the space of that lap he was now leading from the front. And lead he did, and by the end of the race only Damon Hill was on the same lap as Senna, with the rest either trailing in his wake or spinning off. Even though the McLaren wasn't a competitive car in 1993, the way Senna drove it that day gained even more respect from me - an absolute legend and a shame that his career was to end so tragically just over a year later.
7 - Spanish Grand Prix, Jarama, 1981
If you mention the name Gilles Villeneuve to anyone, then his finest race clearly has to be this one, at the tight twisty track of Jarama. It wasn't exactly the quickest track and was tight and twisty, and to make matters worse for Villeneueve his car was fine in the straight but absolute custard in the corners. And I do mean custard. So after the opening few laps and racing incidents, John Watson was in front, only to spin off on the fourteenth lap. This then meant that Villeneuve was in the lead, having passed Carlos Reutermann earlier in the race. Reutermann was having gearbox issues and so was eventually passed by Jacques Laffite and then John Watson, with Elio de Angelis coming to join the now train of five cars. Many times Laffite would be able to close up to Villeneuve in the corner, only to see Gilles pull away down the straights and so gain enough of an advantage not to be passed in the meantime. And as the laps went by, several attempts were made to pass, but Villeneuve did all he could to hold everyone back, in a much underpowered car compared to the rest, it has to be said. Even down the second to last straight before the final corner, Laffite had a go and then knew he couldn't do anything. Villeneuve had won, and the first five cars were separated by just over 1.2 seconds, making it an incredibly close and exciting finish.
8 - Japanese Grand Prix, Fuji, 2007
Although it may appear that including a race from the modern era of traction control and driver aids (now banned in 2008, hurrah) might seem not as classic as the others, this rain-soaked event had everything, much like the first ever race at Fuji back in 1976. The rain was that bad that the first nineteen laps were done behind the safety car, and when it pulled in, all hell broke loose out on the track and clearly it was a case of those that could keep their nerve on the very heavily wet surface would be the eventual winner. Lewis Hamilton did just that, keeping the McLaren pointing the right way and on the track at all times. By this time Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were also producing stunning drives until a slightly controversial incident. Fernando Alonso had crashed out and under the safety car, Hamilton braked into a corner, which meant Mark Webber also had to do the same to avoid hitting Hamilton, and the effect meant that Vettel went into the back of Webber, putting them both out. Later it emerged that although Webber had blamed Vettel at first, having seen Hamilton's braking manouevre questions were to be raised. Nonetheless it was a great drive from Lewis in the wet which marked him out as a future World Champion - all the best out there can drive some in the wet conditions. A titanic scrap between Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen ensued near the end too, and Kovalainen held on despite intense pressure for second place. Truly epic stuff all round and so glad I set the Sky Plus box for it.
9 - Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos, 2003
Another race absolutely full of incident and one that I distinctly remember watching on a Sunday evening thinking "bloody hell!" afterwards. Only one wet weather tyre was allowed due to the regulations, and so, as they'd all brought intermediates with them and not full wets, the race started under the safety car as it was absolutely pouring down. It didn't end there though: one of the drainage systems had leaked, which led to a clear straight deep channelled pool of water at the end of the third turn, which caught several drivers out, including Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber. Webber was the only driver to spin out there and recover, but a later crash put paid to his chances. With this in mind, several teams heavily fuelled their cars and went to a different strategy, including the Jordan of Giancarlo Fisichella. He stormed through the field whilst other teams were refuelling, and on his tyres, managed to make his way through the fields, and soon made it into the lead after a couple of others had pitted - notably David Coulthard. In the next two laps, it was madness. Fisichella overtook Kimi Raikkonen for the race lead, but at the end of the lap, Mark Webber crashed whilst exiting the final corner. Fernando Alonso, coming up behind, had not seen the waved yellow flags, clipped one of the tyres of Webber's stricken Jaguar, and hit a tyre wall and barrier, spewing tyres into the circuit itself and with wreckage everywhere, a decision was made to red flag the race. Although at the time people believed Fisichella to have won, the course stewards had infact given the victory to Raikkonen, as they interpreted the red flag rules to be two laps before the Alonso/Webber incident. Eventually, after scrutineering, it transpired that Fisichella had finished the lap in front before the incident and red flag, this giving him the race result. Some race, though!
10 - British Grand Prix, Silverstone, 1987
Another epic race involving Nigel Mansell. This one certainly got a lot of the British public into F1, if they weren't into it already. The scene was set for a scrap between team mates Mansell and Nelson Piquet, with Alain Prost also up there. However, once both the Williams drivers had passed Prost, both he and Ayrton Senna were left trailing in the wake. Indeed, even Mansell was having trouble keeping up with Piquet, and by two thirds race distance had gained a twenty second or so lead, which meant Mansell needed to be one second per lap faster to have any chance of catching Piquet. With Piquet's tyres on their way out, Mansell charged and drove like no other, and lap by lap was intent on smashing the Silverstone lap record. With ten laps left, the British public in the crowd realised that a win was possible, and absolutely roared on Mansell. This gave him even more determination, and so boosted by that kept going. With just two laps left Mansell caught Piquet on the approach to Stowe corner, and moved one way and then another and passed Piquet, with a very excitable Murray Walker going mental in the commnentary box in the background (his co-commentator James Hunt had the mic at the time) and when Mansell took the chequered flag, the cheers were loud and proud. Mansell then ran out of fuel on the slow down lap, which meant the British crowd invaded the track and swarmed around Mansell's car, all wanting to celebrate. Mansell Mania was born and I enjoyed every single minute of that race on the telly, glued with my dad cheering Nigel on. Happy days.