With the latest British GP upon us, AutoClassics and LAT look at some of the greatest moments from the race’s long history, complete with stunning pictures
You do not necessarily have to be a British patriot to recognise that there is something very special about the British Grand Prix – the latest of which takes place this weekend.
Along with the Italian Grand Prix. It’s the only Formula 1 race to have appeared on the calendar every year since the world championship’s inception in 1950; indeed, the British round can claim the longest history of all, as it was the first-ever world championship grand prix.
Thanks to the LAT Archive, AutoClassics looks at a few of the greatest moments from the British Grand Prix’s past.
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In 1955 at Aintree circuit next to the famous Grand National course, Stirling Moss became the first Briton to win the British Grand Prix – and in so doing took his own first-ever Formula 1 world championship race victory. But to this day the achievement is surrounded in intrigue. The Mercedes pairing of Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio dominated as they did everywhere that year, but this was the one time Moss beat Fangio. Some reckoned it reflected a team order – Mercedes seeking to build bridges with Britain – but not so.
Instead, plenty suspect, Fangio simply let Moss have his home win. Certainly the respect between the pair was absolute, and it would have been entirely in keeping with Fangio’s character to do so and to be subtle about it. If there was ever a secret, though, Fangio took it to his grave – whenever asked about the race, his answer was always similar: ‘Moss was on form; it was his day’.
Jim Clark won the British Grand Prix five times. In 1965 he took victory in the opening six Formula 1 grands prix that he competed in – and in so doing bagged the title and maximum points available for the year by the first day of August. So did combining these mean his ’65 British Grand Prix win at Silverstone was straightforward?
Not at all. It looked business as usual initially, as Clark cleared off from pole and built a lead of 35 seconds. But in the final 15 laps his Coventry Climax engine started to run short of oil. Thinking fast, he coasted through strategic parts of the lap, and even switched the engine off at points, yet the times Clark continued to put in were stunning even when his oil pressure reached zero in the final tours.
Second-placed Graham Hill took bites from his lead – but when the chequered flag fell, Clark was still 3.2 seconds to the good. An admiring Autocourse* called it a ‘feat of unparalleled brilliance’.
Stewart wins a two-horse race
Featuring Jochen Rindt in the Lotus against Jackie Stewart in the Matra in an extended everything-on-the-line battle, this one proved the adage that it only takes two drivers to make a race. Perhaps it was a clash of styles; spectacular Rindt versus methodical Stewart. Whatever, no one else saw them – after one lap, the guy in third was more than three seconds shy.
After an initial spell of slipstreaming and place swapping, Rindt managed to build a small lead. Perhaps Stewart was playing the long game, as he so often did… However, observers noted that, in a role reversal, Rindt looked smooth and JYS ragged.
However, we never found out how it would have been resolved, as at around the three-quarter distance Rindt slowed due to a rear-wing endplate rubbing against his tyre. He resumed a distant second after repairs and then, adding insult to injury, he succumbed to Lotus disease – lack of fuel – and finished fourth. Stewart won, but the day was about much more than him.
Hunt’s ‘phantom’ win
Britain in 1976 was in the midst of a hot summer, and burgeoning James Hunt mania was equally intense as he started his revered fight for that year’s title with Niki Lauda. Crowds packed Brands Hatch to see the new national hero, but for a time it looked as through it would be a case of blink and you miss it.
It was all to do with a first-corner smash, initiated by Clay Regazzoni tapping his Ferrari team-mate Lauda and spinning. Hunt’s suspension was damaged as he got caught up in the resultant melee. The race was stopped and debates raged over whether he was eligible for the restart.
Crowd members keen to see Hunt threw cans and bottles onto the track, which possibly concentrated minds, and Hunt was indeed permitted to take part in a repaired McLaren. He passed Lauda’s ill-handling Ferrari at half distance to win. But it wasn’t to last – months later an FIA Court of Appeal disqualified Hunt, and Lauda was declared victor after all.
Making plans for Nigel
Likely no driver has ever been as synonymous with the British Grand Prix as Nigel Mansell. Neither has any British driver been as adored by his home public – and Mansell reciprocated, insisting he got extra tenths of pace from the support. Somehow he always would be a factor in a British GP – and usually a dramatic one.
He won his home round four times, and 1987’s was the most scintillating. He and team-mate Nelson Piquet in Williams-Hondas disappeared into their own race, but it looked resolved when Mansell lost a wheel weight and made an unscheduled tyre stop that left him 28 seconds off Piquet with 29 laps remaining.
However, Mansell tore chunks from Piquet’s lead, caught him with three laps left and passed with a spectacular high-speed dummy into Stowe. By rights Mansell should have run out of fuel – that’s what his read-out said. Instead he ran out on the slowing-down lap. Somehow everything went his way.
Johnny be good
The 1995 winner was highly popular, too – although for entirely different reasons. Johnny Herbert’s promising career had been damn near wiped out by a sickening multi-impact F3000 crash at Brands Hatch, leaving him with severe ankle and foot injuries. But Herbert determinedly rebuilt his career and in time became an established F1 pilot.
Come ’95 he got a break at Benetton, but partnering world champion Michael Schumacher was a thankless task. Yet at Silverstone things came right for Herbert at last. The year’s two chief protagonists, Schumacher and Williams’ Damon Hill, fought for the win but removed each other – Hill going for a pass that likely wasn’t on.
This vaulted Herbert into the lead, but with the other Williams of David Coulthard crawling all over him. Herbert though got more overdue good luck – Coulthard passed but then got a stop-go penalty for pitlane speeding. Herbert was left to ease home for his first of three grand prix wins.
A race most readily recalled for former priest Neil Horan running onto Hangar Straight during proceedings to explain the wages of sin to drivers passing at high speed just feet away. But in a way that does it a disservice, as this was a stunning race – although in fairness Horan’s intervention indirectly contributed to the spectacle via the jumbled order from the resultant safety car.
Rather, in an age wherein F1 on-track overtaking was as rare as hens’ teeth, all drivers seemed to decide for one day only that you could pass after all; wherever you looked, a thrilling overtake was being made. And it was Rubens Barrichello’s day of days – his Ferrari centred on victory like a heat-seeking missile, no matter what his obstruction. Twice he passed Kimi Raikkonen to prevail – the decisive move being a stunner at Bridge having worked the Finn’s McLaren around for several corners. Sometimes nice guys do finish first.
Hamilton sings in the rain
No one has won the British Grand Prix more times than Lewis Hamilton – him having inherited Nigel Mansell’s tendency for dramatic legend and triumph at his local race. Yet even by the standards of his home performances, and of his own famous peaks more generally, Hamilton’s first British win in 2008 was a maestro performance.
Also he came into it under pressure – his previous two races had been bitty, while his qualifying for this one was scrappy and he started only fourth. But some typical British sodden summer weather was Hamilton’s salvation. He led by lap five, and while Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari kept him in range in the opening stint, the first pitstop round was the fork in the road – Hamilton put new intermediate tyres on, while Raikkonen stuck with what he had.
Hamilton’s call proved correct as the rain intensified almost immediately. He was never seen again, and won by well upwards of a minute with only the top three on the lead lap.
Images courtesy of LAT Archive