As F1 moves to the 8th round of the season at the newly constructed Baku city circuit in Azerbaijan, the new home for the European Grand Prix, its time we take a look back at the 5 finest races run under the aegis of this honorific title. Instituted much more as an excuse to allow certain countries to host multiple races than as a national event, the European Grand Prix has travelled several places throughout the continent. Brands Hatch, Jerez, Donington and Nurburgring all have hosted the European Grand Prix throughout the years. This race has provided us with quite a few memorable moments.
5. 1994 Jerez
The battle for the 1994 championship came alive at Jerez as Michael Schumacher returned to take on Damon Hill. Schumacher’s return from a two-race suspension to lead the Benetton team was just the first of many changes in the driver line-up since the previous round in Portugal three weeks earlier.
Nigel Mansell had climbed from the cockpit of his Newman-Haas Lola at Laguna Seca in California the previous weekend and left IndyCar racing for good. He took over from David Coulthard at Williams, and though he was still feeling the after-effects of the abrupt shift in time zones he was eager to begin what amounted to a three-race audition for a full-time return in 1995. The 14th round of the championship was supposed to take place in Argentina, but problems getting the venue ready meant it was scrubbed from the calendar four months before it was due to take place.
A replacement was arranged at Jerez, and the Spain’s second round of the championship was given the title of European Grand Prix which Donington Park had used the previous year. With their championship leader back at the helm, Benetton were rejuvenated. The twisty circuit suited the B194 chassis, and after minor damage to his car was repaired overnight Schumacher took his fifth pole position of the year. The cars were held on red for a long time. Moments before the lights changed, Schumacher’s clutch started to drag, and just as he made to come off it the race started and Hill beat him to turn one.
Schumacher, who was planning to pit three times, hounded his championship rival during the opening laps. No overtaking opportunity presented itself, but Schumacher could afford to relax in the knowledge that Williams strategy had consistently been found wanting compared to Benetton’s.
That may have proved the case on this occasion even without Hill’s problem. Schumacher made his first pit stop on lap 15 and jumped ahead of the Williams when Hill pitted two laps later. And despite Hill planning to pit twice his second stint was no longer than Schumacher’s – both were back in after 18 laps.
This was because a fault in Hill’s fuel rig led Williams to the incorrect conclusion that they had put too little fuel at his first stop. His second pit stop was therefore both too early and saw him take on to much fuel.
While Hill lugged around the best part of 100kg of fuel, Schumacher’s light Benetton disappeared up the road. Hill, who had begun the race looking like he would surpass Schumacher in the championship standings, had to settle for second. A faulty refueling rig had put paid to hopes of a showdown between in the two in Spain. Schumacher took his eighth win of the season – and regained the initiative in the title fight, which he would go on to win in spectacular fashion.
4. 2012 Valencia
The 2012 European Grand Prix held at Valencia was a scene for an emotional and brilliant win for Alonso. In qualifying Ferrari made a strategical error in choosing to use just one set of soft tyres for their drivers, resulting in Fernando Alonso qualifying eleventh, and Felipe Massa setting the thirteenth quickest time. Williams’s driver and fellow countryman Bruno Senna qualified on the same row as Massa, in fourteenth. Just three-tenths of a second separated Romain Grosjean’s fastest time of the session, and Massa’s thirteenth fastest time proving the competitiveness of the 2012 field. The Mercedes of Michael Schumacher was the car between the Ferraris in twelfth, missing out, like Senna and Pérez, when their teammates made it into Q3. Sebastian Vettel took his second pole position of the season by four tenths of a second; it was also the 33rd pole position of his career, meaning that he moved up into joint third with Alain Prost and Jim Clark on the all-time list for most pole positions. It was Vettel’s third consecutive pole at the Valencia Street Circuit, on the track’s final appearance. It was much closer to him, though, the other nine cars separated by just half a second. Lewis Hamilton accompanied him by qualifying second, his fifth front row start of the season, and the seventh time he had initially qualified there. Pastor Maldonado impressed by qualifying third, eleven places in front of his teammate, and also in front of the two Lotus cars, who qualified fourth and fifth with Grosjean marginally ahead of Kimi Räikkönen. Nico Rosberg took his Mercedes to sixth and Kamui Kobayashi was successful in qualifying his Sauber seventh. Rosberg claimed after the session that Hamilton had blocked him at the end of his out-lap, spoiling his final effort. The matter was looked into by the stewards, but they decided not to take further action. Nico Hülkenberg, in the improved Force India, narrowly missed out on a higher grid slot in eighth, as Jenson Button bemoaned oversteer in his McLaren again and was down in ninth. Paul di Resta’s lap looked promising (he had predicted a top-five grid slot had it all gone to plan), but he made a small mistake at the final corner of the lap and ended up down in tenth. Interestingly, six of the drivers in the top ten actually set a faster time in Q2 than they did in Q3. The four drivers who did not were, Vettel, Hamilton, Maldonado, and Räikkönen. Unusually for the 2012 season, all of the drivers started the race in the same places they qualified because no penalties were implemented.
Pole sitter Sebastian Vettel was able to get a powerful launch off the start line in his Red Bull and went into the first corner unchallenged, and Lewis Hamilton who was alongside him on the front row stayed second. Kimi Räikkönen got a good launch from 5th on the grid and was nearly alongside third place starter Pastor Maldonado but had to back off to avoid hitting him and his Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean took advantage to jump into third. Vettel controlled the race, building a lead of 20 seconds over Grosjean, before the safety car was deployed on lap 30, with 26 to go, because of debris on the track following a collision between Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen and Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne.
Meanwhile, Alonso was driving one of the best races of his illustrious career, moving up to eighth on the first lap and taking seventh from Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg on lap 12. Two quick laps before his own pit stop while the leaders in front of him made theirs promoted him to a de facto fourth behind Vettel, Grosjean, and Hamilton.
All the leaders pitted for the second time when the safety car came out, and Alonso – who had been closing on Hamilton at approaching half a second a lap – gained another place following the latest in a series of pit-stop problems for Hamilton after his front jack failed.
He then passed Grosjean around the outside of Turn 1 on the restart – a move he had used to pass Mark Webber’s Red Bull earlier in the race – and then took the lead when Vettel’s engine stopped further around the same lap.
It was a gripping battle as the combination of the fast-wearing Pirelli tyres and a perfectly judged DRS overtaking zone finally cracked the problem of overtaking at Valencia. There were fights up and down the field, positions changing and collisions.
Alonso celebrated his win by parking his Ferrari and waving a Spanish flag in front of his fans. It’s his second F1 victory in Spain, along with his 2006 triumph at the Circuit de Catalunya.
3. 1985 Brands Hatch
The 1985 race was held at brand hatch circuit and boy what a nail biting race it was! Coming to the race the defending world champion Lauda was unfit following a wrist injury in Belgium and John Watson took his place. On Saturday, senna claimed 6th pole of the season and in the process averaged 140.106 miles per hour (225.479 km/h) which was the 1st time anyone had lapped the circuit faster than 140 mph. nelson piquet lined up 2nd and Nigel Mansell at 3rd. championship leaders Prost and Alboreto lined up 6th and 15th respectively.
It was an incident-packed race that saw the crowning of a new champion and a dramatic run-in between upcoming star Ayrton Senna and old hand Keke Rosberg. The race began and Mansell ran wide at the Druids hairpin. That allowed Senna to get away in the lead with Rosberg right behind him and Piquet ahead of Mansell. On lap six Rosberg lunged down the inside of Senna at Surtees but found the door firmly shut. He spun, and Piquet crunched into him. This promoted Mansell to second, sent Rosberg headed to the pits for repairs, and eliminated Piquet on the spot.
An incensed Rosberg came out of the pits just in time to be lapped by the Senna-Mansell battle for the lead. Rosberg carefully baulked Senna, allowing Mansell through, and kept Senna tucked up while the Englishman made good his escape.
While Mansell was powering off into an un-catchable lead, Alboreto’s world championship dreams were exploding. When his turbo caught fire he made a point of driving the conflagration into the pits and parking it in front of Ferrari, even standing up in the cockpit as it erupted around him. It made his point quite clearly: that Ferrari unreliability had cost him the championship.
Rosberg charged past Mansell to un-lap himself and set about slicing through the field. He eventually passed Prost to take third place and stand on the podium next to uncomfortable-looking Senna.
But away from the front battle, it was actually Prost who turned in the drive of the year to lift up first of his four World Championship trophy. As a result of Rosberg’s bad start, Alain Prost was forced onto the grass on the left side of the track to avoid putting his McLaren in the back of Rosberg’s car. While Rosberg got away safely, Prost desperately struggled to regain control of his car, dropping back to tenth before the first corner. He finished his first lap in 12th position, well behind his only remaining Championship rival Michele Alboreto. He slowly made his way up the field again, making an important move as he passed Michele Alboreto. When Mansell was claiming the top spot with the help of his team mate Rosberg Prost had already moved up to 6thjust one place short of his title. And by the time one Ferrari caught and burned in flames in the pits the other Ferrari tried its best to keep Prost at bay. The Ligier of the veteran Laffite caught up with the duo and passed them both. Prost pitted for new tires came out in 8th and started his charge up and went up to 6th place setting a new lap record in the process. A lap later the French executed a daring lunge on the inside and took that 5th place he wanted. Further retirements meant he moved up to 3rd but Keke Rosberg who was on a charge himself following an incident with Senna that dropped him to the back of the field took the position from Prost with just 13 laps to go. Alain Prost wasn’t very eager to defend his place at all costs since a fourth place behind the Williams was more than enough to ensure the title. After just over one hour and 32 minutes, that was how they finished. Nigel Mansell secured his first win with an impressive gap of 41 seconds over Ayrton Senna. Keke Rosberg was the man of the race in third, while Alain Prost claimed his first World Championship in fourth place.
2. 1993 Donington
A wet weather condition and Senna, a perfect recipe for a miracle on track. Senna is inarguably the best to have ever graced the sport, his sheer dedication, commitment and philosophical outlook towards racing combined with his acute sense of awareness, car control and balance elevated the Brazilian to the greatest honour the sport provide. In simple terms, Senna was magic but his was really apparent in wet conditions be it the 1982 Monaco or 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix. And one such race was the 1993 Donington Grand Prix that to date is labeled as the best ever first lap in an F1 race.
The 1993 race was tough for both Senna and McLaren, after absolutely dominating the field for the last couple of years, the Woking based team was on the wane in the wake of a surging Williams F1 team. McLaren had tried everything to return to the forefront again with multiple engine supplier changes but to no avail. Senna was clearly disappointed fighting for the wins in a clearly inferior car while his arch-rival Prost looked set to walk away with the title that year. Amid such looming came the Donington race that shifted the spotlight on him again. In qualifying dominated by the Williams, the McLaren came 4th and everyone thought the win was going to Prost. On race day, Senna fell down to 5th but then came that magic opening lap when under the intensifying rain Senna went from 5th to 1st in a matter of 1 lap. The race itself was far from over, though, the track dried and everyone pitted for dry tires but the rain returned forcing the drivers to pit again. Schumacher stayed out on dry tires but soon spun out. The track again dried and the drivers dived for the pits but Senna encountered a problem and lost the lead to Prost. The rain god’s game was far from done as the drops emerged again, while the Williams pair pitted Senna stayed out and was proven correct as the track dried almost immediately eliminating any challenge to his position. The Brazilian also posted the fastest lap by driving through the pits as the track’s configuration meant that that pit entry provided a shortcut. In the end, Senna won by lapping every car on the track barring Hill’s Williams in the 2nd place but finished more than a minute ahead of him.
The 1999 European Grand Prix was held at the Nurburgring in Germany and was the 14th race of the season and holds the esteem of being the most exciting race of that season and a shock win for Jonny Herbert. Coming to the race Hakkinen and Irvine were both tied for the championship and Frentzen merely 10 points behind. Qualifying was held on a wet track allowing Frentzen to claim his 2nd career pole position. Race day though was far from being the usual procession with 2 formation laps and a turn turtle Sauber. The race began with Frentzen in the lead followed by Hakkinen, Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher , Fisichella and Irvine. The rain appeared but disappeared as quickly catching Hakkinen off guard as the Finn had pitted for wet tyres which made him fall back in the order. However, the biggest shock came to Irvine as he dived into the pits following a late call from Ferrari to fit new dry tires onto his car. The Irishman followed suit but disaster awaited him, akin to what happened to Ricciardo at Monaco this year, as his crew was not ready for him and the late call for dry tires meant the crew scrambled but could only find 3 tires and the 4th one was found almost half a minute later. At the front Frentzen and Coulthard lead the race and if the order had stayed the same Frentzen, Irvine and Hakkinen would have all been tied for the championship lead with just 2 races to go.
But then came the series of heartbreaking retirements. Frentzen came to a grounding halt following an electrical problem. Coulthard led the race until the rain appeared again as he slid off the road and the race on lap 38. The younger Schumacher took the lead and pitted 6 laps later to join in 2nd position as Fisichella led and by this time the rain had stopped. On lap 49 Fisichella spun and Ralf too lost the lead owing to a right rear puncture. Amidst all this chaos Jonny Herbert had quietly moved up the ranks by pitting at the right time and duly took the lead and went on to win the race but behind him the championship leaders were running in 6th and 7th but Hakkinen pressured Irvine forcing the latter into a mistake and took the 6th place and went on to catch the Minardi of Marc Gene and took the 5th place. Irvine, on the other hand, was unable to pass the gritty Spaniard and finished just outside the points. The result of this out of point finish would be felt at the end of the year as it would go on to rob the Irish the championship title. Had he finished 6th and gained that 1 point he would have been 2nd in the standings with just a point adrift of Hakkinen and many believe with him being this close, Schumacher would have allowed him to take 2nd place from him in Japan later that year which would have resulted in Irvine being the champion by 1 point!