Starting in style

The Bahrain Grand Prix was a bit of a stonker – and there’s nothing like a cracking first race to set you up for the season. Ben Evans reviews some of his favourites.

Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1980

The 1980 season was a belter and this was a particularly cracking race. Lots of dicing, and a super-fast circuit that actually began to melt after only a handful of laps, conspired to provide a great race. The nature of the circuit (enormous straights and twisty infield) ensured that some drivers were stronger on some parts than others, and the disintegrating surface made ever corner a new adventure.

Alan Jones was the eventual winner after spinning and running wide on the decaying track. Local hero Carlos Reuterman broke down in the early stages and Gilles Villeneuve was lucky to walk away from a monster shunt. In short an incident packed and entertaining race.

Kyalami, South Africa, 1982

A race that is best remembered for almost not happening at all.

For reasons best known to himself FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre decided to change the terms of drivers’ licences to bind them to their teams. Understandably the drivers were less than happy and, led by Formula One returnee Niki Lauda, decided to go on strike and barricade themselves in a local hotel. Eventually they were coaxed and finally started practice on the Saturday afternoon.

Rene Arnoux took an excellent win in the race but team mate Alain Prost starred, recovering from a puncture to almost catch Arnoux from being a lap down. The race was also noteworthy for being Carlos Reuteman’s final podium finish before he disappeared off into retirement, depressed by the form of team mate Keke Rosberg who would become champion that year.

True to form, Balestre laid the smack down on the drivers once the race was done.

Jacarepagua, Brazil, 1989

After McLaren dominated 1988, 1989 was expected to be more of the same. But it was new Ferrari signing Nigel Mansell who came away with the win following a remarkable drive. Although the 1989 Ferrari was both fast and pretty it was an achievement for the car to reach the end of the pit lane without breaking, let alone complete a lap. The all-new semi-automatic gearbox was a particular source of concern.

Such was bullish Brummie Mansell’s confidence in his car’s reliability that he booked a flight home scheduled to depart before the race had finished. Imagine, then, his surprise at surging into the lead and staying there. A shame then that after winning the race against all odds the sharp edges of the trophy shredded the palms of his hands.

Perhaps even more remarkable was Johnny Herbert’s drive to fourth, barely few months after his leg-shattering Formula 3000 accident at Brands Hatch.

Kyalami, South Africa, 1993

1993 is not remembered for great races – the European Grand Prix apart – but the opening round was packed with incident.

Damon Hill spun out of second halfway round the opening lap on his debut for Williams, and a few laps later Alessandro Zanardi comprehensively took him out of the race. Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher fought thrilling wheel-to-wheel exchanges through the opening laps.

Finally, a thunderstorm on the last lap caused havoc among the remaining cars. Christian Fittipaldi gave Minardi their equal-highest-ever finish of fourth place. JJ Lehto scooped fifth for Sauber on the team’s debut. And Gerhard Berger took sixth for Ferrari despite having a blown engine, as Derek Warwick had spun out of the position on the final tour. Madness!

Interlagos, Brazil, 1994

This race gave us a taste of the epic Schumacher-versus-Senna struggle we could have had in 1994, had it not been so tragically curtailed. The new Williams was fast but extremely tricky, whilst in contrast Michael Schumacher’s Benetton was stable and driveable over a race distance.

Furthermore it was a clash of generations as Schumacher was rapidly emerging as Senna’s heir. In the event Schumacher took the win and Senna spun out in a desperate attempt to catch the German.

Further back the midfield formation crashing team opened the new season with an accident so bizarre I doubt it could be repeated. Martin Brundle was very lucky to emerge in one piece after taking a header from Jos Verspappen’s Benetton. The Benetton was sent skyward through the combined efforts of Eddie Irvine (Jordan) and Eric Bernard (Ligier). Irvine was unlucky to receive a one-race ban afterwards – and even more unlucky to have the ban tripled after he (rightly) appealed.

Albert Park, Australia, 1996 – Australia – Albert Park

If its an opening race and there’s a big shunt it must involve Martin Brundle. Two years after the Interlagos incident, Brundle hit David Coulthard, who was taking evasive action, and flipped upside down over the gravel trap into turn three. It was a big off: Brundle was lucky to walk away and mad to take the restart.

The race itself was also dramatic due to the battle between Williams team mates Hill and newcomer Jacques Villeneuve. The latter had the edge in pace all weekend on the new circuit and took pole at his first attempt.

As the race progressed the Canadian’s Williams lost pace, allowing Hill through to take victory, eventually leading to the world title in Japan eight months later. Although Villeneuve failed to equal Giancarlo Baghetti’s record of winning of his F1, his drive sent shockwaves through the establishment.

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