Twenty-two years ago Britain was comfortably supporting two Grands Prix – never mind struggling to run one.
Star attraction was home hero Nigel Mansell who took his first Grand Prix win at the European round at Brands Hatch in 1985.
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.
By 1985 all the major teams were running turbos but it was only late in the season that Williams got on top of the reliability problems with their Honda and found they had a prodigiously powerful unit on their hands. Rosberg used it to set the fastest ever lap of a Grand Prix circuit at over 160mph at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone earlier that year.
He and team mate Mansell shared the second row at Brands Hatch as pole position was taken for the sixth time that year by Senna’s Lotus-Honda, alongside fellow Brazilian Nelson Piquet in his Brabham-BMW.
Meanwhile the championship battle was being fought between Alain Prost (sixth, McLaren-TAG Porsche) and Michele Alboreto (15th, Ferrari)
The crowd roared as the race began but fell quiet as 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.
Senna defended robustly from Rosberg which was calculated to displease the Finn as he had voiced strong criticism of such tactics the previous year when Mansell had used them at Dallas.
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.
It’s hard to imagine that happening with today’s rules on blue flags and team orders!
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 unlap himself and set about slicing through the field. He eventually passed Prost to take third place and stand on the podium next to an uncomfortable-looking Senna.
But the crowd had eyes only for the winner, Mansell. And, just like Lewis Hamilton this year, Mansell followed it up with another win at the very next race.
Britain had a new F1 star. And France had its first world champion.
Grand Prix flashback
- Mansell wins in Piquet’s car
- Lauda begins title defence with victory as Hunt shunts
- Alboreto wins – but Ferrari decline begins
- 25 years ago today: Prost wins from 13th, Mansell stuns Berger and Senna hits 100
- 20 years ago today: F1’s last race with a full grid