Journeyer’s Grand Prix retrospective was a popular addition to the site last month. He’s back again with a look back at the last three Turkish Grands Prix and other F1 races that have taken place in the east.
The F1 circus is now en route to Istanbul Park, one of the newer circuits on the calendar and owned by Bernie Ecclestone himself. While recent history may suggest that Grand Prix racing is new to the Islamic world, further study and research would show that many races have already been held in the Islamic world.
In most cases, they were held before F1 even existed! So before we take a look back at the Turkish GP, let’s take a quick peek at the previous GPs in the Islamic world.
The Tripoli Grand Prix was first held in 1925 on a road course (not a circuit) inside the Libyan capital. When Libya fell into Italian control following Benito Mussolini’s invasion in 1933, the Italians pushed for a new circuit to be created at Mellaha Lake, not very far from Tripoli.
Although the race was run under Formula Libre rules (a free formula with no restrictions), the circuit seemed to favor the big three Italian marques: Bugatti, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo. Drivers like Tazio Nuvolari and Achille Varzi did the winning for those teams.
However, when the Germans began to beat them with the Mercedes fleet in the mid-1930s, they changed the event to a fixed formula of 1500cc cars. Future Formula 1 World Champion Giuseppe Farina won the last Tripoli GP in an Alfa in 1940.
While Libya was in the hands of the Italians, Algeria was a French colony.
Like Tripoli, the first races here (from 1928-1930) were at first held under Formula Libre rules, then switched to the 1500cc formula for the fourth and last race in 1934. With that in mind, all drivers who won here were French – Marcel Lehoux, Philip Etancelin, and Jean-Pierre Wimille, all in Bugattis.
Tunisia was another French colony, but the races – held in Tunis – were not as friendly to the French as compared to the races in neighboring Algeria.
Races began to be staged in Bardo in 1928 and 1929, before moving to Carthage from 1931-1937. All the races were held under Formula Libre rules. Surprisingly, Italians – led by Varzi and Nuvolari – won most of the races. The French only won twice – at the first race with Lehoux and the last race with Raymond Sommer.
Among Islamic nations, only Morocco had the privilege to stage an actual Formula 1 World Championship race (as all the previous countries only staged non-championship races) – although this would not be until the last race in 1958. Before then, non-championship races were held from 1925-1934 and 1954-1957.
As for that 1958 race, it was the final round in the world championship – and the title deciding round for Stirling Moss in the Vanwall and Mike Hawthorn in the Ferrari. Moss was 8 points back, so needed to win and take fastest lap with Hawthorn finishing third or lower. While Moss won the race, Hawthorn finished 2nd – thus taking the title.
However it was not a happy day – fellow Briton Stuart Lewis-Evans died six days after the race due to burns he suffered when his car’s engine blew and caught fire.
After this, Formula One would never return to an Islamic nation for another 46 years.
The al-Khalifa family (who rule Bahrain) were interested in bringing Formula One to the Middle East for the first time. They first met Bernie Ecclestone at the 2002 Italian GP and started discussions for a desert race.
It came to fruition in 2004 with a circuit on what used to be a camel farm in Sakhir. The circuit was designed by Hermann Tilke and was described by Jenson Button as “half-Melbourne, half-Sepang”. However, the event does not quite have the popularity of the European races, as can be seen by the half-empty stands on Sundays.
In the 5 years it has been held, Ferrari have won it thrice (one with Michael Schumacher, and two with Felipe Massa) and Renault won it the other two times (both with Fernando Alonso).
Bahrain is the only circuit on the calendar not to use champagne on the podium (due to their alcohol ban) – they use a local Bahraini pomegranate juice, named Waard, instead (much to the disappointment of Kimi Raikkonen, who barely drank any of his at the podium this year).
Finally, we come to Turkey. Since we’ve only had 3 races here, I’ll cover the memorable moments from all 3 races.
The first race saw no contest for first place. Kimi Raikkonen pretty much walked this one – at least after that cracker of a first lap where Giancarlo Fisichella jumped Kimi at the start, only to get re-passed within the same lap! Fernando Alonso was also trying to get in the mix as well.
However, there were two major collisions here. First, Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber went for the same piece of tarmac towards the end of lap 14, putting them both out of contention.
Then second placed Juan Pablo Montoya threw away what should have been McLaren’s first one-two since Austria 2000. He braked too early at Turn nine, which meant that Tiago Monteiro (whom Montoya was lapping) had no time to avoid him!
Montoya went off and lost time, allowing Alonso to close – with just three laps to go! Montoya then went off at Turn eight a lap later, giving up second to Alonso.
The second race will be remembered for two things: first, it was Felipe Massa’s first win. However, second place was a totally different situation.
It saw a huge duel between Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso – who were battling for that year’s championship. Alonso managed to snatch second from Schumacher at the pitstops and never gave it up.
This was also the year Lewis Hamilton came from the back of the pack to finish second in the GP2 sprint race.
Hamilton was not as lucky in his first F1 race, though. He was not fast enough to challenge the Ferraris, who were dicing for first place. Massa won again, but it was a lot tougher this time, with teammate Kimi Raikkonen hounding him until the end.
It was Hamilton who provided the drama, though, when his front right tyre blew, forcing him to give up a certain third place to Alonso (who was contesting his 100th Grand Prix). Lewis managed to hold off Heikki Kovalainen for fifth.
I have a feeling this year’s edition could be very good. Combine the four-apex turn eight with a lack of traction control (this will be the first no-traction control F1 race here), and we just might get a lot of thrills and spills during the race.
This guest post was written by Journeyer. If you’d like to write a guest post for F1Fanatic you can find more information about writing for the site here.