F1 Fanatic guest writer Journeyer is back with a two-part series on the history of the European Grand Prix.
The European Grand Prix is an oddity. It’s unique in that it doesn’t necessarily represent a single country, but a whole continent. Various versions of the name have been in use ever since the world championship began in 1950. The history of the name is as varied as the races.
1950 – Originally, the Grand Prix of Europe (as it was then known) was not a separate round of the Championship. Rather it was an honorary title, assigned in rotation to a Grand Prix from Europe. Silverstone got the honor of the name in 1950, but it was also bestowed on F1 races at Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort, Monaco, Monza, and other circuits in the following two decades. This was last done in 1977 when the title was given to the British Grand Prix of that year.
1983 – The Grand Prix of Europe’s return was actually not planned: it was only designated to be a stopgap measure. The F1 calendar for that year had a US GP East planned at Flushing Meadows, New York. But when the race was cancelled, another event had to take its place. Brands Hatch volunteered to be the substitute race. But with Silverstone already hosting the British round that year, another name had to be used. Thus, the Grand Prix of Europe was (re)born.
The actual race, though, was relatively unremarkable. Championship contenders Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost fought it out, with Piquet taking the win. Nigel Mansell gave the British fans something to cheer about, with third place in his Lotus.
1985 – The 1983 solution was so popular, it was kept on the calendar and Brands Hatch hosted the European Grand Prix again. Mansell made the home fans go nuts once more – this time, with his first Grand Prix win. Also that race, Prost finally broke his championship duck and took his first ever drivers title.
But the Grand Prix of Europe was not so lucky. It was dropped for 1986 – and replaced with the Hungarian Grand Prix.
1993 – The European Grand Prix’s second return to the calendar was also unplanned. Just like ten years before, it acted as a stopgap measure, this time to replace the failed Asian Grand Prix at Nippon Autopolis in Japan. And just like 10 years before, a British circuit volunteered to take its place. This time, it was Donington Park who took the challenge of hosting the (now renamed) European Grand Prix.
This was the first F1 race ever held at Donington Park, but it hasn’t returned here yet. Only recently was a deal signed for the British Grand Prix to be held here from 2010.
The race was one of the classics. Arguably Senna’s greatest drive ever, his first lap alone was mind-blowing as he darted through the field from fifth to first.
1997 – Another circuit to host the European GP was Jerez in Spain. This too was a last-minute change after the Portuguese Grand prix was dropped due to problems with the Estoril circuit.
Jerez had held the Spanish Grands Prix from 1986-1990, and the European Grand Prix in 1994. Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve went head-to-head for the championship in 1997. We all know what happened there, of course…
This was also where Mika Hakkinen took his first Grand Prix win from teammate David Coulthard. But even that took place under some questionable circumstances. It was just as amazing as the 1993 race, but for all the wrong reasons.
There was more controversy to come. The mayor of Jerez wasn’t invited to the event, but he crashed the podium ceremony anyway. As a result, the World Motorsport Council banned Jerez from hosting Grands Prix again. While the ruling was rescinded, Bernie Ecclestone and FOM have never approached Jerez to host a Grand Prix since.
It’s another Spanish circuit hosting the European GP this weekend: the street circuit of Valencia, but before this year, the European Grand Prix was often held at the new Nurburgring circuit. We’ll go into detail about that tomorrow.