Motoring

Autosport writers’ favourite F1 British Grands Prix

A capacity crowd of 400,000 people are expected to visit Silverstone over the course of the British Grand Prix weekend, with many hoping for a spectacular climax in Sunday’s main event.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that the British public were treated to a fine racing spectacle, as the Northamptonshire venue has played host to a number of incredible races over the decades.

From home heroes such as Nigel Mansell and Lewis Hamilton sending the crowd into raptures, to more infamous incidents, Autosport has picked out some of our favourite moments:

1987, Mansell’s famous dummy – Kevin Turner

Race winner Nigel Mansell, Williams FW11B Honda

Race winner Nigel Mansell, Williams FW11B Honda

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Few drivers have captured their home fans’ imagination as much as Nigel Mansell did in his pomp. Being on British soil seemed to bring out the best in the tough racer and the 1987 grand prix at Silverstone has to be regarded as one of Mansell’s greatest performances.

The Williams-Honda FW11B had a significant advantage over the opposition at that point of the season and Mansell arrived having won the previous weekend’s French GP.

Mansell was outqualified by bitter rival and team-mate Nelson Piquet, who averaged nearly 160mph as he pipped Mansell by 0.07 seconds. After a brief challenge from the fast-starting McLaren of Alain Prost, the race became a duel between the two Williams drivers.

Piquet held a narrow advantage until Mansell dived into the pits on lap 35 of 65 with a vibration, caused by a suspected lost wheel balance weight. This was a time before mandated tyre stops and, with a 28.4s gap to make up in 29 laps, Mansell had work to do.

And he did it. Throwing caution – and his fuel readout – to the wind, Mansell repeatedly smashed the lap record with his fresh rubber. With 10 laps to go the gap was 7.5s, five laps later it was 1.7s.

On lap 63, Mansell sold Piquet his famous dummy on Hangar Straight, moving to the outside, then diving to the inside at Stowe to take lead before the Brazilian could close the door. It must be one of Mansell’s most satisfying overtaking moves and gave the Silverstone crowd the sort of drama it wanted.

“Real gritty stuff” is how Williams co-founder Patrick Head describes Mansell’s drive, which netted victory by 1.9s. Mansell ran out of fuel on the slow-down lap and was surrounded by track-invading fans.

PLUS: Grand Prix Gold – 1987 British GP

1995, Herbert wins at last – Charles Bradley

Jean Alesi, 2nd position, Johnny Herbert, 1st position, and David Coulthard, 3rd position, celebrate on the podium

Jean Alesi, 2nd position, Johnny Herbert, 1st position, and David Coulthard, 3rd position, celebrate on the podium

Photo by: Motorsport Images

A purely personal pick this, as it was my first British Grand Prix as a Motoring News staff writer, and it felt like payback that Silverstone gave our office a wad of free general admission tickets – after all the years I’d never been with my dad as it was too expensive!

Pa’s logic was we could go to a season of nearby Oulton Park clubbies for the cost of a trip to the GP, and his logic paid off as I got into journalism through reporting on those. Also, it meant I’d seen a lot of this tousle-haired Essex lad called Johnny Herbert racing in Formula Ford 1600, FF2000 and Formula 3. He almost ran me over in the paddock in his Racing for Britain-badged Golf GTi in a wheelspinning rage after his Eddie Jordan Racing Reynard had blown its VW engine in practice in 1987.

Despite that near miss, I was a huge fan and was as sad as anyone about his career-threatening Formula 3000 crash at Brands Hatch. So to be there in person, stood on the spectator bank at Copse Corner as he won his very first Grand Prix, was amazing.

That season he was getting his ass tanned, like many before and since, as Michael Schumacher’s team-mate at Benetton. He lined up fifth on the grid, 1.5s off Schumacher’s pace, as he went toe-to-toe up front with Damon Hill’s Williams.

Hill led from pole as Ferrari’s Jean Alesi made a blinding start to grab second (check out his first lap onboard on YouTube, it’s epic). Schumacher ran a one-stop strategy, so two-stopper Hill rejoined behind, but very much in touch and on fresher tyres. The Briton caught Schumacher but rushed his attack on lap 46, clattering into the Benetton at Priory and taking them both out of the race. Oh, the groans from the grandstands!

Suddenly the lead battle was between their number two drivers: Herbert leading David Coulthard – but the latter was stung by a 10s pitlane speeding penalty. The Williams passed Herbert at Stowe, but soon took his stop/go at the end of the pits, elevating Alesi to second. The other moment that sticks in my mind was Max Papis loudly smacking against the pit exit barrier – if you ever wondered why his Arrows spun off at Becketts moments later, now you know…

Herbert stroked it home for his first F1 victory at the 74th attempt, and while the Silverstone faithful were upset about Hill’s misfortune, they cheered the Benetton driver to the hilt. A bit like the disappointed Coulthard on the podium, the pain of defeat was nothing compared to what Herbert had been through to get to his moment of glory. Oh, how the grandstands cheered!

2003, Barrichello stars amid protest chaos – Stefan Mackley

Track invasion by former priest Neil Horan could have resulted in disaster

Track invasion by former priest Neil Horan could have resulted in disaster

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

The 2003 British Grand Prix is infamously remembered for the track invasion by disgraced priest Neil Horan, whose antics down the Hangar Straight could have ended in disaster.

But it should also be remembered for the scintillating performance by Rubens Barrichello, who stormed to victory after hunting down and passing Kimi Raikkonen for the race lead. It was a rare weekend where the Brazilian had the upper-hand on Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher throughout, qualifying on pole and some nearly seven-tenths faster than the German.

But as the lights went out fellow front-row starter Jarno Trulli jumped into the lead followed by Raikkonen from the second-row with Barrichello slotting into third. Having regrouped, the Ferrari driver capitalised on a small mistake from Raikkonen into Club and completed a pass around outside into the Abbey chicane.

Horan’s track invasion on lap 11 brought out the safety car and chaos in the pits, as Barrichello dropped behind Raikkonen again and rejoined eighth with the Toyotas of Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis heading the field having not stopped.

Raikkonen was the driver on the move at the restart though, immediately passing Trulli and team-mate David Coulthard before inheriting the lead once Da Matta had pitted. By this stage, Barrichello was running second and on lap 32 the lead gap stood at 9.5s but eight laps later – and after both had made their second and final stops – ‘Rubinho’ was within striking distance.

Having looked to the outside of the Abbey chicane again, Barrichello had the cutback and inside line into the flat-out right of Bridge. As he backed out Raikkonen ran wide, putting two wheels on the grass and allowing Barrichello through after a superb charge. 

Raikkonen would slip to third before the flag behind Juan Pablo Montoya after running wide at Stowe, while Barrichello took the win by over five seconds – and 25s ahead of Schumacher in fourth.

It was arguably the greatest of the Brazilian’s 11 grand prix victories, and certainly up there with his maiden win at the German Grand Prix in 2000 – ironically the last time a lunatic had gained access to the circuit.

2005, Montoya magic wins the day for McLaren – James Newbold

Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren MP4-20 Mercedes, Fernando Alonso, Renault R25

Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren MP4-20 Mercedes, Fernando Alonso, Renault R25

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The 2005 British Grand Prix was objectively not a thriller, but it did give us a tantalising snapshot of a lost F1 rivalry.

Juan Pablo Montoya’s acrimonious exit from McLaren during the 2006 season marked a premature end to the Colombian’s explosive F1 career – which had been instrumental in getting this writer hooked on motorsport during an era dominated by Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. And it meant we had precious few opportunities to see him in combat with fellow 2001 rookie Fernando Alonso.

Having traded Williams for McLaren for 2005, it’s fair to say that Montoya’s first season in silver hadn’t gone entirely to plan. He missed two races early in the year through a shoulder injury, and arrived at Silverstone without even a podium to his credit as team-mate Kimi Raikkonen fought Renault driver Alonso for the title (although he’d lost a likely win in Canada to a bungled pit call and was third when he lost hydraulics at Magny-Cours, compromising his running order for one-shot qualifying at Silverstone).

But Raikkonen’s latest Mercedes engine failure in practice and the resulting 10-place grid penalty presented Montoya with an opportunity to challenge Alonso at the start. From third on the grid, Montoya outdragged second starter Jenson Button’s BAR on the run to Copse before going wheel to wheel with Alonso, powering around his outside into a lead he’d never lose. Autosport called it “a flawless performance” as Montoya got off the mark with McLaren for his first of only three wins at the team.

“There are going to be many great battles between these two in the coming years,” predicted Autosport, “and here was the first.”

The race would surely have been a different story if second-fastest qualifier Raikkonen had not started in the midfield, and Alonso was put on a conservative strategy to cover Raikkonen that robbed him of the chance to fight back at Montoya.

But whatever the circumstance, two of the most entertaining drivers of the decade produced a moment that this 10-year-old fan cherished. That we never got the chance to see a Montoya versus Alonso title fight is a real shame.

2008, Hamilton’s wet weather masterclass – Matt Kew

Race winner Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-23 Mercedes

Race winner Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-23 Mercedes

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

There’s not much behind this choice: simply a great drive and no grip. In the 17 August 2017 issue of Autosport magazine dedicated to ‘Rainmasters’, the 2008 British Grand Prix was voted the fifth-best wet Formula 1 race of all time. And when we ranked Lewis Hamilton’s 103 victories, his afternoon exploits at Silverstone on 6 July 2008 came out top. Nigel Roebuck even reckoned his performance was “Senna-esque”. Here’s why…

Let’s start with context. Hamilton entered his home race in poor form, including his Canada pitlane gaffe and penalty in France that left him fourth in the points. Some were using that as an opportunity to take cheap shots by questioning Hamilton’s commitment due to his off-track endeavours. He then struggled in the dry conditions to qualify only fourth on a day that McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen scored pole.

But what Hamilton achieved on the Sunday was truly brilliant. To the delight of the fans and aspiring Autosport writers watching at home, he nailed Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber off the line to challenge Kovalainen into Copse and stuck on his six before passing into Stowe on lap five. Cue more grandstand cheers.

On a day when many struggled to keep the car pointing in a straight line, including chief championship rival Felipe Massa who spun no fewer than five times, after the first round of pitstops no one saw Hamilton again. He lapped everyone up to and including fourth-placed Raikkonen and ended up 69s ahead of runner-up Nick Heidfeld.

The mixed fortunes of the BMW Sauber drivers should also earn a mention. Heidfeld was superb, delivering double overtakes for fun while Robert Kubica binned it in the gravel.

At a time when a 10-year deal for Donington Park to host the British GP had been announced, Silverstone fought back with one of the very best to take place on sodden UK soil.

2018, Support paddock drama – Jake Boxall-Legge

Santino Ferrucci, Trident

Santino Ferrucci, Trident

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

After a good few years of Mercedes dominance, the 2018 British Grand Prix caught the title battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel in its pomp before the Ferrari driver’s charge for a fifth championship win faded in the second half of the year.

Vettel came into the British GP a point ahead, and charged into the lead from second on the grid ahead of Hamilton. As Hamilton dropped behind Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen put the Mercedes driver into a spin at the third corner. Hamilton then had to contend with an early charge back through the order as Vettel disappeared into the distance.

A lap 32 safety car, brought out for Marcus Ericsson’s crash at Abbey, brought the Mercedes into play as the two stayed out as Ferrari pitted both cars for a second time, putting Bottas in the lead. Thus began a phenomenal duel between the red and silver machines in the summer sun, with Vettel getting past the Finnish driver with six laps remaining to cement victory – as Bottas dropped behind the battling Hamilton and Raikkonen by the end.

So, why was this race memorable for me? Back when I was working the PR role for Formula 2 and GP3, the Sunday races were so early that I’d managed to finish work, dropped people off at the hellhole of Luton Airport and make it home in time to watch the race – in the meantime, a stewards’ email dropped stating that then-F2 driver Santino Ferrucci had been banned for two rounds for intentionally driving into team-mate Arjun Maini. He also got fined for driving from the national paddock to the F1 pitlane with a glove off, filming it on his phone. I laughed, wrote the press release, and laughed once more.

Following the Saturday feature race, Trident had expressed concern that Ferrucci had driven into the back of Maini on that particular drive to the paddock, which had broken the rear jacking point of the Indian driver’s machinery and thus resulted in a very slow pitstop after Maini had qualified seventh for the race.

Back then, there were only four or five drivers loaded up with the on-board camera, so there was no video footage that Ferrucci had committed that particular offence. We suggested to the FIA that we take the camera off of Jack Aitken’s car and stuck it on Ferrucci’s for the sprint, if only to see if he did it again. And he did.

It wasn’t a secret that Ferrucci and Maini couldn’t stand each other, and I have a never-used audio of a Trident “team-talk” feature I did with the two somewhere on file. It’s a difficult listen, and I cut the interview short as the atmosphere in the team’s truck was horrific. Maini, to his credit, apologised.

Ferrucci later told IndyCar writer Marshall Pruett on his podcast that “going into the weekend, I am alone in the team. I have no family, I have one physio that stays with me, versus he and his whole family”. One can confirm that Mr and Mrs Ferrucci were, in fact, in attendance at Silverstone that weekend…

2020, Hamilton wins on three wheels – Alex Kalinauckas

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11 with a puncture on the final lap

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11 with a puncture on the final lap

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

The first 49 laps of the 2020 British Grand Prix were utterly forgettable. But after Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz suffered dramatic left-front tyre failures on their respective Mercedes and McLaren cars, the last tour capped what will go down as one of Lewis Hamilton’s most-famous wins.

The event will also be remembered – alongside the 70th Anniversary GP a week later – for the painful absence of fans at Silverstone due to the restrictions required during COVID-19 pandemic’s early stages.

The economic shutdown that followed its initial arrival caused Autosport magazine to pause for the first time in our then 70-year history and after so much uncertainty regarding present and future dreams in motorsport journalism, the sense of accomplishment and determination being on-site covering that year’s first Silverstone race for the returned mag is the driving force behind this choice.

After edging pole having trailed Bottas for most of qualifying – which included an uncharacteristic Q2 spin while trying to traverse that segment on the slower mediums – Hamilton dominated. But his team-mate was an ever-present threat in what was a fine performance from the Finn, as was that produced by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen behind in third.

Bottas’s pace was so strong both Mercedes drivers were pushing the limit of their tyre management skills having taken hards five laps earlier on a one-stop strategy than Pirelli recommended during the safety car period that followed Daniil Kvyat’s Maggots crash.

The wear from those long stints and forces exerted on tyres that were designed for slower machines in 2019 (with the ultra-high-downforce W11 surely set to go down as one of the best F1 cars ever built, go back and look at how its drivers were able to just fling their machines around Silverstone that day two years ago) were ultimately blamed for what followed.

Red Bull pitted Verstappen to chase the fastest lap bonus point as soon as he passed the hobbled Bottas when the first Mercedes punctured occurred as he had just passed the pits, not to know what was about to happen to Hamilton.

In scenes he felt were reminiscent of his suspension-damaged triumph in the opening race of the 2003 Formula Renault 2.0 UK, the British driver survived two-thirds of the final lap driving essentially on three wheels as Verstappen charged in vain to try and beat him. Called home by the impressively steely-nerved, uber-calm Peter Bonnington, Hamilton won by just 5.8s having had a 34.2s lead the lap before his tyre blew.

“I’ve definitely never experienced anything like that,” he exclaimed from behind a required facemask after climbing from his W11 and inspecting the ruined rubber in parc ferme.

Hamilton inspects the damage to his blown tyre after the race

Hamilton inspects the damage to his blown tyre after the race

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images


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