Formula 1 is rich in history. Across 65 years of competition, the sport has seen some revolutionary machines grace the best circuits on the planet, with unlikely success stories and memorable characters providing the various plots and sub-plots. Last weekend, Brands Hatch provided the venue for a blast from the past, as cars from yesteryear pounded round the former home of the European Grand Prix. Fortunately, I was one of many enthusiastic fans who had traveled to Kent to witness the spectacle and I am pleased to report that F1’s past is just as breath-taking as the documentaries suggest.
While many of the cars on show would not look out of place in any automotive museum or even art gallery, seeing them in their natural habitat was a joy in itself. The FIA Masters Historic Formula One Championship is a fantastic series, showcasing the cars which were synonyms with 1970’s and 1980’s motorsport. It is the only historic Formula One category in Europe.
Adorning their period liveries, the field of iconic machines included the Brabham BT49. Famous for taking Nelson Piquet to the 1981 championship title, the car featured in four consecutive seasons from 1979, taking seven race victories in the process. Currently owned by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, (owner of the Brabham team in the subject era), it is one of the most successful entries in the series line-up.
However, others are no less iconic. The Lotus 91, designed by legendary technical pioneer Colin Chapman, was the class of the field at Brands, claiming two race victories from a possible two. Famously featuring the John Player Special black and gold livery which is still associated with Lotus to this day, the car was the most easily recognisable in the field. It competed in the 1982 season, claiming victory at the Austrian Grand Prix in the hands of Elio de Angelis. Nigel Mansell was the man behind the machines only other podium visit.
Also providing the entertainment were a collection of iconic, (that word again), Williams’. The FW07 and the FW07C ran in close proximity to each other throughout the opening race and were accompanied on the circuit by the FW08C – the car in which Jonathan Palmer made his Formula 1 debut back in 1983, coincidentally, at Brands Hatch for the European Grand Prix of that year.
The venue itself was the perfect location for such an event to take place. Fans were able to see the cars from Brands’ fantastic vantage points and viewing the drivers fighting oversteer on the exit from Druids before thundering into Graham Hill Bend was truly remarkable. I can only imagine the thrill of witnessing a full field of cars traverse the notorious undulation changes which give Brands Hatch it’s character.
Undoubtedly, however, the most spectacular and jaw-dropping element of the event was the noise which the cars created. Since the introduction of the V6 powertrain’s, I have been quick to dismiss claims that the noise is an important element of the show. While I still maintain that to not watch or attend F1 races due to a lack of amplitude is a touch over-dramatic, I find myself short of suitable adjectives when attempting describing the noise of each and every car on display last Sunday. The ground shook as the cars roared past South Bank on the opening lap. It was awe-inspiring.
Even with just the V10 Benetton B196 and Judd-powered Lotus 101 on track completing demonstration runs during the lunch-time intermission, the noise was electric. The V10 era lasted from 1995 until 2005 and therefore, hearing the scream of the Benetton was somewhat of a throwback to my earliest memories of watching Formula 1 and seeing Michael Schumacher’s red rocket win countless races.
By now, I have emptied my inventory of superlatives. My first experience of 1970’s and 80’s Formula 1 will certainly live long in the memory. A European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch must have been an astounding spectacle.