Jody Scheckter recalls the race infamous for providing F1’s biggest-ever multi-car pile-up
10: Purists recoil at the notion of getting excited about accidents in motor racing, but the massive Silverstone pile-up triggered off by Jody Scheckter in 1973 made such an impact that it’s etched on the memory of every fan.
At the end of the first lap the young South African, in just his fourth grand prix, took a wide line into Woodcote having just rounded his McLaren team-mate, the wise old Denny Huhne, who had waved him by. But Scheckter got wider and wider and, on the exit of Woodcote, finally lost it – with disastrous consequences.
“I’d been blistering my left-rear tyre in practice, so we put on a harder compound for the race,” explains Scheckter. “But we did not have a scrubbed one, so I started with a brand-new tyre. It needed a few laps to heat up, but at that age I was just flat out…”
At 160mph he slewed across the track. “I hit the pitwall, then slid a long way facing it. Then I thought: ‘If I let the brake go now I’ll just stay here.’ But I rolled backwards into the track.”
At first the pack missed Jody, but then Carlos Pace’s Surtees got sideways under heavy braking and Jean-Pierre Beltoise’s BRM hit him. Pandemonium.
“I looked around and cars were crashing everywhere it was like a battlefield,” adds Scheckter.
Eight cars were eliminated, but the only injury was Andrea de Adamich’s broken ankle.
The restarted race was a good one – Jackie Stewart spun and Peter Revson took a well-judged maiden GP win. TS
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Did you know
• Surtees came close to extinction after all three TS14s were destroyed in the shunt. John Surtees sought out the culprit, but Scheckter was well hidden!
• This was the day James Hunt showed his star quality – fourth, and fastest lap.
Brands Hatch 1970
There was drama on and off the track as Jack Brabham was denied a win yards from the line
9: A bemused Jochen Rindt summed it up: “I didn’t win today – Jack lost.”
For the second British Grand Prix in succession the Austrian had been involved in one of the great duels. And, just like 1969, he had to cede the lead as the race drew to a close; but this time the win was given back to him – twice.
Jack Brabham, now 44, drove a masterly race. His BT33, one of the last spaceframe cars, looked outdated next to the sleek Lotus, but showed its class. So did ‘Black Jack’; his patience was rewarded.
Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari had led initially, but after six laps its diff failed. At that moment Rindt was pulling off a mesmeric overtaking manoeuvre on Brabham, the duo rounding Paddock side by side before Rindt swept past Ickx.
Brabham stayed close to Rindt for 62 laps – waiting patiently for the new 72 to break. It didn’t, and so Brabham went for it. With 11 laps to go, he made his pass, set fastest lap and built a 14sec lead.
The chequered flag was ready. Yet it was Rindt who came into Clearways first – Jack had run out of fuel. Brabham designer Ron Tauranac explains: “The fuel ran out because the mixture had been left on the rich setting used for starting and warm-up. The mechanic responsible should have altered it on the grid.”
Brabham crept in second; a bitter pill after his similar gift to Rindt at Monaco earlier that year.
But the drama wasn’t over yet.
Post-race, the stewards threw the Lotus out for its rear wing being too high – but after a 3hr hearing this was overturned thanks to imprecise measuring. Jack had been denied again.TS
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Did you know?
• Rindt’s reinstatement to the results proved crucial – without that win Ickx would have overhauled his points tally, and he’d have lost his posthumous title.
• Emerson Fittipaldi made his F1 debut in a Lotus 49C, finishing a solid eighth.
‘Home’ victories are a treat for any crowd, but John Watson’s charge sent this lot delirious
8: “There is a difference between winning and finishing first” So said John Watson after his victory in the 1981 British Grand Prix. But his semantics carried no truck with the 100,000 Silverstone crowd. A win was a win was a win — and nobody deserved one more than he. They went nuts. “I’ve never seen a response like it, not even at Monza. I can’t get used to the idea it’s me they’re cheering for.”
Aboard John Barnard’s carbon-fibre MP4, Wattie had been third in Spain and second in France, and he knew he had an outside chance of completing the sequence at Silverstone. That was until the unwieldy turbo Ferraris burst off the line and got in the way, allowing the Renaults of Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux to make an early break. Then, on lap four, Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari ‘artic’ jackknifed in front of him at Woodcote. “I couldn’t see what was going on because there was so much tyre smoke,” explained Watson. He didn’t quite come to a stop, but he was into first gear before he was able to accelerate back into the race — in ninth.
By lap 18, however, he was second, courtesy of some typically incisive passing manoeuvres and the misfortune of others. Only Arnoux lay ahead, and on lap 51 the little Frenchman’s V6 turned sour. Watson was now taking 3-4sec per lap out of his lead and, by lap 61, was close enough to try a move at Copse. The pass was inevitable, and ‘Wattle’ sliced by at Becketts. He was seven laps from home. The crowd willed him there. TS
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Did you know?
• The story of practice was the row over the twin-chassis Lotus 88Bs. The cars were thrown out of the meeting.
• Elio de Angelis stormed from his black-flagged Lotus 87 as a marshal was about to wave him into the race.
Johnny Herbert remembers the emotional day when his comeback to racing was completed
7: With 15 minutes to go, Bob Herbert abandoned his post. It was a risk leaving the Johnny Herbert Fan Club stall unattended, but his son was about to score a maiden grand prix win. Unleashed, he charged through the Ford hospitality area waving a Union Jack, startling Sauber’s coffee-sipping hospitality guests.
In the cockpit of his Benetton, the younger Herbert was just as jubilant. Fifteen laps from home he had inherited the lead of his country’s grand prix after the title contenders, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, had tangled and gone off as the latter tried to retake his early lead.
“When I arrived at Priory and first saw Damon and Michael off, I was just concentrating on the infield section,” says Johnny. “It wasn’t until I exited Copse that it registered: ‘Wow, I must be leading the race.”
Second Williams driver David Coulthard was catching Herbert, but then came the news that the Scot faced a stop-go for pitlane speeding. “Soon after I took the lead I learnt David had a penalty, so then I had no pressure.”
DC actually passed Herbert before diving into the pits, leaving Johnny with a healthy lead over Jean Alesi’s Ferrari.
For a partisan crowd, most of which had come to see Hill, Herbert was the ideal surprise winner. They were witnessing the completion of a gritty comeback from terrible leg injuries. It felt like that for Johnny, too.
“The main aspect of that win,” he says, “was realising that everything I had struggled against to get back into racing was now all being made worthwhile.” TS
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Did you know?
• Hill and Schumacher weren’t the only two drivers to tangle controversially. Rubens Barrichello retired after a late spat with Mark Blundell’s McLaren.
• Herbert was the first team-mate of Schuey to win a race in five seasons
Froilan González recalls the famous day he had the all-conquering Alfas over a barrel
6: Was it going to be yet another victory for the seemingly invincible Alfas? Probably. But what the huge crowd at Silverstone did not know, as they waited for the start that day, was the forecast Juan Manuel Fangio had confided to his countryman and rival, Jose Froilán González, during the week before the event. From the office of his car dealership in Buenos Aires, González recalls: “I drove round the circuit with Juan [Manuel Fangio] and, after some time, when we got back to pits, he told me: ‘If nothing goes wrong with your cars [the Ferraris], one of you will win here on Saturday’.”
González proved his great pal right. Starting from pole position, the ‘Pampas Bull’, opposite-locking and steering the Ferrari on the throttle in that flamboyant style, captured the lead after a couple of laps and then exchanged it, and fought for it, with Fangio, until the latter had to stop for fuel.
“At about the middle of the race, Fangio and I were quite a way ahead of the rest, and I knew he would have to stop before I did,” González continues. That is what happened. Fangio’s thirstier Alfetta came in for a long refuel, leaving González comfortably out in front. “The Alfa Romeos had about 20 or 25 more horsepower than us, but our Ferraris used less fuel and they adapted better to the circuit. My mechanics kept warning me from the pits to take it easy because of the fuel situation. They did this by waving a fuel funnel. But I had plenty of fuel left; I even had my reserve tank to fall back on. When I finally stopped, they only threw in some 20 litres. From then on, I took it easier.”
Returning to the track after a swift 30sec stop, González held a big lead and proceeded to his (and Ferrari’s) first world championship GP victory, his absolute win of wins.
But many observers were surprised that he had been allowed to finish what he had started. Alberto Ascari, the team’s number one, had retired on lap 56 of 90 because of a gearbox problem, and he was prominent in the pits as his teammate rolled to a stop. Would he hop in the car and complete the job, as he had done to finish second in the French GP just two weeks earlier?
González: “I was not surprised that Ascari did not ask me for my car when I stopped, because by then I had a contract with Ferrari, under which it was not necessary for me to hand over my car. At Reims, yes, because for that race I had stepped into a Ferrari, you could say, by chance.”
It made sense to keep González in the car, too: he loved Silverstone and excelled there – he would win its GP for a second time in 1954.
“It was a great place to race at and my Ferrari 375 felt very at home on it. It was terrific to drift the car on the curves at the back of the circuit – I can’t remember its name. But we needed a lot of air in the tyres for them not to come off the wheels when we were sliding the cars at such high speed.
“Other than that, it was a safe circuit really, because there were not many things to hit if you spun off. You only had to be careful with the barrels on the corners – they had sand inside them.” TW
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Did you know?
• The BRM V16s of Reg Pamell and Peter Walker were allowed to start from the back of the grid despite failing to complete a practice lap. They finished fifth (Parnell) and seventh.
• González was using an older 12-plug Ferrari 375 whereas his team-mates, Ascari and Luigi Villoresi, were in the newer 24-plug versions. Villoresi finished third, two laps down.
• For the race González wore a British Patey helmet supplied by Herbert Johnson of New Bond Street, London. The days of the linen skullcap were numbered.
Bette Hill recalls when Graham lost a race, but stole the show
5: Tony Rudd was at the end of his tether. BRM’s Dutch GP win of 1959 was a quantum design shift away as the team, and its technical chief, wrestled with the complexities of the new rear-engined car, the P48. He was seriously considering jumping ship.
Hill felt he was at the start of something big. He’d never doubted his ability to succeed at this level, and thirds at Zandvoort and Spa were pointers to better things to come. But he needed a keynote performance, a win preferably, to silence the critics. When he wasted his front-row slot by stalling at the start and setting off last, it seemed unlikely that this race would provide it.
Seventy-one laps later he slid backwards into the bank at Copse. He was, however, leading by then.
As Graham’s number 4 rose inexorably up her lap chart, his wife Bette stayed stoic, commendably accurate. She was possibly even more convinced by Graham’s talent than he was. “There was no point getting excited. I was there to do a job for BRM,” she says. She had to be on her mettle such was her husband’s meteoric progress.
Graham was 23rd on lap one, his stationary P48 having survived a nerf from the Cooper of Tony Brooks at the start. By lap five he was 11th. On lap nine he whistled past the Ferraris of Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips to be seventh. He was fifth by lap 22. Ten laps later he was third.
Yet despite this traffic, he was consistently 1sec per lap faster than Jack Brabham in the leading ‘Lowline’ Cooper. The Aussie had just come off a hat-trick of GP wins; the BRMs had suffered a disaster at the preceding French GP. This was not running to script.
Once past the Lotus of Innes Ireland on lap 37, Graham began chipping away at Brabham’s lead. ‘Black Jack’ was not one to roll over easily, and it took the BRM 15 laps to latch onto his tail. But there was no denying Hill. He set a new fastest lap on lap 54, took the lead on lap 55, and put his marker on it with another fastest lap on lap 56— two-tenths quicker than Brabham’s pole position time. The BRM sounded crisp — a second GP win looked to be on the cards.
But there was a problem. At around the 50-lap mark, Hill had felt his brake pedal begin to go mushy. That single disc on the back of the gearbox was playing up again. And Brabharn was hanging in there, keeping the pressure on. Which is why, on lap 72, just five to go, Hill felt obliged to dive past two slower cars entering Copse. He spun.
Just another BRM disappointment. Except that it wasn’t.
“Graham was pragmatic about it,” explains Bette. “He walked back to the pits, was met by long faces, and simply said, ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake’.” A simple statement that struck a chord. Rudd knew that now he had a no-nonsense driver capable of winning races. He would stay at BRM.
“Tony and Graham hit it off because there was no bullshit between diem, and they worked as hard as each other. BRM was getting better — they could both see that.”
The switch in 1961 to the 1.5-litre F1 caused the team more heartache, but the Hill-Rudd axis, forged that day at Silverstone, saw it through to its glory years of 1962-65. PF
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Did you know?
• Stirling Moss dropped the Union Flag to start the GP, this being his first day out of hospital since sustaining serious injuries while practising for the Belgian GP at Spa.
• In only his second GP (and his first season of car racing), John Surtees finished second in a Lotus 18. He would start his next GP, Portugal, from pole and lead it for 25 laps.
• Lotus boss Colin Chapman proved that he could still hack it as a driver by winning the touring car support race in a Jaguar 3.8 MkII. In doing so, he beat Jack Sears’ similar car.
Brands Hatch 1976
The Hunt vs Lauda rivalry hits fever-pitch in front of a volatile home crowd
4: The 1976 British GP was not a great race in itself, but as an event it has a special place in F1 history. Never had a British crowd shown such emotion at a motor race, and never had a winner lost a victory retrospectively in such acrimonious circumstances.
As the season had progressed, the public’s support of James Hunt had begun to gather momentum. And his reinstatement as the winner of the Spanish GP meant that passions at rivals Ferrari were running high when the teams arrived at Brands.
Ferrari struck back when Niki Lauda took pole. But Hunt was alongside and, on raceday, a 77,000 crowd was fully behind their new hero. At the start, Lauda got away well but team-mate and third qualifier, Clay Regazzoni, attempted to take the lead on the run to Paddock. The two 312T2s collided, and while Niki caught a big slide, Regazzoni went into a lazy spin, fluid spouting from a ruptured radiator.
In his book Against All Odds, Hunt described the extraordinary sight: “I was able to enjoy it for half a second because it was wonderful, extremely funny, for me to see the Ferrari drivers take each other off the road. But it quickly became obvious that I was in it too…”
James clipped Regazzoni’s rear wheel, and the M23 was flicked into the air before thudding back down. He crawled away from the scene, and only the damaged cars of Regazzoni and Jacques Laffite were left behind. Nevertheless, the race was stopped.
Rounding Druids, Hunt saw the signals and pulled into the back of the pits. As the teams prepared for the restart, the fun started. The rules were not as clear-cut as they are now, but the FIA ‘yellow book’ did say that ‘… all runners at the time of stopping will be allowed to take the restart’.
As the spares of Hunt, Regazzoni and Laffite were pushed onto the grid, the debate began. Had Hunt been running or not? No, was the initial answer, and when that was announced, the baying, sun-baked spectators made their feelings known. Missiles were thrown onto the track, and alarmists were talking in terms of a full-scale riot.
As the arguments raged, McLaren successfully repaired Hunt’s original race car, strengthening his case. “The left-front corner ofJames’s car was damaged,” says team boss Teddy Mayer. “We took it all off, put another one on and lined it up. Alastair Caldwell [team manager] did it while I played politics. The guys did a great job; in the end the car was all right and was ready for the restart.”
Hunt was eventually allowed to take the restart in his original car. He chased Lauda and passed him on lap 45 to score a hugely popular victory. However, it was not over, and later Mayer and Ferrari team manager Daniele Audetto argued their cases.
“It’s not easy to fight with Teddy, because he’s a lawyer,” says Audetto. “Even if, morally, the problem was generated by Ferrari, I had to do my job. James didn’t complete the lap and made repairs, and that was against the rules.” Lauda, who had by then been injured at the ‘Ring, was awarded the win in September. But Hunt’s charge from there was relentless, and a title awaited. AC
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Did you know?
• The 1976 British Grand Prix was the first time that Brands Hatch’s all-new central paddock and pits were used; all agreed they were “very spacious”. How times change.
• The lapsing F1 career of the brilliant Jacky Ickx hit its nadir at Brands. Unable to qualify the Wolf-Williams for the fourth time that year, the Belgian split from the team.
• At the FIA’s September hearing over the British GP, Ferrari paraded in Niki Lauda as its star witness, and re-bandaged his burns especially to engender sympathy. It worked!
Were you there when Moss finally ended Britain’s GP jinx? Imagine if you had been…
3: Your Dad’s keen: He’d been a spectator at the 1925 French Grand Prix at Montlhéry, and witnessed Caracciola’s last great drive, in the rain and over the cobbles of the 1939 Swiss GP at Berne. He’d made sure, too, that his 1930s business trips abroad coincided with the Dieppe GP. Your mum has more than a passing interest, too, having been bowled over by the Silver Arrows at both Donington grands prix. But it’s your badgering as an impressionable 15-year-old that has persuaded them to climb aboard the Manchester-to-Liverpool train. A short hop on an ‘electric’ from Liverpool Street and you’re there: Aintree, for the 1957 British Grand Prix. Your first GP.
Easing through the turnstiles, you hear revving engines. You’re champing at the bit and your parents are left trailing as you elbow your way towards the front of the crowd overlooking the right-hander at Tatts. Archie Scott-Brown in the green-and-yellow Lister bursts into view, sideways on a damp track. It’s everything you’d expected — and more.
The sun comes out for the main event and the Ferrari mechanics park the 801s on the grid. Four blaring megaphones — what a noise! And quick, there’s Fangio, signing autographs perched on the nose of his Mercedes road car. And there’s the man everyone has come to see: Stir!.
There’s an energy about the place, an expectancy: today is going to be a Vanwall day, surely? Tony Brooks’s 1955 Connaught victory at Syracuse had whetted the appetite, and Stirling’s International Trophy win in ’56 had proved that the oddly shaped Vanwall has the speed to succeed at this level. But ‘proper’ grands prix are few and far between, and the country is still waiting for the ‘big one’.
Which is why a groan rolls along the grandstand as Moss, comfortably in the lead after 20 laps or so, misfires his way along the start/finish straight. GAV calls the injured Brooks in and Moss, ever the athlete, hops onto the rear tyre and springs into his second Vanwall cockpit of the day. It’s not over.
From your terraced viewpoint you can see directly into his cockpit as Moss flies around the track. Okay, so he’s not going to win, but the excitement is building as the PA barks out another lap record for the crowd’s hero. And another. And another. Hey, maybe he can get third. Perhaps second. And then it happens. So quickly. Jean Behra’s clutch goes bang and Mike Hawthorn punctures on the debris. Moss is leading: a British driver in a British car at the home GP. The crowd hardly dares breathe lest it adversely affect the teardrop car in green.
The last few laps take an eternity. But when the wait is over the crowd exhales onto the track, sweeping you with it. Earl Howe says a few words. Stirl is interviewed. The throng listens intently. Then claps and cheers itself silly.
Still euphoric, it’s back across the road and onto the Liverpool-bound ‘electric’. The excited chitchat is ‘Stirling this, Moss that’. And by the time you arrive back in Manchester, it’s sunk in: a new era has dawned. Your dad says he thought he’d never see the day. But you have.
And how can I, born 10 years after the event, be sure of the details? Simple, I asked my dad. Like all fathers, he was 15 once. PF
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Did you know?
• This win was the third and last time that a winning car was shared by two drivers. The others were: Fagioli/Fangio (France, 1951) and Musso/Fangio (Argentina, ’56).
• Behra’s 47 laps in the lead at Aintree were the most he ever managed in a single world championship race. Prior to this he’d led just two races (for nine laps in total) since 1952.
• Moss’s fastest lap – 1min 59.2sec on lap 53 – was the first 90mph lap of Aintree’s Grand Prix layout. His Vanwall’s exact average speed was 90.604mph.
Jackie Stewart recalls an on-the-limit dice with his fiercest, most trusted competitor
2: Two close friends. Two intense rivals. The two best drivers in the world: one the fastest, the other the most complete. One at the wheel of the fastest racing car of its era: Lotus 49B; the other in the most complete: Matra MS80.
Without question, Stewart and Rindt were head and shoulders better than the rest. But there was a major disparity between the two: results. JYS was seven wins into an F1 career that would bring him 27 victories; Rindt was yet to get off the mark — the pressure was starting to build. He had the speed, did he have the nous? His F2 record suggested he did. In the two-and-a-half years of the 1600cc formula that preceded this British GP, he had won (including heats) on 29 occasions; Stewart had won on 11.
“Jochen was a very polished driver,” says Stewart, “but he was very aggressive at that time. I don’t think he’d yet learned how to win without going flat out. I’d discovered the key to that in 1968.” And how. Stewart’s Matra had won four of the first five GPs of ’69. In doing so, he had spent 248 laps in the lead; Rindt had led for 33 laps in the same period.
Lotus was in disarray; Rindt and Chapman were at daggers drawn. ‘Chunky’ was adamant that the 4WD 63 was the way to go; Rindt vehemently disagreed. In contrast, Tyrrell was in control: Stewart was first man out in practice (Lotus arrived late), and he and Ken Tyrrell were on the same wavelength. Even when a loose kerb burst Jackie’s right-rear and rotated him into the sleepers, he calmly climbed into Jean-Pierre Beltoise’s car to qualify it second behind Rindt. There was no chance of repairing the damage for the race, so he would have to race this car, too. But there was no panic. Ken even decided not to swap engines. This continuity meant JYS would be 600rpm down with a 1968-spec DFV.
He lost the clutch at the start, too, as Rindt got the jump. Into Stowe for the sixth time, though, JYS lanced down the inside. Ten laps later Rindt outfumbled him as they lapped backmarkers. “Not only were we racing each other,” explains Stewart, “we also knew what to do in order to pull away from the others; it never crossed our minds to block. What was special was that we were both going flat out and not making mistakes.”
On lap 50 of 84, Jochen led by 3sec — the biggest gap yet. Jackie responded with two fastest laps.
“There would have been some push and shove in the later laps,” chuckles Stewart. Unfortunately, we were denied it. “That Lotus was fast but fragile, and a rear-wing endplate came loose and started to rub on a tyre. I got alongside Jochen and warned him.” The resultant pitstop cost Rindt 34sec. He then ran out of fuel on lap 76, and the resulant splash-n-dash dropped him down to fifth, which he converted to a disappointing fourth on the last lap.
The Matra ‘fluffed’ towards the end, too, but JYS coolly switched over to his reserve tank. He had all the bases covered. He had driven flat out for 62 laps, and kept up the pressure on a car that was running (unexpectedly) light on fuel — so perhaps he was the fastest as well as the most complete. PF
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Did you know?
• Four 4WD cars started this race: two Lotus 63s (John Miles and Jo Bonnier), a Matra MS84 (Beltoise) and a McLaren M9A (Derek Bell). Beltoise and Miles were ninth and 10th.
• There should have been a fifth 4WD car, but the Cosworih was withdrawn before the meeting had started. Trevor Taylor was its listed driver.
• Pedro Rodriguez was having his first GP with Ferrari since Mexico in 1965. He lined up seventh on the grid but retired with engine failure after 61 laps.
Patrick Head explains how finishing 1-2, one lap ahead of the rest, can be very stressful
1: This Grand Prix is best remembered for Nigel Mansell’s successful pursuit of Nelson Piquet. Not just because it was a no-quarter contest between two great drivers, but because the Englishman was the local superstar, the Brazilian his nemesis. As these Williams team-mates battled for the lead with a little over two laps to go, the reaction from the partisan crowd momentarily drowned the sound of the engines.
When Mansell and Piquet first came together at Williams in 1986 they were never going to be friends — they just about tolerated each other’s presence.
“Their relationship was always pretty frosty,” recalls Williams technical director, Patrick Head. “When Frank finalised the deal with Nelson, which I think was at Austria in 1985, Nigel hadn’t won a race, or even shown that such a thing was likely to happen. Then, all of a sudden, he came on really strong when the car made progress towards the end of that season. So when Nelson came into the team, Nigel had already won a couple of grands prix and was raring to go, ready to go out and win the world championship.
“Frank had been telling Nelson, ‘You’ll be number one, Nigel will back you up’, and all this sort of stuff. And, of course, when Nelson arrived it wasn’t like that at all! Meanwhile, Frank had had his accident at the beginning of ’86, so he wasn’t there to referee and sort it out. And I had not been made party to any of the conversations that had been held between Frank and Nelson. I looked in both their contracts and it didn’t say that one would play second fiddle to the other. Frank was almost on his deathbed and I just ran the team according to what was written down on paper.”
The rivalry between Piquet and Mansell slowly developed during 1986. Nigel gave his home fans something to cheer when he beat Nelson in that year’s British GP at Brands Hatch, but despite the pair’s dominance of the results, the title went to McLaren’s Alain Prost
Boosted by his Adelaide tyre failure, the British driver’s popularity was continuing to grow and, by Silverstone in 1987, Mansellmania was gathering momentum, although it hadn’t reached the levels of ’92.
“He was enormously supported,” says Head, “but it felt uncomfortable, because it was a blind adulation. I didn’t like that aspect of it.”
Nigel was on pole five times in the first six GPs of 1987 and won at Imola and, just a week before his home event, at Paul Ricard. Meanwhile, Piquet took a string of second places, but failed to score a victory. Despite the obvious pace of the Honda-powered FW11B, both Ayrton Senna (Lotus) and Prost were ahead of the Williams duo in the points standings as the F1 circus arrived at Silverstone.
In qualifying, Piquet just pipped Mansell to take his maiden pole for Williams, and his sights were firmly set on his first victory of the year. With third qualifier Senna more than a second slower than Mansell, it was clear that the British Grand Prix would be a two-horse race.
And so it proved, apart from a brief moment at the start. In those pre-launch control days both Williams drivers struggled to get their Honda power onto the road, and Prost shot past into the lead. Within a lap, however, he had been demoted to third as Nelson and then Nigel powered back past
The pair then settled down into a rhythm, with Mansell some 3sec behind his rival and looking quite comfortable. After some 12 laps, though, Nigel began to suffer a front wheel vibration. Although it didn’t cost him too much time to the race leader, he soon reasoned that he had little to lose — and everything to gain — by making a pitstop to change to a new set of tyres.
Head: “We didn’t do refuelling in those days, but it was sometimes planned to do one stop for tyres. Nigel fell back in the first stint because, for whatever reason, he had an out-of-balance set of tyres. I cannot remember why — it either threw a balance weight or a tyre shifted on the rim. It was obviously shaking like hell and he dropped reasonably far behind. So he came in early to change his tyres.”
Mansell pitted on lap 35 of 65 and, when he resumed, Piquet was now some 28sec up the road — with 29 laps to go. The maths were easy, and it was not lost on Nigel. With his new rubber, he really began to motor. However, Piquet responded and, initially at least, the gap shrank only slowly. But as the Brazilian’s tyres lost their edge, it came down. With a dozen laps to go, Mansell was 11.6sec behind — and closing.
Head: “I think we were sitting there and thinking, ‘Well, Nelson’s in a good position’. It only became clear later in the race that Nigel was taking great chunks, a second a lap or more, out of Nelson’s lead. Projecting it towards the end indicated to us that he was going to be in a position to challenge Nelson. It was slightly uncomfortable for us, in that he was driving at a phenomenal rate and was breaking the lap record lap after lap after lap. But it was a fantastic drive to watch.”
With just three laps to run, the inspired Mansell closed inexorably onto Piquet’s tail. Wisely, he made the most of his momentum and, rather than wait for a clear chance to pass, he went for it sooner than anyone thought possible, least of all his team-mate. On the rush down the Hanger Straight to Stowe, Mansell darted to the left to look at the outside line. Transfixed by the image in his mirrors, Piquet went the same way. In an instant, Nigel switched to the inside, plunging into the gap his team-mate had presented. There was room.
But only just
Mansell pulled off several unbelievable moves during his career, but this was perhaps the best.
Head: “I just thought, ‘Oh shit, I hope these two don’t take each other off!’ I have to say it was very stressful — for both Frank and I.
“That grand prix at Brands Hatch in 1986 and then also this one at Silverstone produced stunning performances from Mansell and Piquet. It’s not as if Nelson failed to deliver; he finished second in both of those instances, with Nigel the victor, but on each occasion he had driven superbly.
“They lapped everyone — they were just miles ahead.” AC
* * * * *
Did you know?
• This was the first grand prix at Silverstone to use the new left-right chicane at Woodcote. The alteration extended the lap by 0.037 of a mile and stayed in use only until 1991.
• During his chase of Piquet, Mansell recorded no fewer than 12 laps faster than his teammate’s fastest — and Nelson’s fastest was almost a second quicker than the next best.
• Satoru Nakajima scored his best GP result, fourth, in a Lotus 99T. He equalled this two years later at Adelaide in a Lotus 101-Judd. He set the fastest lap on the latter occasion.
• Piercarlo Ghinzani was thrown out of the meeting for having his stalled LigierJS29C refuelled and bump-started out on the circuit during practice. He was fined $2000, too.