Estoril's F1 reprise

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Formula 1 returns to Estoril! How about that for a headline? As with all good headlines, it is the smaller print that tells the real story. And this is a story that will interest anyone who loves historic racing, and who likes to sunbathe on the beach at the end of a long season.

Contemporary F1 cars have not raced at Autódromo do Estoril since the demise of the Portuguese Grand Prix in 1996. Jacques Villeneuve won that September day, leading home Damon Hill in a williams one-two, with Michael Schumacher in third. The race will be remembered for Villeneuve’s audacious move on Schumacher round the outside of the long, curling right-hander that leads onto the main straight, the first and last time anyone would see such a daring manoeuvre in what is now called the Senna corner.

You will recall that Senna won his first Grand Prix at Estoril in 1985, dancing and sliding his Lotus-Renault through torrential rain to take a victory that further pumped up his burgeoning reputation as the fastest man in Formula 1. Raining in southern Portugal?

Do not worry, the Grand Prix was held that year not in its usual September slot, but in April, whereas the Estoril Historic Festival will be staged in October when the weather is decidedly warmer.

Historic racing is growing in popularity in spain and Portugal, and the first to sign up for this new event is the FIA Historic Formula One Championship, which last travelled to Estoril four years ago. the series caters for F1 cars of 1966-85, which means there’s little crossover with the Estoril Grand Prix years of 1984-96. but just so you know, guys, the lap record is held by David Coulthard in a Williams at 1min 22.446sec, set in 1994. this time was set after a hairpin was added at turn nine but before the re-proiling of the aforementioned Senna corner. So we should not get too excited.

Bobby Verdon-roe will be out in his ex-Niki Lauda McLaren mP4/1b, a car that has not raced at Estoril before, and the former British Touring Car racer always spices up a historic F1 encounter.

He’s happy the HFO has chosen to end its season at the Estoril Historic Festival in preference to the Portimão meeting, which is scheduled for october 18-21. originally, it appeared the Estoril races would take place on the same weekend, an irritating and senseless clash. but there are now moves afoot for Estoril to run a week later, on October 27/28.

“The two events on the same weekend would be far from ideal,” Bobby agrees, “but I can’t wait to drive the McLaren at Estoril. we already have Monaco and Silverstone [supporting the British GP], and now estoril to look forward to as well.” It’s been an unseasonably stormy winter on the Portuguese racing scene, with rumour and counter-rumour surrounding the future of the Portimão circuit. allegations of inancial problems, disaffected staff, and doubts about its ability to survive have all done the rounds. but survive it has, and motor racing legends will be supporting a newly named algarve Classic Festival there, as will Carol spagg, who runs the 1000km 1964-71 sports car series
and the U2TC tin-tops. Circuit Director Paulo Pinheiro says this is a firm fixture and will be an annual event in future.

Meanwhile, the ever-enthusiastic Portuguese racing promoter Francisco santos, a stalwart of the historic racing scene, has moved his allegiance along the coast to Cascais and is lining up support races for the headline F1 cars at Estoril. Local fans will be drawn to races for ‘Iberian Gentleman Drivers’, there’s a feature race for pre-92 minis and also a classic rally slalom, reviving memories of the rally of Portugal.

“The move to Estoril is very positive,” Santos told me. “This is a great circuit and it will be exciting to see F1 cars there again. also, it is a beautiful part of Portugal, with wonderful beaches and just 20 minutes from Lisbon. everybody will have a great time.”

Undoubtedly, they will. Estoril is a fantastic circuit in a beautiful part of the world. it’s good to see it back on the calendar.

Rob Widdows