Kings of the road

As Thruxton prepares to mark its 50th anniversary, we are celebrating with a mini-series picking out highlights from bygone years. This month the spotlight falls on Formula 2 // ADVERTISING FEATURE

It was almost as much a seasonal tradition as chocolate eggs. Easter meant a major international meeting at Thruxton, with a European F2 round as its pivot.

From 1968 Thruxton hosted 16 such races during the championship’s 18-season existence, far more than any other British circuit (Silverstone is second in the table, on nine). The modern equivalent would be FIA F2 pitching up in Hampshire on bank holiday Monday. The world has changed – and in more ways than one.

When Thruxton’s sequence began, the sport had a more open mind. It was an age of greater versatility, when drivers switched regularly between categories – and the early F2 entries pitched established stars (‘graded’ drivers, as the period lexicon called them) against ambitious young hopefuls.

Jochen Rindt won the inaugural Thruxton F2 race in 1968, the circuit’s first year of operation in its current guise, then repeated the feat in the following two seasons. Rivals of proven pedigree included Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Chris Amon, Jacky Ickx and Jo Siffert, while drivers such as Clay Regazzoni, François Cevert and John Watson were earmarked as serious prospects.

The star count dwindled during the 1970s, as F1’s commercial impetus began to reshape priorities, but Ronnie Peterson competed as late as 1975 (when Jacques Laffite won). The Swede was eliminated in a multi-car accident on that occasion, but had triumphed in 1972… with March team-mate Niki Lauda a lap down in third.

Mike Thackwell was the last driver to win a period F2 race at Thruxton (1984), though the series’ replacement – FIA 3000 – also appeared there the following season, future Le Mans staple Emanuele Pirro emerging victorious. That was that, but it had been essential viewing while it lasted.

As a footnote, Thruxton originally hosted car races in 1952-53, on a different circuit featuring a blend of airfield perimeter road and runways. In August 1953, Tony Rolt won an F2 race in which Bernie Ecclestone was listed as a retirement after spinning off in his Cooper-Bristol. When F2 cars returned 15 years later, on a track that’s virtually unchanged today, Max Mosley failed to finish because his Brabham dropped a valve.

It wasn’t only the successful drivers that played prominent future roles in the sport.