A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).
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From the editor Damien Smith
The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…
Welcome to this special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.
It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…
Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.
Then there were those races of prominence, attached to a certain time or place that made them hugely significant. I’m thinking specifically of Belgrade, 1939. Only five entries took the start of a race that didn’t sound particularly scintillating. But as it happened to take place on the very day WWII broke out, we felt it worthy of inclusion. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel’s remarkable maiden GP win at Monza in 2008, for lowly Scuderia Toro Rosso, was left on the cutting room floor. Is that fair? You decide. We also opted to include a few races that weren’t Grands Prix, leastways in name, although the strength of entry was such that they might as well have been…
Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!
Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.
So turn the page, delve in – and whatever you do, don’t take it too seriously.
1977 British GP
July 16, Silverstone
“Patrick Depailler better win, or there will be some bruised heads around here…” I never established the precise source, but during my first night on a Grand Prix campsite this taped mantra crackled repetitively from a nearby tent.
There were other significant cries of support, too, for John Watson, Jody Scheckter and – obviously – James Hunt.
The McLaren driver made a sluggish start from pole, dropping to fourth as Watson led away in his Brabham-Alfa. Having picked off Scheckter’s Wolf and Niki Lauda’s Ferrari, however, Hunt was able to track down the leader. It was a splendid spectacle, no-nonsense cut and thrust between two Brits in their home event, but Watson remained resolute until his luck faltered along with his fuel system and Hunt swept through to victory.
It was a bitter-sweet conclusion to a weekend ripe with firsts – one that began with a pre-qualifying session to sift out the weakest elements in a 36-car entry. Renault was allowed to skip that session with F1’s original turbocharged car (fitted with pioneering radials from world championship newcomer Michelin), but the third McLaren driver wasn’t thus spared. Progress proved to be a breeze for Gilles Villeneuve, though, as he set some corking lap times between countless spins.
His venerable M23 split the works M26s of Hunt and Jochen Mass in qualifying, although a faulty temperature gauge would trigger a needless pitstop that denied him a likely points finish. Running a lap down behind Watson and Hunt, however, he spent a fair while all but matching their pace. A few clues there, then. SA