British Grands Prix through the decades


60 years ago

Did he or didn’t he? When Stirling Moss popped the question many years later, the always classy and enigmatic Juan Fangio insisted that he hadn’t: “No, it was your day.”

Even Stirl still isn’t sure. There are, however, several aspects of his maiden World Championship Grand Prix victory of which there can be no debate:

He felt more comfortable in the Mercedes-Benz W196 at Aintree thanks to the addition of an interlock mechanism to the car’s reversed gear pattern. Prior to this he’d had a tendency to change directly from second to fifth.

He chose a more accelerative final drive than did Fangio.

He qualified on pole – his first at the highest level – with a lap two-tenths better than Fangio’s best.

Twice he had to pass Fangio on the road during the race.

He “went as fast as I damned well could.”

He was more aggressive in traffic.

He led all bar 10 of the 90 laps.

He set the fastest lap on lap 88, matching his pole time to do so.

He crossed the finish line with a two-tenths advantage.

And he placed the winner’s laurel wreath around runner-up Fangio’s neck.

Apparently there had been no formal discussion prior to the race about team orders within Mercedes-Benz. But, of course, it occurred to Moss that he might be allowed to win his home GP.

And if he wasn’t, well, he would “at least make him [Fangio] work hard for it.”

The Englishman held his biggest lead of the day when, according to Moss, team manager Alfred Neubauer hung out the ‘PI’ board, meaning piano for gently. (Some observers reckoned it the ‘RE’ board, meaning regulare for hold station.)

Exiting the final corner of the last lap the pair were nose to tail. Moss glanced anxiously over his right shoulder and gestured, all the time accelerating as hard as he could. Fangio, meanwhile, swept to his left.

It looked for all the world to be a staged finish – on Fangio’s part at least.

Motor Sport’s editorial and report between them got it about right.

The former stated: ‘Those who watched the race with expert eyes will appreciate how much Moss has learned from Fangio, and how, had he wished, the invincible Argentinean could have won this race.’

And the latter: ‘Moss drove impeccably to be allowed to stay ahead.’

If he was gifted the victory, he’d surely had to earn it.

From the archive: Moss in the master’s wheeltracks (1998)

50 years ago

It was for 50 laps a typical Jim Clark-at-Team Lotus performance: devastating early laps to create a gap – a “moral advantage” according to Denis Jenkinson of Motor Sport – that he could then control with apparent ease.

But, was that a misfire?

The 32-valve version of Coventry Climax’s FWMV V8, supplied only to Lotus and Brabham in 1965, was more powerful but less reliable and used more oil than its predecessor. A broken camshaft, for instance, had forced Clark to win the recent French GP at Clermont-Ferrand using a two-year-old chassis fitted with an old-spec 16-valver.

The repaired 32-valver arrived late at Silverstone and with it Clark had been able to make a successful dash for pole.

Once the fast-starting Honda of Richie Ginther had been dealt with on the opening lap, he’d been free to set the race pace, too.

But now, despite an extra oil tank that contained 2.25 gallons, surge at the airfield track’s fast, sweeping corners was causing his Lotus 33’s pressure to sag alarmingly.

Clark’s brilliant response was to tackle the likes of Woodcote in neutral in order to keep the revs down. That he had to do this without losing too much time to the closing BRM of perennial rival Graham Hill made his balancing act even trickier.

Hill, in turn, was coping with spongy brakes. Despite them, he set the race’s fastest lap on its last lap – but still fell 3.2sec short of his target.

Clark had won his fourth British GP in succession.

From the archive: Peter Windsor makes the case for Clark as the greatest British world champion (2012)

40 years ago

It had been a frantic race even before the cloudburst that caused its chaos, confusion and culmination after 55 laps: 16 crashes, and seven different leaders combining for eight changes of lead.

Four of the eventual top-six finishers – Carlos Pace, Jody Scheckter, James Hunt and Mark Donohue – ended their races in the barriers/sleepers/catch-fencing. Of those, Pace and Scheckter had enjoyed two spells at the front, and Hunt one.

Three other leaders – Tom Pryce, pole-sitter for Shadow, Clay Regazzoni and Jean-Pierre Jarier – also crashed. The first two were leading at the time.

Pryce was caught out by the first burst of rain after 20 laps. So, too, was Jim Crawford.

The other crashes came in floods later.

Pace, Scheckter and Hunt ‘joined’ Tony Brise, Brian Henton, Dave Morgan, Wilson Fittipaldi and John Nicholson in the barriers at Club, while Donohue, Jochen Mass, John Watson and Patrick Depailler went off at Stowe.

Ambulances, Ford Transit rescue units and even an official in an Austin Princess – brave man! – were scrambled, their presence on the track adding a Keystone Kops element to what clearly was a dangerous situation.

Reigning world champion Emerson Fittipaldi was among those who chose to stay on slicks during the first storm. Hunt was another. But when the latter’s Hesketh lost power because of a cracked exhaust, the Brazilian’s McLaren moved smoothly to the front on lap 43.

After 13 laps in the lead, in the dry and in the rain, Fittipaldi made a stop for wets. In doing so he unknowingly crossed the finish line while motoring down the pitlane.

It was only right, however, that the calmest man in the joint should be declared the winner, albeit after hours of haggling following the flying of red flags 11 laps short of full distance.

March’s Vittorio Brambilla had been the first of the front-runners to anticipate the storm and to stop for wets. Although he completed his 56th lap in second place, it was scrubbed from the results and he was classified sixth.

Furious team boss Max Mosley protested. He had a point – to be ‘beaten’ by four crashed cars seemed harsh – but lost the case.

He and Brambilla would get their break in the weather a month later in Austria.

From the archive: Rob Widdows interviews Fittipaldi (2012)

20 Years Ago

F***ing Damon Hill! Damon f***ing Hill! At which point the Schumacher fan karate-kicked a Silverstone advertising hoarding and fell flat on his back – without spilling his beer.

Johnny Herbert’s maiden victory that day was not popular with everybody.

The drunken fan was referring to Hill’s failed bid to take the lead on lap 46.

Schumacher called the move “crazy” and likened it to their clash at Adelaide the year before. A grossly unfair comparison.

Hill’s attempted pass clearly lacked the German’s ruthlessness. Indeed, there was a sense of helplessness to it. His standing within Williams was falling and Benetton had again outsmarted his team: Schumacher was on a one-stopper.

Hill, fastest all weekend, emerged from his second stop behind his title rival. On fresher rubber than Schumacher, he had to try something.

He did. It’s just that it didn’t work.

Herbert, too, was battling internal strife. Word was that he was soon to be replaced in the second Benetton by Jos Verstappen.

He kept his head down, however, and inherited the lead, only to lose it three laps later to David Coulthard.

The Scot had been battling an electronic glitch that affected his Williams’ gear-selection. Worse, it caused him to speed in the pitlane.

He heard – or rather saw – news of his resultant 10-seconds stop-and-go – via one of the big screens dotted around the track. His lead had lasted just two laps.

Naturally Coulthard was disappointed but, unlike some, he kept the depth of it to himself: “I have to say, though, that in spite of having lost the opportunity of winning, I could not be happier to see Johnny win, especially after all that he has been through.”

That gracious and genuine sentiment was lost on just one man: Flavio Briatore.

Only kidding. That drunken fan was definitely German.

From the archive: Simon Taylor has lunch with Herbert (2008)

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