Intended to become a major draw for the important eastern seaboard fan-base, the then Mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, and the Formula One Constructors’ Association boss, Bernie Ecclestone, had agreed that the New York GP had a vital role to fulfil. Flushing Meadow Park, site of the 1964 World’s Fair, would mirror the success of the Canadian race, which was based on the Ile Notre Dame complex, a pair of man-made islands in the St Lawrence River, Montreal, upon which the Canadian World’s Fair had taken place in 1967.
Naturally, it had not escaped anyone’s attention that a major expanse of land offering limited alternative usage was available. With nearby New York City being a cultural capital, as well as a massive, wealthy and cosmopolitan population centre, the glitz and glamour of the Formula One scene would surely weave its customary magic.
However, a combination of poor initial ticket sales instigated a postponement of the race, followed three months later by a small story in the Boca Raton News (June 3rd 1983), which pinpointed that the burgeoning environmental lobby had raised considerable opposition to the event taking place. It seems that they were concerned about the ecological impact, something that has dogged the F1 scene for many years, although the management of it has seldom been less than miraculous. However, delving deeper into the issues, a lack of sponsorship interest and negligible support from the television media led disappointingly and inevitably to the event’s cancellation.
As a result, the famous tarmac at Brands Hatch Circuit, in Kent, just south-east of England’s capital city, London, would resound to the full assault of Formula One and the European GP was re-instigated following a break of around six seasons. At the time, Brands Hatch was sharing the annual British Grand Prix responsibilities with Silverstone Circuit, in Northamptonshire. 1983 was Silverstone’s turn at the helm, which meant that, with a small amount of shuffling, the Kent venue could be readied for the more rigorous demands of F1.
// EUROPEAN STATUS
Just as the United Kingdom is regarded as the focal point for almost any major race teams and on-going engineering developments, Europe has always been central to the Formula One calendar, offering a wealth of purpose-built racing circuits, most of which provide excellent accessibility to international visitors. Yet, for a largely inexplicable reason, the European GP, no longer an honorific race, was slotted into the annual schedule from 1984.
However, the timing caused an issue for Brands Hatch that year, as it was hosting the British round of the Formula One touring circus. The title was granted to Germany and the new, foreshortened Nürburgring circuit, which would avoid the 14.0-miles trek into the hilly and frequently exciting (dangerous) Eifel region, would satisfy the normally well-ordered hordes of German fans.
Brands would see the event again in 1985, before the European race was replaced by the still fairly fresh venue of the Hungaroring, in eastern Europe, in 1986. As the Euro-moniker was unceremoniously dropped, cynics of the period suggesting that it was only ever granted ‘on a whim’, to the ‘venue that created most noise, or complaints’ to Mr Ecclestone, it would be resurrected with notable success for the one and only modern Grand Prix ever to be held at Donington Park Circuit, in Derbyshire, England, in 1993.
The owner of the venue, at that time, was Mr Tom Wheatcroft. A Nottinghamshire-based property builder and developer, Tom was a tremendous racing fan and used his not inconsiderable wealth to redevelop the pre-World War Two Grand Prix circuit, which had resounded to the roaring Mercedes ‘Silver Arrows’ and the indefatigable Auto Union teams of that era.
The racing circuit was deemed ‘almost’ suitable for Formula One and Tom’s persistent approaches towards FOCA and the FISA (F1’s Paris-based governing body) paid off. 1993 would be Donington’s chance. The SEGA-sponsored European GP event became famous for Ayrton Senna’s phenomenal victory in abysmal weather conditions (it is the UK after all) and a tearfully joyous Wheatcroft joined the top three drivers for the customary Champagne spray at its conclusion, in a televisual feast that was beamed worldwide.
The neat little circuit at Jerez, southern Spain, now more famous as the current pre-season F1 test venue, since being dropped from the schedule, assumed the title for the following year. Germany’s Nürburgring managed to wrest the name away for the next couple of seasons, although political issues arose in 1996, which led to the German race being renamed the ‘Luxembourg Grand Prix’, to compete with Monaco and San Marino, the other European tax havens so beloved by the multi-millionaire set.
As you may have gathered by now, the European GP name was being bandied about and treated rather like an ‘award of convenience’, rather than what it should it have been, something ‘special’ to warrant a particular race’s, venue’s or nation’s contribution to Formula One.
As the infamous Portuguese circuit at Estoril had been dropped unceremoniously from the calendar, for the 1997 season, Jerez received the moniker again and became the European Grand Prix base that year. It provided a tempestuous finale to that season, which was renowned for the unfortunate racing clash between Canadian Jacques Villeneuve and Germany’s Michael Schumacher, the latter receiving a disqualification from the series as a result of his anger-fuelled actions.
In some ways, predominantly unwitting and notorious but usually illustrious, the European Grand Prix offered up some enthralling races. While the original intent was now lost in a maelstrom of inter-team, inter-nation and inter-organiser politics, which was as much a mirror of what was happening across the growing relevance of the European Union of countries, Formula One had entered an era of questionable uncertainty. Although unnecessary to highlight it, it was the fans that were keeping the scene alive, while the internecine squabbling continued. There was no Euro GP in 1998.
The Nürburgring re-adopted the moniker in 1999, receiving only murmurings of reaction. It retained the handle until 2007, by which time interest was revived in its potential as a political vehicle. The all-new around-the-port circuit at Valencia seemed to fly the F1 banner high enough to satisfy the governors and, as Spain’s second GP in the calendar, the other being held at Barcelona, the European tag had some relevance once more.
However, we live in an increasingly commercial world. Unable to sell enough tickets or generate enough venue sponsorship, Valencia was placed under the cosh in last year’s on-going reshuffle of the F1 pack. Then, it was determined that the costly harbour venue would alternate with Barcelona for Spanish GP honours, making the European GP redundant…although subsequent discussions suggest that its name will continue elsewhere in 2013.
// CURRENT EURO GP
The bulk of Formula One Racing’s management activities take place in Paris, France, hence the ‘French Connection’ extant in the title of this preview of the 2012 European Grand Prix. Although run largely by British members, the scope of The FISA’s activities, as well as that of the FIA, involves much of the European motor industry too.
Of course, Bernie Ecclestone’s original insistence that ‘no European country should hold more than one race each year’ has been lost in the mists of the past decade. However, a seven years deal had been struck with the Valmor Sport Group in 2007, which is run by former biker, Jorge Martinez Aspar, and the Villarreal soccer club supremo, Sr. Fernando Roig, although the contract runs out next year.
The circuit is really spectacular, although comparisons with the time-served elegance of similarly harbour-based Monaco are unrealistic, as much of the construction work carried out after the German architect, Hermann Tilke, had designed the venue, is entirely new and very clinical. The relative lack of appropriate grandstand viewing space on the infield and the impecunious nature of many of the local residents, despite Valencia’s strong industrial background, does restrict visitor numbers.
Although purpose-built, Valencia is still regarded as a ‘street circuit’ and it embodies the downsides of other similar venues. Dust situated off the racing line is a major issue, arising both from its coastal location and also from the massive amounts of concrete used locally. The atmosphere is dry and hot, as well as being plain dusty. Overtaking is another problem, as many of the straights actually feature gradual, if fast, bends.
According to the drivers, high speeds and heavy braking zones, now complicated by employing just a single DRS zone, demand that the cars feature first-rate traction and stability. Of course, this year’s issues with the choice of Pirelli Tyres is surely going to witness another record being established, for what could be the eighth different driver to win the eighth race of the 2012 season.
So, let’s take a pedestrian lap of the track, with its eleven right-hand and fourteen left-hand corners around a 3.367-miles circuit. As a measure of the newness of the venue and its relative shortage of character, the focal points carry only numerical references.
The start-finish line is located opposite the Marina, where the owners of some of the more prestigious vessels obtain their customary mizzen mast ringside seats. Turn One is a medium speed right-hander, followed by a short straight into Turns Two and Three, which create a bottleneck right-left chicane that demands driver caution, before another short straight adjacent to the Marina.
A slightly longer and faster chicane at Turns Four and Five leads onto a curved section to the left at Turn Six, before a tightening radius right-hander at Turn Seven, just over halfway along its length, where some attempts at overtaking will occur. Then, heavy braking is required for the hairpin right at Turn Eight, which takes the competing cars into the Bridge section, across the sea entrance to the Marina. Of course, the drivers need to take care over the slight kink left (Turn Nine) and the 90-degree right-hander immediately after the Bridge, because of the change of surface and the inevitable gaps between roadway and raising bridge surfaces.
The left-hand sweeper to Turn 11 and the exceedingly high-speed back straight to Turn 12 will witness the cars topping 200mph but it demands a very brave driver and an especially well set-up car to obtain the correct amount of late-braking prior to entering the next complex. As already stated, overtaking is a near impossibility at Valencia, a factor that is going to play heavily on drivers’ sanity this season, since the racing has seldom been as close for many years. There will either be some most entertaining spectacles in the next few metres, or a succession of almighty incidents to rock the teams’ boats, as this is probably the most exciting stretch of the circuit.
Turn 13, a moderate speed, double-apex left-hander, is followed in close order by the 90-degree right-hand Turn 14, prior to another fast section through the gradual left-handers at Turns 15 and 16, before a reliance on the brakes is required at the hairpin right (Turn 17). The subsequent stretch is fairly slow through the left-right of Turns 18 and 19, while a fairly slow right at Turn 20 drives onto another brief straight into the fast, flowing and stability testing Turns 21 to 24. The final bend (Turn 25) is a near hairpin left, with the entrance to the pit-lane off to the right.
While this year’s European Grand Prix may be a swansong in some respects, I can guarantee that it will be exciting, just as other European GPs have been similarly rewarding in the past. There is a lot to look out for. Be sure you do not miss the action.