A History of the European Grand Prix

The European Grand Prix features on the calendar in 2016 for the first time since 2012. Lights Out takes a look back at the history of the ‘European’ title and delves into some of the most memorable moments over the past 22 European Grands Prix.  

Early History

The European Grand Prix first existed in the 1920s, as an honorific title given to Grands Prix as chosen by the AIACR, the predecessor to the FIA. The first winner of the European Grand Prix was Carlo Salamano, after the 1923 Italian race was handed the title. Over the next two years, the title would be given to Grands Prix in France and Belgium, the latter being won by Antonio Ascari- the father of Alberto, who would go on to win two F1 World Championships. The 1926 event was held at the now defunct Circuito Lasarte, in Spain and the 1927 and 1928 events were once again held at Monza, with the 1928 victory handed to Monegasque driver Louis Chiron. 


Just one more event in 1930, again won by Chiron but this time at Spa in Belgium, was held before the Second World War. The title fell out of use until 1947, when it was brought back by the FIA as the honorary title for the Belgian Grand Prix. For the next 30 years, the title would remain in the sport for all but four seasons (in 1953 and between 1969 and 1971). In this time, the title was given to a host of countries including Switzerland, Britain, France, Monaco, Germany, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands and Austria. For the decade between 1956 and 1965, British drivers won every European Grand Prix bar one (1960 won by Phil Hill), thanks to Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks, Graham Hill and Jim Clark. 

1983: Brands Hatch

The honorary title fell out of use after the 1977 British Grand Prix, where James Hunt took victory. It wasn’t until 1983 that the title, somewhat accidentally, re-appeared. The 1983 season was supposed to feature a new race at Flushing Meadows Park in New York in September but just 10 weeks before the event, the New York Grand Prix was cancelled. Instead, a deal was made with Brands Hatch to host an event. The event, which would be the penultimate round of the season, could not be called the British Grand Prix, as that had already been scheduled for Silverstone in July. Instead, it was agreed that the event would be titled The  1983 European Grand Prix. The Grand Prix was won by Nelson Piquet, who became the first driver to take two consecutive wins that season, and would benefit greatly in a championship battle which had gone on all season between himself, Alain Prost and the two Ferrari drivers Rene Arnoux and Patrick Tambay. 


1984: Nürburgring

Due to the success of the race in 1983, organisers wanted it to return in 1984. It couldn’t be held at Brands Hatch, however, as it was to host the British Grand Prix that year –  as part of a deal with Silverstone which saw the venue alternate each year between the two circuits. Instead, Formula One would return to the Nurburgring for the first time since Niki Lauda’s horrendous crash in 1976. The 1984 running of the European Grand Prix was met with less enthusiasm than the previous year. This was because the race was run on a different configuration of the German track, with fans being less than enthusiastic about the new 4.5km venue. Nevertheless, Niki Lauda- who climbed from 15th to 4th in the Grand Prix- deemed it “the perfect place to hold a Grand Prix”, commending how much the safety of the sport had improved since its last visit. The Grand Prix was won by Alain Prost. The race also holds an interesting stat – it is the last time that the fastest lap of the Grand Prix was shared by two drivers, with Michele Alboreto and Nelson Piquet setting identical times on their 62nd lap.


1985: Return to Brands Hatch

Brands Hatch returned in 1985 to play host to the European Grand Prix for the last time. The race was won by Williams’ Nigel Mansell, with Ayrton Senna and Keke Rosberg managing to make it on to the podium. But the main story to come from this race was that Alain Prost won his first title by finishing 4th. His main title rival – Michele Alboreto – retired with turbo issues. John Watson, meanwhile, replaced the injured Niki Lauda at McLaren. This was the last time that a non-champion carried the number 1 on their car. It was also the penultimate time that a Formula One Grand Prix would be held at Brands Hatch, with the 1986 British Grand Prix being its swansong. The European Grand Prix was replaced by the Hungarian Grand Prix from 1986 onwards. 


1993: Donnington Park

It wasn’t until 1993 that the European event returned and again the circumstances were accidental. The Mexican Grand Prix in 1992 was to be the last to be held there until 2015. Instead, a wealthy Japanese businessman presented plans for an Asian Grand Prix in 1993, at the Nippon Autopolis. The track had been built three years earlier. But the Grand Prix never materialised and was replaced by the European Grand Prix at Donnington Park. Tom Wheatcroft, former owner of Wheatcroft Racing and founder of the Donnington Grand Prix Collection museum, had previously shown interest in attempting to bring the British Grand Prix to Donnington Park. A happy medium was found which would see the venue instead host the European Grand Prix. Formula One has never returned to the circuit since the epic wet-dry 1993 race which saw Ayrton Senna take victory in what is often regarded as one of his Greatest Races.


1994-1997: Jerez and Nurburgring

The Argentine Grand Prix had been scheduled for the October of the 1994 season after the circuit, the Autódromo Juan y Oscar Gálvez, had been recovered from a virtually derelict state. The last Formula 1 Grand Prix held in Buenos Aries had been in 1981, and a plan for its return in 1986 never amounted to anything. After a tumultuous 1994, which had seen the fatalities of two driversit was decided that the return to Argentina would be postponed until 1995, almost certainly for safety reasons. 

Instead, the European Grand Prix returned and visited a new venue – Jerez. The race saw the comeback of Michael Schumacher after a two-race ban, as he mounted a championship charge on Williams’ Damon Hill. Also at Williams, Nigel Mansell returned, taking the seat of David Coulthard for the remaining three races of the season. Schumacher won the race from pole, with Hill’s Williams finishing second. 


For 1995 and 1996, the European Grand Prix was staged at the Nurburgring, with the modernised circuit now being popular once again with fans and drivers alike. The races in these years were won by Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve, who won his first Grand Prix in only his fourth attempt.  There was some disagreement on the naming of the Grand Prix though. After two years of the race being held in Germany, many people were aggravated by the fact that the race was staying in the same country. Germany already held a Grand Prix at Hockenheim, despite Formula One’s rules stipulating that no country was allowed more than one race. It would have been easy to change venue for the 1997 event, and Jerez was keen to host a Grand Prix again. Instead, the sport did what it does best and made things a little more confusing for everyone. Both Nurburgring and Jerez would appear on the 1997 calendar, despite races already being held in Germany – at Hockenheim and in Spain – at Catalunya. The race at the Nurburgring was given the title the ‘Luxembourg Grand Prix’, and the race at Jerez was titled the ‘European Grand Prix’. 


The 1997 European Grand Prix turned out to be one of the most dramatic and controversial in Formula One’s history, with Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve going head-to-head for the World Championship. The last Grand Prix of the season saw the closest ever qualifying session, with Villeneuve, Schumacher and Heinz Harald Frentzen all setting identical fastest lap times. The drama didn’t end on the Saturday, though. On the 48th lap of the Grand Prix, Schumacher appeared to turn into the side of Villeneuve’s Williams, causing a collision. Schumacher retired on the spot but Villeneuve, in a wounded car, was able to cling on to 3rd place and take the title. In the immediate aftermath, the stewards decided that it was a racing incident, but at a later hearing, the FIA disqualified Schumacher from the 1997 Championship. This Grand Prix was also Mika Hakkinen’s first Formula One victory.

Despite there being no European Grand Prix in 1998, the Nurburgring race was still given the title of the Luxembourg Grand Prix, even if it still was 50 miles from the border.

1999-2007: Nürburgring… again.

In 1999, the Nurburgring race became known once again as the European Grand Prix. It stayed on the calendar here for 8 years. Two epic races bookended this stint of the European Grand Prix’s history. The 1999 race was won by Johnny Herbert, after Heinz-Harald Frentzen, David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella all lost the lead. The Brit, who started the race from 14th, brought home Stewart-Ford’s only Grand Prix win on a rain-soaked day. 


Michael Schumacher won four of the next seven European Grands Prix. The 2005 running, won by Fernando Alonso, is also memorable for Kimi Raikkonen’s last lap crash whilst leading the race. His suspension failed due to a flat-spotted tyre. 

In August 2006, it was announced that there would be no European Grand Prix in 2007 and that Hockenheim and Nurburgring would alternate as being hosts of the German Grand Prix from the 2007 season onwards. It was Nurburgring’s turn to host the German Grand Prix, however Hockenheim had control of the ‘German Grand Prix’ title and an agreement could not be reached between the two parties on naming rights. So the Nurburgring event was instead titled ‘Großer Preis von Europa’. 

The 2007 European Grand Prix was one of rain-induced madness. The rain began to fall on the formation lap, with most of the drivers coming into the pits at the end of the first lap. Marcus Winkelhock, in his debut race for the backmarking Spyker team, started the race from the pit-lane on wet tyres and led the field by the end of Lap 2. The rain became torrential and at the end of the third lap, Jenson Button got his Honda stuck in the gravel trap at Turn 1. He was then joined by Adrian Sutil, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Scott Speed and Anthony Davidson, who all aquaplaned at the same part of the circuit. Vitantonio Liuzzi was the last driver to join the party and had a very near escape from colliding with both the Safety Car and a JCB truck which was attempting to remove some of the stranded cars. 


The race was red-flagged shortly afterwards and got underway again with Marcus Winkelhock leading, though he was soon overtaken by Felipe Massa and eventual race winner Fernando Alonso. 

2008-2012: Valencia

The European Grand Prix found yet another new home in 2008, this time in Spain at a new track by the sea in Valencia. The circuit wasn’t particularly popular, with many criticising the lack of overtaking opportunities. Very few memorable moments came from the first race there but there was a popular victory in 2009 with Rubens Barrichello taking his first win since 2004 and some added misdemeanors from Luca Badoer on his Ferrari debut. 2010 saw Mark Webber have a spectacular airborne crash after launching off the back of Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus. 


 The introduction of DRS led to more overtaking in the circuit’s final two Grands Prix in 2011 and 2012. The latter is often regarded as a modern day Formula One classic, which Fernando Alonso won from 11th on the grid. Michael Schumacher also took his final Formula One podium here, as Kimi Raikkonen completed a podium of champions. Valencia had a contract to hold the European Grand Prix until 2014 but, in March 2012, it was announced that there would be no European Grand Prix in 2013, and the Spanish Grand Prix would alternate each year between Catalunya and Valencia. This never happened and Catalunya has remained the sole home for the Grand Prix in Spain since. The Valencia circuit has since fallen into disuse and now resembles a wasteland rather than a race track. 

2016: Baku

The European Grand Prix returned to the calendar in 2016 as Formula One headed to a brand new, and rather ambitious, track around the streets of Baku. The idea of a race in Azerbaijan was first mooted in 2013, with Bernie Ecclestone claiming that it would be introduced in 2016 to replace the Korean Grand Prix. Then, due to a breach of contract by the Korean Grand Prix organisers, Ecclestone announced that the race in Azerbaijan would be moved forward to 2015. Neither Korea nor Azerbaijan appeared on the 2015 calendar, but it was announced that the city circuit had signed a contract to host the European Grand Prix from 2016 onwards.

Will the Baku City Street Circuit create a more permanent home for the European Grand Prix?

Header image: Jim Culp / CC

2 thoughts on “A History of the European Grand Prix”

  1. Schumacher winning the European GP was one of the best times that I saw of this man. He was one of the best F1 drivers of all time, a multi-champion representing Ferrari. I’m going to buy a Michael Schumacher helmet with one of the designs of his time.

  2. Pingback: Circuits Which Hosted F1 Races With Different Titles - Lights Out ●●●●●

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