4 December 2018

Fascinating F1 Facts: 6

According to the songwriting duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, money makes the world go round and there are times when one marvels at the power of the stuff. It is so powerful that it can even bend borders...You would think that it was the obvious thing to host a Grand Prix in the country after which the race is named, but Formula 1, particularly under the commercial control of Bernie Ecclestone, developed some very strange habits in this respect.

Logically, the German Grand Prix would take place in Germany, and the British Grand Prix in Great Britain. It's not rocket science. Admittedly, things might get a little complicated if there was a country which wanted to have more than one Grand Prix in the same year. The usual way around this problem was to use a more regional name, so the European GP was tag was employed, while in Japan the second race was given the Pacific GP moniker. Let us not waste too much energy noting that there were non-championship Pacific Grands Prix at Laguna Seca in California in the 1960s. The Pacific Ocean is a big old region.

There was the rather odd case of the Pescara Grand Prix, a one-off World Championship race in 1957, which was a second race in Italy, but it was not called the European GP, for reasons that long ago disappeared in the mists of time.

When it came to multiple races in the United States, it was initially sensible to call the races the United States Grand Prix (East) and the United States Grand Prix (West). This was the case between 1976 and 1980. But then things started to get complicated because in 1981 there was a race in Las Vegas, known as the Caesars Palace Grand Prix, named after the casino which provided the parking lot through which the race was run. One presumes that horse-choking wedges of wonga were delivered to allow this to happen.

Anyway, back to the European GP. This was originally an honorific title given to one race each year, the first being way back in 1923, the last being the British GP of 1977. After that the name was not used until 1983 when Brands Hatch wanted to host a second British race. The European GP name would then appear at the Nurburgring in 1984, 1995 and 1996, Brands Hatch again in 1985, Donington Park in 1993 and Jerez in 1994 and 1997. There was then no European GP in 1998 before the event settled at the Nurburgring from 1999 to 2007 - one might say the Schumacher years - before it moved to Valencia from 2008 to 2012 (the Alonso era?). Then things went completely crazy when the European GP of 2016 was held in Azerbaijan. Given that Baku is located around 1,350 miles to the east of Istanbul, the celebrated meeting point of Europe and Asia, this was a little far-fetched, but as they were paying a great deal of money and wanted that title, a way was found to make it happen. The title was justified by the extremely tenuous argument that a very small part of Azerbaijan is located north of the Caucasus Mountains and to the west of the Urals, these being seen as the geographical boundaries of Europe... oh, and the Eurovision Song Sontest had previously been to visit Baku.

Strange though this may be, it is not the weirdest thing Formula 1 has done when juggling races. There was the Swiss Grand Prix, once a major F1 event in the early 1950s but after the Le Mans disaster in 1955, Switzerland voted through the Loi Fédérale sur la Circulation Routière, Article 52 of which states that motor racing was banned. Thus in 1975 the appearance of a non-championship Swiss Grand Prix was just a tad bizarre, not least because it took place at Dijon in France, which is a good 100 miles from the nearest Swiss border. In reality, it was the chance for France to have a second race (although some would argue that the country already has that with the Monaco GP each year...) Five years after that, there was a second Swiss GP at Dijon, this one counting towards the World Championship.

There would be further complications in 1981 when the Italian circuit of Imola wanted a Grand Prix. It had held the Italian GP in 1980, while Monza was being rebuilt, and in 1981 the Formula 1 world was in a big fight with itself and so the idea of a European GP was not even broached. Instead the race was given the improbable name of the San Marino Grand Prix.

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino is a small part of the Italian peninsula that was left out of the unification process when the Kingdom of Italy was declared in 1871. It is entirely surrounded by Italy and is about 55 miles from Imola. But, for Ecclestone there was money on the table and it was close enough. Besides, who was going to argue if Italy had two Grands Prix? The race stayed on the F1 calendar until 2006, becoming infamous, of course, for the accursed weekend in 1994 when Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were both killed.

OK, that naming strategy was a bit weird, but then one must also consider another less-than-classic event, known as the Luxembourg Grand Prix, which took place at the Nurburgring in Germany in 1997 and 1998. Believe it or not, there were some non-championship Luxembourg Grands Prix in the late 1940s and early 1950s held at the Findel aerodrome, but the Grand Duchy never had a track that could be used for F1, although Goodyear might argue that because it has a testing facility at Colmar-Berg.

The problem was that Germany had a Grand Prix at Hockenheim and the European GP title was being used by the Spanish at Jerez de la Frontera. In the second year the European GP title was not actually used, but could not be employed by the Germans because there was a fight going on between the FIA and Jerez over the celebrated podium incident in 1997, which meant that the Spanish refused to give up the rights to the name.

The Nurburgring, by the way, is only 44 miles from the nearest point of Luxemburg… but, hey, who's counting anything... other than money?

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