• Top ten ... circuit debuts

Breaking new ground

Chris Medland
October 28, 2011

With the Indian Grand Prix appearing on the calendar for the first time at a brand new circuit, we look at ten other memorable circuit debuts

Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell fought out the second-closest finish in Formula One history © Sutton Images
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Jerez 1986

Jerez is well known as a test track these days having hosted its last race in 1997, but it was its first race that really marks it out, seeing one of the closest finishes ever. Ayrton Senna took pole position on the new circuit ahead of the Williams pair of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell. A poor start relegated Mansell to fifth behind Alain Prost and Keke Rosberg, but he soon climbed through in to second and took the lead on lap 39. Senna and Prost kept pace, however, and then Senna retook the lead with ten laps to go, his move at the hairpin allowing Prost through to second place. Mansell gambled and pitted for fresh tyres, rejoining 20 seconds behind the leaders with nine laps left. A series of on-the-limit laps saw Mansell reel in Senna, but he struggled to pass Prost and lost almost a second to the leader in getting by. On the final lap Senna and Mansell were 1.5s apart, but Mansell didn't get an overtaking opportunity and had to resort to trying to out-drag Senna to the line. He got a better exit out of the final corner on fresh rubber and pulled alongside, but the line came just too quickly and Senna held on to win by just 0.014s.

Detroit 1982

As part of the renaissance of America's 'Motor City', a race was planned around the streets of Detroit. In a not overly-unusual turn of events at the time, the first two practice sessions had to be postponed because the track was not ready in time, meaning that two sessions would be run on the Saturday, counting for race qualification. Wet weather caused a few surprises, and world champion Nelson Piquet was the biggest shock as engine problems prevented him from qualifying. The grid was therefore slightly mixed, with Niki Lauda down in 10th place and John Watson 17th in the other McLaren. In the race though, an early red flag after seven laps saw Watson taking the restart in 13th place, and he proceeded to deliver a remarkable drive. At the front, Alain Prost had led, but a fuel injection problem saw him lose out to Keke Rosberg. By lap 30, Watson was sixth, and having fought his way ahead of Bruno Giacomelli, he dispatched Eddie Cheever, Lauda, and Didier Pironi on the same lap to take second. He soon eroded a 13-second gap to Rosberg, took the lead on lap 37. He still needed a gap of 18 seconds on Rosberg though due to the gap from the first seven laps, but Rosberg fell back to fifth and Watson secured a hugely unlikely victory.

Donington 1993

A one-off appearance on the Formula One calendar under the European Grand Prix moniker could barely have been more memorable. The race saw arguably Ayrton Senna's greatest drive as he lapped the whole field bar Damon Hill. The first lap was the most remarkable, on a wet track Senna dropped to fifth off the line, but beat Michael Schumacher on the exit of turn one before outrageously driving round the outside of Karl Wendlinger through the Craner Curves to beat him in to the old hairpin. Senna's ability to find grip on the first lap was astonishing, diving down the inside of Hill for second before dispatching Alain Prost in to the Melbourne Hairpin for the lead. Prost would struggle to read the conditions to pit seven times, while Senna made four stops and humiliated the rest of the field.

The delayed Korean Grand Prix finished in almost total darkness © Getty Images
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Korea 2010

The new circuit in Yeongam was making all the wrong headlines at the beginning of the race weekend, with the track barely finished and facilities far from it. By Sunday night though, the headlines were all about the race. Torrential rain caused a delayed start, and when racing in anger did get underway championship leader Mark Webber crashed out after an error on the damp track, wiping out Nico Rosberg in the process. In a five-way battle for the title, another contender in Jenson Button floundered outside of the points, and Sebastian Vettel looked like the man to profit until his engine blew when leading late in the race, allowing Fernando Alonso to cruise home from Lewis Hamilton in the fading light.

Fuji 1976

The Fuji Speedway could not have wished for a better scenario in which to host its first race. The season-ending Japanese Grand Prix would be a title decider between James Hunt and Nikki Lauda, with the championship having been reignited by Lauda's horrific crash at the Nurburgring. Heavy rain on race day made the circuit almost undriveable, to such an extent that Lauda withdrew after the first lap saying it was too dangerous. It was a decision of immense bravery, though some called him a coward, and far from ruining the contest it left Hunt with the target of fourth place to become champion. Having led Hunt then suffered a puncture on the drying track and dropped to fifth after a pit stop, before passing Clay Regazzoni and Alan Jones with two laps remaining to finish third and win the title by one point.

Suzuka 1987

Ten years after the last race in Fuji, F1 returned to Japan with the title still to be decided as Williams team-mates Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell were separated by 12 points with two rounds left. That meant Mansell needed to outscore his team-mate to take it down to the final round but, with the pressure on, he cracked and crashed in the Esses during practice. Severe bruising to his back ruled him out of the race and Piquet was champion. But that didn't prevent a highly entertaining race, which was won comfortably by Gerhard Berger in the Ferrari as Piquet retired. Ayrton Senna still delivered an impressive drive from seventh to second, passing Stefan Johannson on the final lap, while Michele Alboreto in the other Ferrari fought through to fourth place with a damaged car after a disastrous start dropped him to the back of the field.

Caesars Palace 1981

After Watkins Glen lost its place on the calendar, Formula One looked West for the replacement, and it came in the form of the car park at Caesars Palace. As the final race of the season it saw a three-way championship showdown, and while Alan Jones won the race comfortably, the title decider was between Carlos Reutemann, Nelson Piquet and Jacques Laffite. Reutemann qualified on pole but had gearbox trouble and slipped out of the points, meaning Piquet needed just two points to secure the title. He was on course to, running fifth, with Laffite unable to take the victory he needed, but the heat and anti-clockwise track left Piquet struggling physically. He just managed to make it to the end before needing 15 minutes to recover before being able to celebrate his first world title.

A crowd of over 100,000 turned up to see the British pair of Jim Clark and Graham Hill battle it out © Sutton Images
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Brands Hatch 1964

The British Grand Prix headed to Kent in 1964, and the change of location also gave the drivers a tougher challenge, as Jim Clark described it as "almost as difficult as Monaco, you are changing gear at least 20 times a lap and straining the suspension all the time". Despite that, Clark took pole position ahead of Graham Hill, and by the tenth lap the pair were fighting it out no more than a few feet apart. John Surtees moved in to third place but had no answer to the leading pace. With Hill having closed the gap in the early laps, it appeared he would eventually find a way past, but Clark always had an answer and pulled out enough of a gap when he needed it to just hold on and secure victory by 3.4 seconds. The 100,000-plus crowd had been treated to an excellent battle between the two leaders, and with Surtees coming home third an all-British podium was the result.

Anderstorp 1973

Ronnie Peterson's second place in the championship in 1971 had seen Swedish interest in Formula One, but it was another two years until a race was finally held in Scandinavia. The local hero had endured a less successful 1972, but the previous race in Monaco had seen his first podium of the season and as a result drew a huge crowd. He didn't disappoint either by qualifying on pole position and proceeding to dominate. That was until Denny Hulme stepped up a level late in the race. Having started sixth and run fifth since lap seven, Hulme passed a fading Francois Cevert and then took advantage of a gearbox problem for Emerson Fittipaldi on lap 71 to take third place. Six laps later, Jackie Stewart's brakes started to feel the effect of the twisting Anderstorp circuit and Hulme dived up the inside for second. Then, on the penultimate lap with his tyres fading, Peterson slowed, and Hulme upped the pace on his harder compound to snatch the lead and dash Swedish hopes.

Dallas 1984

As Formula One still tried to crack America it notched up another street race, one which took place in searing Texas heat and on a poor quality track surface which was breaking up. The Lotus pair of Nigel Mansell and Elio de Angelis locked out the front row, ahead of Derek Warwick and Rene Arnoux. It was the Ferrari which would fail first - before the race started - causing Arnoux to have to start from the back of the grid. Mansell led comfortably, with Keke Rosberg making his way up from eighth to second before Alain Prost overtook him. Prost was next to make a mistake and dropped back, but then Mansell also faded with overheating tyres and Prost repassed Rosberg for what was then the lead. On lap 57, however, Prost hit the wall and was out, leaving Rosberg out in front, where he stayed thanks in part to a skull-cap style helmet to help keep him cool. It was less easy for Mansell, however, who faded with a gearbox problem and coasted towards the line. He jumped out and tried to push the car across, but collapsed from exhaustion in the heat and was eventually classified fifth.

Chris Medland is an assistant editor on ESPNF1

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