Nigel Mansell, world champion of 1992, once said that the power of the British home-crowd support was worth up to half-a-second per lap in extra pace. The dominant Williams FW14 of his championship-winning year probably contributed too, as did Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes W05 aid the 2008 World Champion to his second British Grand Prix victory this past Sunday. But Mansell may have been on to something: 12 British racers have claimed victory on home soil in 22 of the 65 Formula One Grand Prix held in Britain – an impeccable performance.
Stirling Moss, perhaps quite rightly, kicked off the party in 1955. The Mercedes W196, piloted by Moss and Argentine world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, was the all-conquering car of the year and few were left in doubt that it would be Fangio’s title for the taking come season’s end. But in Britain, on the now unused Aintree circuit, ‘The Boy’ came good as Moss lead home Fangio for what was the 25 year-old Stirling’s first Grand Prix victory.
Moss would repeat the feat two years later while driving for Tony Vandervell’s Vanwall team. The victory however, would be far from straight forward: Aintree played host once more as Stirling’s original mount expired on lap 51 following an engine failure. As was possible in the era, Stirling’s team-mate and fellow Brit, Tony Brooks, handed his own green Vanwall over to Moss, the latter going on to claim a sensational victory. It would be the first victory for a British built car; what’s more, it occurred on British soil at the hands of two British drivers.
Just one year later and the colourful relationship between British drivers and the biggest name in the sport wrote its first chapter. Ferrari’s Peter Collins was just half a month from death when he claimed his third and final Grand Prix victory at Silverstone – his first and only home win. Just two weeks later, Collins would perish in a crash during the German Grand Prix.
Three British Grand Prix would pass before the next home-grown victor – although back-to-back victories for Australian Jack Brabham could be considered at a stretch. Britain’s own tifosi were rewarded thereafter however, with four victories on the trot for Scotland’s Jim Clark.
Clark’s first charge towards home success was in 1962 when he and his Lotus-Climax beat all comers at Aintree. He would repeat the feat the following three years, once at Brands Hatch and twice at Silverstone. After Brabham won once again in 1966, Clark reclaimed Britain in ’67, cementing himself to this day as the most successful Briton on home soil.
By the time Jackie Stewart won the British Grand Prix in 1969, the race was well into its era of alternating between Brands Hatch and Silverstone. And so it fell to Silverstone to host both of Stewart’s home victories, split by Jochen Rindt’s victory of 1970.
James Hunt, bouncing back from disqualification at Brands Hatch in 1976, delighted visitors to Silverstone in ’77 by crossing the finish line first, some 18 seconds ahead of on-track rival/off-track friend Niki Lauda. Hunt’s career had just the two more wins left in it, and of the ten in total, the ’77 home win was doubtless the most popular.
John Watson’s victories may have been few and far between – just the five from 152 starts – but his second, at Silverstone in 1981 was nothing short of sublime. Starting from fifth, Watson crossed the line over 40 seconds ahead of the runner-up having lapped everyone else at least once. The race marked McLaren’s first race win in five years and the first for a carbon fibre composite monocoque, but more than that, it marked arguably Watson’s greatest victory.
The next four years saw Niki Lauda and Alain Prost share honours in Britain before the next home-grown hero emerged: Nigel Mansell.
In 1986, at Brands Hatch, Mansell claimed the first victory of his career – twice as rewarding in front of his home support and the first of 31 career victories; still a record for any British driver.
By now Silverstone had become the steadfast home of the British Grand Prix and Mansell set about making the race his own. Victory was his in 1987 after his famous hunting down and out-duelling of Williams’ team-mate Nelson Piquet. And then again in 1991 and ”92, during the birth of ‘Mansell-mania’ ‘Our Nige’ demonstrated the power of passionate supporters in their hundreds of thousands by dominating two years on the bounce.
There followed a one-year Prost-induced interruption to the party before Damon Hill achieved what his father couldn’t and claimed victory on Silverstone’s sweeping curves in 1994. The following year, while chasing a repeat performance, Hill would misjudge a manoeuvre and remove himself and Michael Schumacher from contention, opening the door for Essex boy Johnny Herbert to win his first Grand Prix.
From ‘Mansell-mania’ through Hill and Herbert, it was time to go ‘Coulthard Crazy’. The Scot emulated his hero Jim Clark by taking back-to-back Silverstone victories in 1999 and 2000. The former saw him narrowly edge Eddie Irvine in a glorious British one-two. The following year, Coulthard’s winning margin was just 1.4 seconds as he lead home his McLaren team-mate Mika Hakkinen.
There followed a baron spell of seven years without a British winner of the British Grand Prix, the longest in Formula One’s history; step forward Mr. Lewis Hamilton. In typical British weather, Hamilton shone, taking an utterly dominant victory. The lad from Stevenage finished over a minute ahead of BMW’s Nick Heidfeld and had lapped everyone not on the podium – quite a way to brighten the spirits of damp crowd.
And then to this past Sunday. The fans may have been robbed of a titanic battle between Mercedes team-mates thanks to Nico Rosberg’s faulty gearbox, but it’s unlikely too many of them feel disheartened. Another home-grown victory to add to the already impressive collection.
It seems then, whether Britain’s Grand Prix be held at Aintree, Brands Hatch or Silverstone, the power of the British home-crowd is invaluable to the success of our racing heroes, and long may it continue that way.