European Grand Prix History 26 May 2004
The European Grand Prix has been held at a total of four locations since its inception in 1983, but it is the legendary Nurburgring in Germany that has been its most frequent and most recent home.
The track, located around 80 kilometres (50 miles) south-west of Cologne, has enjoyed over 75 years of motor racing. Work began on the original circuit back in 1925 and its longest form it had a lap distance of over 28 kilometres (17.5 miles). The majority of races, however, were staged on the 'shorter', 22 kilometre (14.17 mile) Nordschleife section.
The Nurburgring's first major event was a sportscar race, run in 1927, and won by a name from motor racing folklore, Rudolf Caracciola. However, it wasn't until 1931 that the track held its first Grand Prix. Again Caracciola was the victor.
Other famous names to win at the 'Ring' in the pre-war era included Hans Stuck, Tazio Nuvolari and Bernd Rosemeyer. Not surprisingly, in the venue's early years, local knowledge of the extraordinarily long circuit gave German drivers a distinct advantage. With famous corners such as Pflanzgarten, Bergwerk and the Karussel, the Nurburgring became known as a supreme test of driving talent.
Racing was halted by the war in 1939, but in 1951 the Nurburgring round became part of the official world championship calendar, with Ferraris Alberto Ascari the winner.
The Nurburgring then hosted the German GP every year bar two until 1976. The only exceptions were the 1959 race at Avus and the 1970 event at Hockenheim. Among the illustrious names to master the sport's most challenging track in this period were Juan Manuel Fangio and Jackie Stewart, who both won on three occasions.
Such was Stewart's skill around the mammoth course that in 1968 he took victory by over four minutes. However, with the Nurburgring's vast length came danger. With over 170 corners, memorising the track was next to impossible. Also, its mountain setting meant weather conditions could vary dramatically within the space of a lap.
Accidents were commonplace, some of them fatal. Argentine driver Onofre Marimon, a protégé of compatriot Fangio, died in practice in 1954, while three-time Grand Prix winner Peter Collins was killed in the 1958 race.
Pressure from the drivers, in particularly Stewart, led to organisers introducing safety improvements in time for the 1970 race. The circuit's worst bumps were eased, barriers and run-off areas added and the track widened in places.
However, the changes weren't enough to prevent the crash that led to the removal of the Nurburgring's traditional Nordschleife layout from the Formula One calendar. In 1976 Ferrari driver Niki Lauda was lucky to escape with his life after suffering horrific burns in a first-lap accident. The race was promptly switched to Hockenheim for the following year.
The Nurburgring that reappeared for the 1984 European Grand Prix bore little resemblance to its historic predecessor. The length of the new circuit, built alongside the old, had been slashed to 4.5 kilometres (2.82 miles), and most drivers felt the new design to be uninspired in comparison to the challenging Nordschleife.
Alain Prost won that first race on the new circuit, before the European Grand Prix switched to Brands Hatch in England the following year, with Nigel Mansell taking top honours. Meanwhile, the Nurburgring staged the 1985 German Grand Prix, but was then absent from the Formula One schedule until 1995.
The circuit has staged a Grand Prix every year since, all of them bar the 1997 and '98 races European Grands Prix. Michael Schumacher was the 1995 winner for Benetton, after a close battle with the Ferrari of Jean Alesi.
In 1996 it was Jacques Villeneuve who took the chequered flag for Williams, the first win of his Formula One racing career. The 1999 event also marked a first when Johnny Herbert was victorious for the Stewart team, their one and only Formula One triumph.
The next two European Grands Prix were both Michael Schumacher affairs. In 2000 the Ferrari driver won by over 13 seconds from the McLaren of Mika Hakkinen, while 2001s race was slightly closer, with Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya finishing eight seconds adrift of the world champion.
The 2002 event marked another stage in the Nurburgring's history. The circuit was altered yet again, with an additional complex of three tight corners, known as the Mercedes Arena, added to the existing Castrol-S. As well as slightly increasing the circuit's lap distance, the changes were implemented to improve the safety of the track still further, as well as increasing overtaking opportunities and spectator capacity.
That years race was won yet again by Ferrari, though this time it was Rubens Barrichello who led home the scarlet one-two for only the second victory of his Formula One career. The Brazilian made a superb start to go from fourth on the grid to first by the end of lap one, from where he didnt look back, aided by a well-judged two-stop strategy and a rare mistake from team mate Schumacher who recovered from a spin whilst in pursuit.
Last year, Kimi Raikkonen took his maiden pole position and looked set for certain victory until his Mercedes V10 expired on lap 25. It was Williams Ralf Schumacher who came through for the win, while his older brother was left temporarily beached on the kerbs after a clash with Juan Pablo Montoya. The Colombian continued to ensure a Williams one-two, while the champion eventually recovered to finish fifth behind Rubens Barrichello and Fernando Alonso.