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Forgotten Locales: Time for Portugal’s Reinstatement?


Barring any unforeseeable miracles, 2020 will see the Portuguese Grand Prix exceed its first 23-year period of absence (1960-1983) from the F1 calendar. Yet, with Grade 1 FIA-licensed status and a noted similarity in climate to its more celebrated counterpart in Catalunya, there is an ever-present opportunity for giving the event another run.

Shown here in 2017, the Mexican Grand Prix was absent from the F1 calendar between 1993 and 2014, but it returned better than ever in 2015!

Drama from the off

On its F1 debut in 1984, Estoril had the distinction of being the final race of the season and proved historic in providing Niki Lauda with his third and final world title by half a point. As recalled by the The Guardian, the Austrian needed only to finish second in order to take the title, and after Nigel Mansell retired with just eighteen laps to go, Lauda did just that, finishing behind Alain Prost. In many ways, the closing race of 1984 was a passing of the torch, with Lauda coming to the end of his career, and a young Brazilian by the name of Ayrton Senna emerging onto the scene. Senna himself was the victor in the following year’s event, but after Mansell won it in 1986, Prost came back with a vengeance and scored consecutive wins at the circuit.

Prost’s second in that set was yet another flashpoint in what was (by 1988) a very real personal rivalry with Ayrton Senna. Senna performed an aggressive manoeuvre on Prost after just two laps at a time when Prost was already threatening to run away with it, but kept his composure and never once allowed his heart to rule his head. His superior experience won the day in the end, and he was a convincing winner by a 9s margin. Meanwhile, Senna finished down in sixth, but still won the war after losing the battle, winning the Championship with a race to spare.

Mansell breaks the ‘curse’

Up until 1992, Estoril had the quirky accolade of seeing the race winner not go on to lift the world title. Nigel Mansell is, undoubtedly, a figure of inspiration for every British driver that has followed in his footsteps, with Lewis Hamilton firmly in that category. So dominant is Hamilton these days, that he is (as of 27 January 2019) odds-on with Betway to win over 8.5 races in the 2019 season, and in 1992 Mansell achieved just that with victory at the Portuguese Grand Prix. As recalled by Motorsport Magazine, it was Mansell’s second win at the circuit in three years and marked his then-record ninth win of the season, which in turn also secured him what was then a record points tally.

From 1993, two of the final four F1 races at Estoril produced a British winner – Damon Hill and David Coulthard in 1994 and 1995, respectively. However, the final running of the event in 1996 saw future F1 Canadian champion Jacques Villeneuve win by just over 19s. It was a race dominated by Williams, with the second-placed Damon Hill beating the podium completer Michael Schumacher (who won the 1993 event) by just over 34s. Winning at a circuit known for both high winds and tight hairpins is often what separates the great from the good, and it is no surprise to see that Estoril’s historic list of winners also doubles as a list of former champions.

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Estoril: The provider of a counterpoint in diversity

Estoril’s rocky surroundings, natural undulation, and hairpin turns would certainly act as an interesting foil to the new-fangled circuit styles of Abu Dhabi and Singapore – as well as the faddish likes of Monaco and Baku. Current F1 culture shows that a long absence need not detract from a circuit’s credibility. Indeed, the Mexican Grand Prix is a notable example in that it was not held between 1993 and 2014, and its reintegration – as initially announced by CNN – proved to be seamless. For that reason, Estoril is certainly worth considering for reinstatement, because while F1 fans may be split as to what makes the best type of circuit, it is undeniable that the ability to master a wide range of circuit styles is what makes a true champion.