MURRAY WALKER ON F1’S EXPANDING TERRITORY
But what a pity it is that so many of the countries and circuits we used to go to are now just memories. Kyalami in South Africa, where it was warm and sunny, often got us out of our gloomy winter to start the season, and that’s where I saw Renault fall flat on their face in 1983 when Nelson Piquet took the first ever turbo-car world championship in his Brabham-BMW.
Twice, just twice, in 1969 and 1974, I was privileged to commentate on the German GP at the daunting 14-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife. Jacky Ickx for Brabham and Clay Regazzoni for Ferrari were the winners and I’ve always regarded myself as lucky to have been there because F1 abandoned the Nordschleife after Niki Lauda’s terrible accident in 1976.
Just as the Nürburgring was rejected, so, in 1986, was Brands Hatch. Such a great circuit and the scene of so many truly memorable British GPs – not least of which were Derek Warwick’s superb drive in the Toleman in 1982 and Nigel Mansell’s brilliant 1986 win for Williams.
Neither do we go to Argentina, where I was awestruck to drive the great Juan Manuel Fangio’s 1955 Mille Miglia Mercedes-Benz. Nor do we go to France, Holland, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey, Korea or India. To be honest, some of them – countries where F1 was there for the money amidst race-attending apathy rather than to satisfy local enthusiasm – are no great loss, but others most certainly are. No one who watched the 1979 French GP at Dijon will ever forget the duel between Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve and Renault’s René Arnoux. I nearly went through the commentary-booth roof with excitement, and thinking of Villeneuve reminds me that he was outstanding at many of F1’s lost circuits. Like Zandvoort in 1979, where he wrecked his Ferrari, pointlessly tearing back to the pits on three wheels in an effort to get back into the race after losing the lead. Watkins Glen, America, where, during practice in 1979, he gave us a spellbinding display of wet-weather driving, and Jarama in Spain ’81 when, in a Ferrari that was certainly not the class of the field, he kept everyone behind him to win a race where a mere 1.2 seconds covered the first five home. And, tragically, Zolder in Belgium where he lost his life trying to take pole position from the team-mate he’d fallen out with, Didier Pironi.
Just as I associate Villeneuve with so many breathtaking drives, I do the same with Ayrton Senna at great circuits of the past. Donington Park in 1993 when, in appallingly wet conditions, he completely destroyed the opposition with a drive of majestic mastery, and the dramatically shortened, monsoon-like ’91 Australian GP at Adelaide (whose 1995 demise depressed us all).
The USA has hosted F1 in ten of its cities, now including Austin, Texas, where, unlike the rest, F1 has been a success, and where hopefully it will stay. I’ll never forget seeing Tom Jones open the pathetic apology for a circuit at Las Vegas (situated in the Caesars Palace car park, would you believe), dressed as a Roman gladiator and riding in a horse-drawn chariot. Only in America – although you could say the same for Watkins Glen, which failed to hold the US GP beyond 1980, due to safety concerns and an increasingly rowdy section of fans who in 1974 stole a coach and pushed it into the infamous ‘Bog’, where it sank. I also recall them setting off dynamite…
Memorable times! I always told myself this was better than working – and I was right.
“I was lucky to have commentated at the Nordschleife, because F1 abandoned it after Niki Lauda’s terrible accident there in 1976”