European Grand Prix Getty Images for Red Bull Racing

The European Grand Prix is a curious footnote in the history of motor racing but one which has decided championships and provided three decades of epic racing.

For much of its existence – which stretches back way before the creation of the Formula One world championship – The European Grand Prix has been an honorary title, grafted onto a national race. More recently it’s been a fully-fledged event in its own right and an expeditious way of shoehorning two races into a country with the fanbase, the finance or simply the circuits to support them.

The European Grand Prix has been an expeditious way of shoehorning two races into one country'

The first winner of the European Grand Prix was Carlos Salamano, driving a Fiat at Monza in a race that was also the Italian Grand Prix of 1923. He completed the 800km race in a time of 5:27.38.4. In the following years the designation moved around the classic grands prix before dying out after Louis Chiron’s Bugatti won the 1930 European/Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.

The title was revived in the post-war period, with the first European Grand Prix taking place in 1947, again the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, won by Jean-Pierre Wimille, driving for Alfa Romeo. When the F1 World Championship began in 1950, its first race, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, was also co-titled The European Grand Prix. Nino Farina won, again for Alfa Romeo, on his way to becoming the first F1 World Champion. The tradition in the F1 World Championship continued until 1977 (missing out only in 1953, 1969, 1970 and 1971) when James Hunt won the final honorary Formula One World Championship European Grand Prix, again at Silverstone.

The modern era

1. 1983 European Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, UK. September 25.
In 1982 F1 had three races in the USA but for 83 the bizarre tour around the Caesar’s Palace car park in Las Vegas vanished from the calendar. It was supposed to be replaced with a September race in New York (which we’re still waiting for) but when that fell through, the slot was taken by Brands Hatch. As the British Grand Prix was at Silverstone that year, the race at Brands was the first to be designated the European Grand Prix in its own right. Nelson Piquet powered through from fourth on the grid to take victory and set himself up for a second world championship, which he duly took at the final race of the season, three weeks later in South Africa.

Here’s Piquet on the podium:

2. 1984 European Grand Prix, Nürburgring, Germany, October 7
Brands was hosting the British Grand Prix the following year so the 1984 European Grand Prix was held in Germany at the newly opened Nürburgring GP-Stecke. It was the first time F1 had been back to the Eifel since 1976. Alain Prost qualified second behind Piquet but swept through at the start and led all the way to the flag. The fans, inevitably, were fairly unimpressed with the new, safe circuit at the Nürburgring but comparing the GP track to the Nordschleife really wasn’t any comparison at all.

Slightly more brilliant was the opening of the circuit in which F1 Champions of past and present had a saloon car race. Most of the stars seemed to be enjoying a jolly but a young fella driving as a last minute replacement for Emerson Fittipaldi seemed to have the bit between his teeth…

3. 1985 European Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, UK. October 6
1985 was better stuff with the race back at Brands. Alain Prost won his first of four World Championships and Nigel Mansell his first of 31 Grand Prix victories. Prost was stuffed at the start and found himself down in 14th. He needed to finish ahead of Michele Alboreto to take the title at Brands and so set about chasing down his championship rival. Meanwhile at the front Ayrton Senna had got away well from his sixth pole position of the year but was being challenged by Keke Rosberg. They touched, the Finn spun and collected Nelson Piquet. After pitting for tyres Rosberg emerged almost a lap down on Senna but right in his path. In the days before blue flags, Rosberg was able to hold up Senna while his Williams team-mate Mansell closed up and took the lead. Mansell eventually won by 20 seconds, and Rosberg made his way back up to third. Prost recoverd to fourth and, with Alboreto’s Ferrari having expired, became the first French world champion. It wouldn’t be the last title decider at the European Grand Prix…

Here’s Senna and Rosberg tangling and Piquet losing out:

4. 1993 European Grand Prix, Donington Park, UK, April 11
The race went into hibernation after 85 and didn’t reappear until 1993. When a proposed second race in Japan fell through, the European Grand Prix was once again pressed into service, taking place at Donington Park. The venue had seen Mercedes and Auto Union joust in the 1930s, but had never hosted F1. Though attendance was poor and the weather atrocious, the 1993 European Grand Prix remains one of the most memorable races of all time. Ayrton Senna gave a virtuoso performance to win by over a minute from the season-dominating Williams of Damon Hil and Alain Prost. A never-ending sequence of showers interspersed with drying periods saw a constant stream of cars in the pits. Senna made a relatively modest four stops: Prost came through seven times, which is a record to this day.

Senna’s awesome first lap:

5. 1994 European Grand Prix, Jerez, Spain, October 16
Having lost the Spanish Grand Prix a few years earlier, Jerez was back on the Calendar with the European Grand Prix in 1994. Title rivals Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill took the front row, and Hill got ahead at the start – but Schumacher made it through in the pitstop window, and Hill’s opportunity to fight back was ruined by him being under-fuelled during his stop.

To be continued...

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