Grand Prix Masters of Great Britain
11th - 13th August 2006
First4F1.com attended the first round of the Grand Prix Masters World Series to be held in Great Britain, and in this article we provide an insight into this fascinating new series. So, what is the Grand Prix Masters Series anyway? The series made its debut with an inaugural race at the Kyalami circuit in South Africa on 13th November 2005. and is open to ex Formula One drivers over 45 years of age that have competed in F1 for three seasons. There is a level playing field for this series as all drivers use common machinery in the form of an all new single seater racing car designed and built by Delta Motorsport, based in Northampton, England. The GP Masters car is a mean beast powered by a 3.5 litre V8 Nicholson McLaren engine producing over 600 bhp, providing maximum speeds approaching 200 mph. There are none of the sophisticated driver aids found in today's Formula One cars although a paddle shift is provided for the 6 speed gearbox. All cars are shod with the same slick Avon tyres, weather permitting of course, and sport an aeropackage designed to maximise driver input and facilitate overtaking. So far around 15 ex F1 drivers have signed up for the series including some high profile names such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Riccardo Patrese, Rene Arnoux and Derek Warwick. Despite their age all of these drivers have retained their fierce competitive spirit and enthusiasm for racing. One intriguing aspect of the GP Masters series is that in their day these drivers certainly didn't compete on a level playing field and some didn't compete against each other at all. It's like a second chance for the ones that weren't lucky enough to be in the right car at the right time to prove their worth this time around. The early signs are though that the best drivers of their day will still take some beating, equal cars or not. Typically 'Il Leone' Nigel Mansell won both the opening race in Kyalami in 2005 and the first race of 2006 in Qatar. Mansell was pushed all the way at Kyalami by ex double world champion Emerson Fittipaldi. In 2006 the series visits Qatar, Silverstone and then returns to Kyalami. Hopefully the organisers will be able to expand the season going forward, the current crop of drivers is certainly keen to see this happen. What would really add some spice is to see some of the other star drivers being tempted out of retirement, say Alain Prost, Damon Hill, Niki Lauda etc. Moving on then to the second round of 2006 at Silverstone on 13th August. On arrival at the circuit there was an air of excitement and anticipation, and on entering the pit lane and seeing some of the drivers it felt very strange, almost as though the past 20 or 30 years had just disappeared. There was even our favourite commentator Murray Walker in the pit lane amongst his 'old mates' to make the scene complete. Although the years had taken their toll, the drivers were still instantly recognisable with some having changed very little. Emerson Fittipaldi had even grown back the spectacular long pointed sideburns that he sported way back in the seventies, and looked just like his old self despite less hair and a few more wrinkles. The whole scene was very relaxed with the drivers wandering around the pit lane chatting to each other, reminiscing and taking time out to sign autographs on books and memorabilia that looked like they had also been taken out of retirement. What a difference 20 or 30 years makes, as in their heyday you would have struggled to get close enough for a brief glimpse of these guys, much as it is today with their contemporary F1 counterparts. Of course Formula One today is a serious, high finance business as well as a highly competitive sport, and is a battleground for the major motor manufacturers, but despite all that you can't help but think that they still need to improve their act significantly to provide more interaction and accessibility for the fans. There were definitely more characters in the 70's, 80's and 90's, and the drivers were less constrained by their corporate employers and more likely to speak their minds. This was very apparent amongst the GPM drivers at Silverstone, especially at the press conferences where there was a very light hearted and jovial atmosphere. Once the drivers had donned their helmets and climbed into the cockpits though, the old determination and focus was soon apparent and there was an air of anticipation to see who would emerge the fastest. One ingredient that threatened to overshadow the whole event soon emerged with a vengeance, in the form of a mystery problem that began to plague the Nicholson McLaren engines. Over the weekend the mechanics would change almost 40 engines in a bid to keep the show on the road. It was a tremendous effort by all involved at GP Masters and Nicholson McLaren under very trying conditions. The downside to all this was an inevitable reduction in the running time for the free practice and qualifying sessions, giving a potential edge to those drivers with more recent experience of the circuit. For Nigel Mansell the qualifying session was dissapointing and resulted in non classification, following a hair raising 170 mph spin due to a hydraulics problem. This left the way open for the rest to make their mark, and pole went to Christian Danner with Stefan Johansson and Derek Warwick hot on his heels. Race day dawned very wet, placing another huge questionmark over the proceedings, as the drivers had done little or no wet running to date. As the morning progressed the dampness remained, and just prior to the race, pop star Katie Melua donned her overalls and helmet to complete a lap as a passenger in the stupendous GP Masters 2 seater car. Katie attracted masses of attention as you can imagine, happily surviving the experience intact, and still in good shape to perform her post race concert. The race proper was soon underway with the cars slipping and sliding alarmingly in the wet conditions, and much to the consternation of the partisan crowd Nigel Mansell immediately made his way into the pits, on route to his eventual retirement. Meanwhile pole sitter Christian Danner was quickly passed by Stefan Johansson who in turn gave way to Eddie Cheever. Derek Warwick and Eliseo Salazar spun early on in the wet conditions, dropping down the order, but as the track dried slightly it was Eric Van De Poele who emerged to challenge Cheever for the lead. It was an intense battle but the conditions eventually got the better of Van De Poele who spun a couple of times to drop out of contention for the win. Eddie Cheever duly took the flag to take his first GP Masters victory, having kept his car facing the right direction throughout. The wet conditions combined with no traction control or other driver aids made for some spectacular viewing, and seeing the drivers fighting to control the cars with handfulls of opposite lock as they snapped sideways when the power was fed in, was a sight to behold. At the post race press conference it was clear that the drivers had enjoyed the race, but were glad to finish it in one piece. When asked how his race had been, Mansell typically quipped back 'How long have you got' and then went on to explain that the one good thing on his car was the engine, 'it was superb' said Mansell. In summary the series is unique in concept for motor racing, and given the addition of some more top F1 drivers and an expanded calendar it will surely become a firm favourite with the fans.
This article and all images on this page are copyright ©First4F1.com all rights reserved. You may link to this article, but you may not link to the images contained within it. No part of this article or the associated images may be reproduced by any means in any medium without the prior written consent of First4F1.com.