Eleven unforgettable Portuguese Grands Prix

19th October 2020
Damien Smith

Another week, another unexpected Lazarus moment for a Formula 1 Grand Prix that long since fell out of fashion. The Portuguese GP first made its mark with a trio of memorable races at the end of F1’s first decade, then became a calendar staple at Estoril in the 1980s and ’90s. Now, thanks to the ‘emergency’ schedule of races put together in the wake of the pandemic, it returns this weekend as the popular Portimao track in the Algarve hosts its first Portuguese GP. Here, we look back at what it has to live up to.


1958 – Moss’s towering sportsmanship

Stirling Moss’s Vanwall won the first world championship Portuguese GP on the challenging Boavista street track in Oporto, but it was his act of sportsmanship towards title rival Mike Hawthorn that really stood out. The Ferrari driver spun on the final lap and in recovering drove against the flow of direction. He was duly disqualified. But Moss intervened on Hawthorn’s behalf, arguing his friend had driven on a pavement, not the race track itself – and Mike was reinstated to second place. He subsequently beat Moss to the world title – by one point. The finest piece of sportsmanship in F1 history? Indubitably.


1959 – Moss in Monsanto

A year later, Monsanto Park in Lisbon played host to what would be its only world championship F1 grand prix, and that man Moss won again, this time in a Cooper. The most notable incident befell Jack Brabham, who misjudged a corner, struck some straw bales and hit a telegraph pole. The Aussie was flung from his Cooper, escaped serious injury and then went on to claim the first of his three F1 titles during a career in which he made a colossal contribution to motor sport. Thank heavens his luck held on that day in Monsanto.


1960 – Surtees slips and bales

Brabham won in Oporto the following year on his way to a second consecutive title. But the race is best remembered for a ‘green’ John Surtees starring before crashing out on the track’s cobbled surface… In just his this third F1 world championship grand prix start, the motorcycling hero led convincingly for Lotus until his feet, soaked in petrol from a leaking fuel tank, slipped on the pedals as he left the cobbled section of the track. He struck a kerb and straw bales, terminally damaging his radiator. The fuel leak would have lost him the win anyway, but the performance was another marker as he transitioned from two to four wheels.


1984 – Lauda does just enough

Poor safety, even for the early 1960s, cost the Portuguese GP its place on the calendar and it didn’t return until 1984, at Estoril near Lisbon. For the only time, the race was scheduled as the season finale and was surely the most nail-biting of Portugal’s 16 world championship grands prix. Alain Prost needed to win, with McLaren team-mate Niki Lauda finishing lower than second, to be world champion for the first time – and he did his bit. But then so did Lauda. The Austrian only qualified 11th, but ground his way up to third. And when Nigel Mansell retired his Lotus from second place the championship was Niki’s – by just half a point, the tightest title margin in F1 history.


1985 – Senna’s wet breakthrough

A year later, F1 sophomore Ayrton Senna, who had finished third for Toleman in ’84, put in a mesmeric drive in heavy rain at Estoril to score his first grand prix victory. His Lotus finished more than a minute ahead of Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari and lapped the rest, in a drive Senna would later rate as the finest of his life.


1987 – Prost beats Stewart’s record

The second of Prost’s three Portuguese GP wins, a record he shares with Mansell, also made the Frenchman the most successful F1 driver up to that point, in terms of race victories. The 28th of his career, surpassing Jackie Stewart’s 27, was delivered after a great comeback. In the latter stages he piled pressure on Gerhard Berger’s leading Ferrari, and the Austrian buckled on his worn tyres with just three laps to go.


1988 – Capelli’s in the (Leyton) House

In a year of almost complete McLaren domination – 15 wins from 16 races – Estoril offered one of the highlights of the season, as Ivan Capelli played David to Prost’s Goliath. Driving the Judd V8-engined Leyton House March, the Italian brazenly overtook Senna – who had almost pushed Prost into the pit wall in the early stages – then gave the Frenchman a fright by closing in for the lead. Prost inevitably won in the Honda turbo powered-MP4-4, but Capelli held on for a wondrous second in his 881, an early Adrian Newey masterpiece.


1989 – Black flag for Mansell

Drama was rarely in short supply during Mansell’s first season at Ferrari. At Estoril the stress-o-meter soared off the scale when he overshot his pit, reversed down the pitlane and was disqualified – only to ignore the black flag and collide with Senna as they duelled. Wow. He received a one-race ban, as team-mate Berger took the win.


1993 – Prost retires, Schumacher wins

Further high drama played out at Estoril in 1993. Champion-elect Prost announced his retirement on the Friday, Senna was outqualified by his new McLaren team-mate Mika Häkkinen first time out on the Saturday, and on the Sunday Michael Schumacher beat Prost on strategy to score his second GP win for Benetton and his first of the season. Little did we know the German still had another 89 to rack up.


1995 – Coulthard’s first and only win for Williams

David Coulthard had shown great maturity after stepping in at Williams after the death of Senna in 1994. Now after a first full season littered by too many mistakes, he became a grand prix winner, having started from pole position. He would soon leave Williams – and forgo a potential shot at the world championship in 1996 – for a better pay-packet at work-in-progress McLaren, a decision he’d later admit was a mistake.


1996 – Villeneuve shows up Schuey

The final Portuguese Grand Prix – until this weekend – was a cracker, largely thanks to Jacques Villeneuve. The Canadian overtook Michael Schumacher on the outside of a corner where it just wasn’t supposed to be possible, then set off after team-mate Damon Hill, beating him out of the pits after their final stops. The victory kept him in contention for the world title with just Suzuka to come. A fine F1 send-off for Estoril – and a reminder that Portimao has plenty to live up to.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Formula 1

  • Stirling Moss

  • Michael Schumacher

  • David Coulthard

  • John Surtees

  • Niki Lauda

  • Ayrton Senna

  • Alain Prost

  • Ivan Capelli

  • Nigel Mansell

  • Jacques Villeneuve

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