The younger among you may wonder what on earth I’m on about; non-championship F1 races? What’s the point? Modern F1 may be a fast moving advertising billboard, but it wasn’t always so. Just as works teams used to run F2 as well as F1, so there were – until relatively recently – F1 races that featured full works entries yet did not count towards the world championship. The point was, quite simply, that they were pure races, undiluted by the need to race ‘for points’.
The very last non-championship F1 race took place at Brands Hatch in 1983. By then it had become something of a curiosity. In the 1960’s there were many such races: some were part of South African series, others New Zealand and so on, and not featuring full works teams but local drivers. Others, such as the long running International Trophy at Silverstone, the Oulton Park Gold Cup, and numerous other European races in the likes of Spain, France and Italy, saw the champions of the day competing. The 1983 race heralded the end of an era.
The race featured 13 entrants with star attractions being reigning champion Keke Rosberg in the Williams, Rene Arnoux in the Ferrari, Nigel Mansell’s Lotus and John Watson in the McLaren. Alan Jones appeared with Arrows, the 1980 world champion having come out of retirement to do so, along with a variety of other works entries. Arnoux led at first, only for Rosberg to take the lead. The Finn would be chased hard for victory by Danny Sullivan, this being the American’s best performance in a short F1 career.
A curious race took place in 1979, this being the Gunnar Nilsson Trophy at Donington Park. Nilsson, a popular driver, had lost his life to cancer recently, a promising career cut short. This wasn’t a race as such, but a time trial: in essence, a qualifying session without a race. Alan Jones won in the Williams.
For me, the enduring appeal of non-championship races was the appearance of unusual drive/car combinations. The final running of the International Trophy, once among the most prestigious of all the non-championship races, took place at Silverstone in 1978. In soaking conditions, Keke Rosberg took a Theodore TR1 – a car not even entered in the world championship – to a stunning victory, while Emerson Fittipaldi finished second in his own car, with Tony Trimmer third in an independently run McLaren. In a race in which Mario Andretti, James Hunt, Clay Regazzoni and Jacky Ickx fell foul of the conditions this was no mean feat.
The commercial aspect of modern F1 may preclude such races these days, but wouldn’t it be great if there were a couple of well-funded and publicised non-championship races each year in which teams could run up and coming young guns?
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