The Yellow Helmet on Parade in Estoril


The Man From Madrid, by Sergio Álvarez

It seemed really poetic when we first scheduled this adventure. At that time it looked as if 2017 was going to become the first year without Brazilians on the grid since the Fittipaldi days… Although now all bets are on Felipe Massa showing the world that his decision to retire had been forced by no team wanting him initially.

I feel sorry for this introduction, particularly if you were expecting loads of memories about Senna, Mansell, Prost and co in a piece about Estoril and its surroundings, only to find a reference to a 21st century driver. But I’m sort of a first generation millenial, so everything I’ve heard of watched about Ayrton Senna and the Portuguese GP is second-hand material. Nonetheless, I know about Senna’s first win in 1985 (in fact, I have watched the full race 30 years later), as well as about Mansell’s disastrous 1991 weekend and Villeneuve Jr’s overtake at Parabolica. And of course I could feel that I was in a special place from the moment we entered the main grandstand.

Getting ready for the journey by watching all 1996 free practices on YouTube (sshhhh, don’t tell Bernie they’ve been uploaded) was a freak way of documenting what I was going to see with my own eyes, but God, it did allow me to appreciate the fast nature of the track. Estoril is, in fact, a perfect example of the circuits that are no longer built. Are you capable of naming a Tilkedrom full of these characteristic ‘curvones’…? Exactly.

Why not bring back a bit of variety to the calendar via the addition of Portugal? Maybe they’d have to confiscate some properties around the track (it’s just a few centimetres from the old Curva do Tanque to a small religious space so close to it [see photo gallery below the post]), in order to install wider asphalt traps, but overall I find it feasible. And the walls seem to be demanding the move: in the entry to the grandstand of the main straight, just near the stairs, there was a relief that seemed like an attempt of making a prophecy about Mercedes F1 shortlist to replace Rosberg…

The Wall of Future Champion?

The Wall of Future Champions?

After the circuit, our next stop was Quinta da Penalva, former home of Top of All Best F1 Drivers Lists Compiled Up to Date, Ayrton Senna da Silva. It amazed me, in the sense that you wouldn’t expect an F1 star living among the mortals (no pun intended) in a place (called Sintra) in the surroundings of a European capital. The house catches your attention, a mansion in the middle of lots of houses like those that anyone can find in the rustic town of his grandparents. Think calmly about it: can you imagine going out to walk your dog and finding that next door’s neighbour is someone like Ayrton Senna? The closest situation I can think of is living in La Finca residential, just to the west of Madrid city, and share the sidewalk with the Sainz family.

Fernando Alonso has just stated that he doesn’t regard the 80s as a happier time for the show than the Naughties and their closer competition. In my view, the day he comes back from Dubai to live again in Oviedo, or in a Portuguese Quinta, he will be readier to talk about different eras in Formula 1.

The F1 Misbehavers: Estoril 20 years between, by Diego Merino

Going back to the Autodromo do Estoril, I knew it would be the perfect occasion to dust off some souvenirs, I kept since 1984-96, and cherish so much. For many of us, Estoril means much more than the Portuguese F1 Grand Prix. The event held, apart from 1985, during the last week of September, meant arriving to the charming town of Cascais, and enjoying a little bit of a holiday before the circus moved on to Asia-Pacific for the final races of the season. Being located among the rolling hills, that lay between the sea and the mountains of Sintra, this circuit was the perfect venue to stage a Grand Prix.

Twenty years after the last Portuguese Grand Prix was held in 1996, memories still remain vivid, of a venue which, year after year, guaranteed action packed events. The races that happened here have become stuff of legends, always eventful, these I would describe more as battles than races:

1984. McLaren team mates Niki Lauda and Alain Prost battled for the Championship until the final round of the season in Estoril. Although the Frenchman won, his Austrian team mate clinched his third title, only a half a point ahead, consequence of half points being awarded after the Monaco Grand Prix had been stopped before full distance was completed.

1985. Ayrton Senna won his first F1 Grand Prix driving his John Player Special Lotus Renault 97T. The Brazilian legend mastered the entire field, Alain Prost, among others, spinning off the track under torrential conditions.

1986. Nigel Mansell won Portuguese Grand Prix after posing for a memorable pre-race photo, sitting on the Pit Wall together with 1986 tittle rivals Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet. Event also featured entry of a Marlboro “Lights” liveried McLaren MP4/2C, driven by “moustached smoker” Keke Rosberg.

1987. Alain Prost won his 28th F1 Grand Prix; eclipsing record for most F1 victories, until then held by Jackie Stewart with 27.

1988. Alain Prost won second Portuguese Grand Prix in a row. However, story developed during the early laps, when McLaren team mates battled hard for the race lead. Ever growing feud between Prost and Ayrton Senna reach maximum tension after Frenchman accused the Brazilian of pushing him towards the Pit Wall at 280 km/h, while overtaking him. Italian rising star Ivan Capelli finished in second place, driving the Leyton House March 881. Third position was claimed by Thierry Boutsen’s vibrant liveried Benetton Ford B188.

1989. Gerhard Berger won another dramatic edition, when team mate Nigel Mansell was black flagged after engaging reverse gear due to missing the Ferrari team garage during his pit stop. Few moments after being disqualified, the Englishman and Ayrton Senna disputed the position, and collided, ending up in the gravel trap, both walked back to the pits carrying broken egos.

1990. Nigel Mansell won here his third, and last Grand Prix for Ferrari. Bitter championship rivals Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost completed the podium after the race being cut short with 10 laps to go, due to a collision between Alex Caffi and Aguri Suzuki.

1991. Ricardo Patrese claimed victory in an electrifying event, during which the Italian disputed the race lead, lap after lap with team mate Nigel Mansell. However, the final calssification was decided after the Englishman’s scheduled pit stop went horribly wrong, his confused team released him with only three wheels strapped. Maximum chaos was seen when the FW14 stopped in the middle of the pit lane’s fast lane, bar rear left wheel that rolled off the car. Williams mechanics and team manager Peter Windsor ran to the rescue, and attached the fourth and missing Goodyear, as a very frustrated Mansell saw his title aspirations vanish.

1992. Nigel Mansell won the Grand Prix, in similar dominant fashion as he did during his 9 Grands Prix en route to his F1 World Tittle. However, the race will always be remembered for the spectacular accident between Gerhard Berger and Riccardo Patrese. Collision came after the Austrian entered the Pit Lane with the Italian following closely, failing to anticipate his move, and touching wheels, launching into the air, flying high close to a pedestrian bridge over the main straight. Both drivers escaped injury and neither being punished for his actions.

1993. Michael Schumacher won the race, after electrifying first laps lead by Jean Alesi. Alain Prost announced his retirement that weekend, he finished in second place, clinching his 4th World Title. Mika Hakkinen raced for the first time as a McLaren driver after replacing Michael Andretti.

1994. Overcast skies staged a Rothmans Williams Renault 1-2 finish, Damon Hill won ahead of team mate David Coulthard. After Monza, second straight victory for Hill, maximizing the opportunity, scoring most possible points during two race suspension of Michael Schumacher.

1995. David Coulthard won his first ever F1 Grand Prix. Well remembered event, after crazy race start collision involving Japanese Ukyo Katayama, becoming a strapped passenger of his barrel rolling Tyrrell Yamaha 023. Ferrari star Gerhard Berger wore special edition Bieffe helmet with flag design which read “No wars in the World”.

1996. Jacques Villenueve won the last F1 Grand Prix held in Estoril, well deserved victory after having passed Schumacher during a breathtaking manoeuver around the Parabolica, with the Canadian leading onto the main straight.

F1 left Estoril in 1996 thinking racing would continue the next year, but sadly that would be the last edition of the Portuguese F1 Grand Prix. Although in early 1997, the race appeared on the calendar as the final round, mid-season changes to the calendar meant the race would happen in Jerez instead. It was announced Estoril management had encountered financial difficulties, thus failing to update, the then antiquated facilities, in time for the race. Nor would winter testing happen here again after a brief period in the early Naughties. It was an abrupt end of a memorable, and intense chapter in the history of Motorsport.

The Missing Ingredient, by Cyril Nikitenko

Dead race car drivers are basically dead, they are no more and deceased as many rock or pop stars of yesteryear. We won’t get to hear a new Marc Bolan song any time soon, just as we never got to witness Senna fighting for the title in the late 1990s. This fact of life always left me feeling pretty depressed; the guy’s a ghost, what do you do? Probably reminiscing is the only option. Also, visiting places somehow related to your childhood hero is not such a bad idea, especially if the place is Estoril and you’re accompanied by @dmerinof1, his Senna replica helmet painted on a vintage Bell design and @rojoalvolante’s wit.

We set off together in a small hard-core 1990s vehicle, the original Twingo, from downtown Estoril and its lovely Casino Gardens. Next stop – the now abandoned Atlantis Hotel, where the grand F1 master Peter Windsor used to stay during the Portuguese Grand Prix. An instant classic.

Then the Senna monument and the Estoril track itself; nothing new for me here because I’ve been a regular guest for the past 16 years, always with Ayrton in mind when I’m at the circuit, you just can’t help it: first victory in F1 for “Ayrton Senna do Brasil”, surely you can’t beat that. It was a wonderful sunny day and I think I also got in the mood; suddenly it felt new and fresh, with visitors to the Circuito do Estoril from different countries all wanting a selfie with the yellow helmet (yes, people still come from all over the world to see the once glorious F1 track). The modern version of Estoril is safer and (I guess) better than what F1 racers used to find in the 1980s. The main grandstand is opened to the general public (the rule does not apply to “fan-friendly” DTM testing days, the only time when Estoril’s grandstands remain firmly abgeschlossen). A tip for all Senna maniacs: the old Curva do Tanque is still there, complete with original kerbs minus the original tarmac. That’s some heavy stuff, you can almost hear V12 and V10 F1 cars going by. Or how about a 1.5-litre V6 (TAG) turbo if you’re a turbo era guy? The original turbo era of course… Intense, like a strong Portuguese bica/espresso.

I probably neglected Senna’s presence in Sintra for some weird reason, only to rediscover it via Peter Windsor’s website and his stories about dinners with Senna. The truth is out there, with Quinta Penalva belonging to Senna’s old friend, António Carlos de Almeida Braga, aka Braguinha, finally appearing on Twingo’s horizon after a couple of failed attempts to find it in Sintra’s magical labyrinth of little streets.

Some of the stories associated with Ayrton’s legacy at Quinta Penalva (which is an amazing spiritual place by the way, it sent shivers down my spine: would Senna open the gate and tell us 21st century twitter paparazzi to please go away?) would typically involve somebody from Braguinha’s inner circle going to the Cascais airport to pick Ayrton up before the races. Once behind the wheel of his Honda NSX, Senna would perfom crazy stunts on his way to Quinta, including driving on the wrong side of the road at full speed (don’t try this at home, kids). Those public roads look pretty much the same in 2017 as they looked back in the day, awesome! Braguinha’s reaction to Ayrton’s bad behaviour was reportedly: “Let the dude drive, he knows what he’s doing!” I’m not kidding you, Kimi was something like 10 years old at the time.

Guys, come to Estoril and Sintra where Senna will be watching you.

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