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This week in motorsport history: 27th November to 4th December

What happened in F1 this week down the years?

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This week sees the anniversaries of several key moments and events in motorsport history. 

Nico Rosberg celebrates winning the 2016 F1 World Championship (Image Credit: @MercedesAMGF1 on X)
Nico Rosberg celebrates winning the 2016 F1 World Championship (Image Credit: @MercedesAMGF1 on X)
November 27th 2016: F1 Crowned a New Champion.

It was on November 27th, 2016, that Nico Rosberg won his only championship, retiring soon after. Heading into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Rosberg had won 9 races, the same number as Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton had won the previous three races, with Rosberg finishing second in each of them. Twelve points separated Rosberg and Hamilton in favour of Rosberg, so Rosberg needed to finish third or higher to guarantee the championship. Hamilton had to finish at least third to have a chance of winning the title.

On pole was Hamilton ahead of Rosberg, followed by Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, and Max Verstappen. Hamilton led the opening laps from Rosberg and Raikkonen, with Verstappen spinning after colliding with Nico Hulkenberg. The first stops happened on lap seven. Hamilton and Raikkonen pitted, followed a lap later by Rosberg and Vettel. The order then was Hamilton, an out-of-sync Verstappen, and Rosberg.

Verstappen pitted on lap 22, and Rosberg passed him on lap 20. Hamilton pitted on lap 28, and Rosberg pitted on lap 29. Vettel now led on an alternative strategy of going longer on hards before switching to the softs. By lap 35, the order was now Vettel, Hamilton and Rosberg, followed by Verstappen, who got back in sync by doing a one-stop strategy.

Hamilton began to lap two seconds slower than Vettel, who was on older tyres. He may have done this to try to get Verstappen, Ricciardo, and Raikkonen to try to catch up and pass Rosberg so he could win the title.

He kept Rosberg about a second back so that he couldn’t get through with DRS. Paddy Lowe, Mercedes’ executive director, was livid with Hamilton refusing to pick up the pace despite repeated orders. When Vettel pitted on lap 37, he caught up to the front five, passing Raikkonen on lap 40, Ricciardo on lap 45 and Verstappen on lap 50.

Hamilton’s apparent plan did not look as though it would succeed. This was because he needed Vettel and either Verstappen, Ricciardo or Raikkonen to pass him. Rosberg held off Vettel until the chequered flag, finishing second and winning his only championship.

The nature of the Yas Marina Circuit did mean that overtaking opportunities were limited. An engine failure for Hamilton in Malaysia almost gave Rosberg the title, as Hamilton retired from the lead.

November 29th 1975: Hill and Brise Die in Plane Crash
Graham Hill and Tony Prise on track prior to their fatal airplane crash in 1975 (Image Credit: @RetroRacingCo on X)
Graham Hill and Tony Prise on track before their fatal airplane crash in 1975 (Image Credit: @RetroRacingCo on X)

On November 29th, 1975, one of Formula One’s greats and a driver who was destined to join him were lost too soon. Graham Hill was a two-time F1 champion who had won 14 Grand Prix . He is the only driver to have won the Triple Crown (The Indianapolis 500, Monaco Grand Prix and 24 Hours of Le Mans) in the 95-year history of the three running together. He won the 1962 and 1968 World Championships, beating the likes of Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, and Denny Hulme.

Tony Brise was an extremely talented young driver, winning three junior series and finishing in the top three in eight junior series. Brise scored four top-ten finishes in his 10 Grand Prix.

He beat the likes of future F1 champion Alan Jones and future Grand Prix winner Jacques Laffite in junior series. The lives of six people were lost in the 1975 Embassy Hill Plane Crash, including Hill and Brise. Hill had a pilot’s license and flew the plane. When the accident happened, they were flying back from testing the new Embassy Hill GH2 car in France.

Two things to note were that it was at night and that it was foggy. The airfield they were landing in had trees surrounding it, and due to poor visibility, Hill crashed into the trees. The six people onboard were Hill, Brise, mechanic Tony Alcock, team manager Ray Brimble, mechanic Terry Richards and car designer Andy Smallman.

These six formed the base of the Embassy Hill team. Their deaths in the accident resulted in the team folding. Hill was one of F1’s greatest drivers. By contrast, Brise was an incredible young driver who many believed could have been a World Champion someday.

He and Hill were not the only F1 drivers to have died in a plane crash. Lance Reventlow, Carlos Pace, Jose Dolhem, Harald Ertl and Ron Flockhart all died in plane crashes, as did rallying legend Colin McRae.

November 29th 2020: Romain Grosjean suffers a fiery crash in Bahrain in 2020.
The remains of Romain Grosjean's Haas at the side of the track in Sakhir (Image Credit: Motorsport Magazine)
The remains of Romain Grosjean’s Haas at the side of the track in Sakhir (Image Credit: Motorsport Magazine)

The 29th of November 2020 was a day that shocked the whole F1 paddock. It was the day when one of Formula One’s worst accidents in recent history happened. The 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix was round fifteen in a season affected by Covid-19. It was the average 2020 race: a Mercedes one-two on the grid, neither Ferrari making it to Q3 and Nicolas Latifi starting last.

The two notable qualifying positions in this incident were Danill Kvyat, qualifying tenth, and Romain Grosjean, qualifying P19. It was a poor start by Kvyat, dropping to P17 after starting tenth after turn one. Grosjean had remained in P19.

By turn three, Grosjean had passed Kvyat, who was now P18, with Grosjean running side by side with him heading out of turn three in P17. Grosjean then moved to the right and made contact with Kvyat at 119mph. Due to the speed, he hit the trackside crash barrier at 67g.

The car split in half and the fuel supply connection was ripped from the tank, causing large amounts of fluid to escape, and starting a fire. Grosjean was saved by the halo, a safety device brought in two years prior in 2018, as it protected his head from the crash barrier.

Grosjean himself credited the halo for saving his life. He stated the halo was: “the greatest thing that we brought to Formula One, and without it, I wouldn’t be able to speak to you today”.

He suffered second-degree burns on his hands, meaning that this was his final F1 race. Grosjean now races full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series for Juncos Hollinger Racing, having driven for Dale Coyne Racing in 2021 and Andretti Autosport in 2022 and 2023.

November 30th 2023: Mika Salo’s 57th birthday
Mika Hakkinen speaks with Finnish compatriot Mika Salo (Image Credit: McLarenF1 on X)
Mika Hakkinen speaks with Finnish compatriot Mika Salo (Image Credit: McLarenF1 on X)

Mika Salo was one of Finland’s first notable F1 drivers. He raced in the same era as fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen, who won two world championships.

Whilst Salo competed in 109 Grand Prix, I wanted to focus on one particular race: the 1999 German Grand Prix. After Michael Schumacher’s accident at the British Grand Prix, Ferrari focused on Eddie Irvine’s car. Schumacher’s replacement during his recovery from a broken leg was Salo.

He struggled in his opening three races for Ferrari in Austria, Hungary, and Belgium. However, he had two good results in Germany and Italy. What was notable about both races was Hakkinen retiring. Salo qualified fourth, out-qualifying Irvine by almost two-tenths.

Salo made a good start, passing Hakkinen’s McLaren teammate David Coulthard and Jordan’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen, running P2 at the end of lap one. He would run second while behind him, Irvine passed a retiring Barrichello, who had overtaken him after a poor start, as well as Coulthard, who too had issues, and Frentzen on lap 20.

Then, Hakkinen retired due to a tyre failure at high speed, giving Salo the lead. Salo then played the team game and, when he had the pace to run at the front, gave the lead to Irvine. Coulthard purged his way through the field, finishing fifth in the end, but Irvine took a crucial win in his championship fight against Hakkinen.

Salo helped Ferrari get more points as well. By the end of the season, Irvine lost the title to Hakkinen, but Ferrari won their first constructors title in 17 years, and Salo’s two podiums helped them beat McLaren by four points. Salo would go on to race in two more seasons of F1 in 2000 and 2002 before retiring from F1 at the end of 2002.

Feature Image Credit: @F1 on X 

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