Had I not been flicking through the TV channels way back in 1986 one boring Sunday afternoon when I was just eight years old, my passion for cars may never have been ignited. I was watching a cooking show of all things when I switched from ITV to BBC1. I tuned in just in time to see the start of the British Grand Prix and no sooner had the cars set off, an almighty crash brought the action to a halt.
The ensuing chaos had me glued to the screen. There was debris everywhere and I remember being mesmerised by all the cars, the teams and the drivers standing aghast on the track. The commentator sounded deeply worried when Jacques Laffite was pulled out from his smashed Ligier-Renault and air-lifted to hospital. He’d suffered two broken legs.
I was transfixed by the events unfolding in front of me from Brands Hatch, in Kent, England. That’s my earliest memory of the storied circuit, home of the British GP since 1964, but had it not been for a bunch of cyclists from Gravesend moaning about not having anywhere to pedal the metal in the Twenties, Brands Hatch might have remained what it essentially was... a farm!
It started out as a home to cows and goats but soon became home to legends such as Jim Clark, Jack Brabham and Nigel Mansell. In between, it was used as a military training ground, but once a 6.4km dirt track was laid and the first official motor cycle race took place in 1928, its career path was set.
In the late Forties, Brands Hatch Stadium Ltd was formed and a 1.6km oval shaped circuit was developed for cars. The Half Litre Car Club organised a Formula Three race, the first race on the new track, and by the Fifties the venue had been firmly established. Following the horrific Le Mans disaster in 1955, many tracks were shut down but Brands Hatch was able to comply with new safety requirements and hosted its first Formula Two race in ‘56.
The 4.26km Grand Prix circuit was constructed three years later and it wasn’t long before it staged a major event — the 1960 Silver City Trophy Formula One race, which was won by Brabham. Now in the hands of Grovewood Securities, the new owners agreed a deal that would share the British GP with Silverstone on alternating years. In ‘64, it held its first World Championship race, which was won by Clark until it last staged the event in ‘86, the year I was watching Mansell drive the Williams-Honda to victory.
There have been tragedies too — drivers Tony Flory, Stuart Duncan, George Crossman and Jo Siffert all lost their lives here. It’s a track which demands the ultimate respect. However, there have been more things to smile about such as the annual Formula Ford Festival, which still takes place there today, the fact it hosted an IndyCar race in ‘78, not to mention the ‘83 and ‘85 European Grands Prix.
In the Nineties, ownership of the track changed hands again and it is currently in the control of the MotorSport Vision group. Brands Hatch has seen it all, from farm yard animals to cross-country runners. It even survived the First World War and is undoubtedly one of the most revered tracks around today. It’ll play host this year to a range of major race championships including the FIA Formula Two Championship and British Touring Car Championship.
I’m so glad I chanced upon the memorable race in ‘86 or I might have been working in a kitchen. Now, that’s a scary thought...