As a circuit which will always be remembered for hosting the British and European Grand Prix from 1964 to the late 1980s, fans were taken back to the 70s and 80s, thanks to the annual Masters Historic Festival on the 22nd and 23rd August 2020. Headlined by the FIA Masters Historic Formula One Championship, F1 machinery from the 1970s/80s returned to the Grand Prix track one more time. In the history of F1 being a Brands Hatch, it hosted some of the sport’s greatest races and it is the 70s and 80s era which many still talk about today, mainly due to the three-litre, normally aspirated cars run by many manufactures looking and sounding stunning. In today’s Masters Historic F1 series, cars manufactured by teams such as Lotus, McLaren, Tyrell and Williams continue to shine out on track and as they are raced in period livery, fans can still enjoy a glory era of F1.
After returning to the track at Donington Park in July, the cars in this series usually gain the attention over the drivers, but at Donington, Mike Cantillon secured both victories in the Williams FW07C. With the Williams unfortunately missing from the grid at Brands Hatch, Mike had switched machinery to a Tyrell 010, driven in the 1981 F1 season by notable driver Michele Alboreto. Cantillon’s on track rival up at Donington Park was Steve Hartley and he was back on track behind the wheel of John Watson’s 1982 Detroit GP winning McLaren MP4/1 and expected to be at the sharp end of the field. Another two cars from that year expected to go well was Gregory Thornton’s Lotus 91/5 carrying the iconic John Player Special/JPS livery. His specification Lotus was a race winner too in 1982, taking Elio De Angelis to victory at the Austrian GP. The last 1982 specification car on the grid was in the hands of former British F3 competitor Martin O’Connell, a Tyrell 011B, whilst Ian Simmonds would handle the car which replaced the 011, the 012 which raced in 1983. Sticking with Tyrell, a car grabbing a lot of attention before the meeting was the famous six-wheeled Tyrell P-34, being driven by Jonathan Holtzman. Built recently after approval from Tyrell, this model was designed based on the 1976 Swedish GP race winner, driven at the time by Jody Scheckter. As such an iconic car due to its design, most Tyrell P34 are now museum items, so it was fantastic to see a version back out on track where cars belong. More 70s machinery would appear this weekend, as Lukas Halusa would compete in the 1977 McLaren M23, whilst Phillip Hall would race the 1978 Theodore TR1, which had won on British soil back in that year in the hands of Keke Rosberg during the International Trophy at Silverstone. More variety on track came from another Lotus in the hands of Steve Brooks, the Lotus 81 from 1980, whilst the manufacture Surtees would be represented by the TS14 and TS16 models driven by Chris Perkins and Marc Devis. The last 1970s car on track was Ron Maydon competing in a LEC CRP1, a rare car from 1977 raced in competition by David Purley.
As said previously, it can be argued that its usually the cars which turn heads in this category, however at Brands Hatch a former multiple Grand Prix winner would be out on track, as Sky Sports F1 pundit, Johnny Herbert, returned to the cockpit to pilot a 1981 Ensign N180B. A car not well known to many, was driven in the 1981 season by drivers such as Marc Surer, Ricardo Londono and Eliseo Salazar, scoring five championship points. It would be interesting how competitive the car would be in the hands of Herbert.
Masterclass Performance Hands O’Connell Race One Victory
The opening race of the weekend saw Martin O’Connell on pole position, after qualifying his Tyrell 011B eight tenths of a second quicker than the rest of the field. When the lights went green, O’Connell nailed the rolling start and led into Paddock Hill Bend, whilst Steve Hartley and Gregory Thornton contested second., running wheel to wheel on the opening lap. The battling over second gave O’Connell the perfect opportunity to break away, creating a comfortable margin out front. As Thornton held second defending hard to maintain the position, Hartley slipped ahead in his McLaren MP4/1 on lap four whilst setting the fastest lap time. The two would continue their fight right up to the chequered flag, only separated by 0.152 seconds after eighteen laps, with Hartley doing enough to finish second.
Outside the top three, the order was shaken up pretty early with Steve Brooks retiring his Lotus 81, before Chris Perkins and Ron Maydon parked up their Surtees TS14 and LEC CRP1 with mechanical failures. With Brooks retiring, this promoted Johnny Herbert to battle with Mike Cantillon over fourth position, but the pace of Cantillon’s Tyrell moved him ahead of Herbert and pull away to a comfortable finish. Even though Herbert’s pace in the Ensign N180B couldn’t match the Tyrell, he was in control of a top five finish. Unfortunately for Herbert, he wasn’t able to take the flag as on the final lap, the Ensign came to a halt exiting Graham Hill Bend, but his position was secured in the final classification.
Outside the top five in the final standings, a terrific on track battle took place between Philip Hall in the Theodore TR1, Lukas Halusa in the McLaren M23 and Ian Simmonds’ Tyrell 012. The three ran close for majority of the second half of the race, with Hall finally coming out on top and ending up as the Fittipaldi class winner. The eighth-place finish for Ian Simmonds handed him victory in the Lauda category in his Tyrell 012.
Ninth at the flag was the six-wheeler Tyrell P-34 driven by Jonathan Holtzman, in what was the cars debut on track. Completing the top ten was Marc Devis in the Surtees TS16.
Back at the front, Martin O’Connell produced what was an absolute masterclass performance, controlling the race from lights to flag. At the flag the winning margin was 4.086 seconds, but at times throughout the race, O’Connell was nearly eight seconds out-front, proving that his pace wasn’t going to get beaten at Brands Hatch.
Masters Historic Formula 1 Series, Race One Top Five
- Martin O’Connell (Tyrell 011B) = 18 Laps = 25:06.792s
- Steve Hartley (McLaren MP4/1) = +4.086s
- Gregory Thornton (Lotus 91/5) = +4.238s
- Mike Cantillon (Tyrell 010) = +31.024s
- Johnny Herbert (Ensign N180B) = +1 Lap
Thornton Holds of O’Connell From Doing the Double
After dominating race one in his Tyrell 011B, eyes were on Martin O’Connell to repeat his performance, but Gregory Thornton was ready to upset things on Sunday. From lights out, O’Connell, Steve Hartley and Gregory Thornton began their fight for the win, swapping places on the opening laps. As the drivers used Graham Hill Bend to their advantage, it was at Druids that Gregory Thornton made his move for the lead. Martin O’Connell slotted into second place with Steve Hartley down in third. Behind the top three, Steve Brooks was making his way up the field, moving from sixth to fourth over the first half of the race in his Lotus 81.
Throughout the field after starting mid pack, the early laps were troublesome for Johnny Herbert. After coming to a stop in race one on the final lap, the F1 pundit unfortunately retired again, withdrawing from the race on lap six in the Ensign N180B.
Back out front, Thornton’s lead was following a similar pattern to O’Connell’s in race one, holding a gap of over five seconds and increasing, with the fastest lap being recorded by the Lotus driver. Gaps between the field were forming at half distance, apart from the battle for second. After dropping back, Steve Hartley was on a charge, closing in on Martin O’Connell. As traffic built up around the GP circuit, this favoured the Tyrell 011B, enabling O’Connell to break clear and begin to hunt down Thornton for the lead.
In the final stages, it looked like Thornton may have lost the lead, as his gap out front plummeted, falling from five seconds to one, but the Lotus driver did enough to cross the line 0.9 seconds ahead of Martin O’Connell. The Tyrell 011B finished second by a comfortable margin, with Steve Hartley completing the podium positions. Outside the podium places, Steve Brooks had a better race than the first, by taking fourth in his Lotus 81, finishing just ahead of Mike Cantillon’s Tyrell 010, who took his second top five finish of the weekend. In sixth place, Lukas Halusa won the Fittipaldi Class, in the McLaren M23, whilst seventh for Ian Simmons saw his Tyrell 012 take the Lauda category victory.
Masters Historic Formula 1 Series, Race Two Top Five
- Gregory Thornton (Lotus 91/5) = 18 Laps = 25:13.420s
- Martin O’Connell (Tyrell 011B) = 0.992s
- Steve Hartley (McLaren MP4/1) = +4.240s
- Steve Brooks (Lotus 81) = +46.230s
- Mike Cantillon (Tyrell 010) = +46.574s
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To see our full photo album from all of Saturday’s action at Brands Hatch, please click here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs