Matt Youson continues his countdown in Part 2 of the 10 best European grands prix, before considering the race's long-term future.
Read the first part here
6. 1995 European Grand Prix, Nürburgring, Germany, October 1
11 years after its last running, the European Grand Prix went back to the Nürburgring for 1995, where it would stay, in one form or another, until 2007. 1995 was another damp race and, as, as was often the case, Jean Alesi came alive in the conditions and put his Ferrari on the ragged edge, opting to race on slicks from sixth on the grid while the front runners all went for rain tyres. David Coulthard had qualified on pole, but spun on his way to the grid and had to take the spare car. He got away well but behind him Schumacher and Hill were fighting. Hill eventually got ahead of Schumacher but when the leaders came in for slicks, Alesi was a long way down the road. Coulthard faded, Hill caught Alesi but lost his nose. Schumacher then took up the challenge and eventually muscled his way through to win another European Grand Prix.
The scrapping Hill vs Schumacher…
7. 1996 European Grand Prix, Nürburgring, Germany, April 28
A switch from Autumn to Spring for 1996 didn’t exactly make the sun come out at the Nürburgring but at least it stopped raining long enough for Jacques Villeneuve to take his debut F1 victory in only his fifth race. And while that led to three more wins during the season, Jacques had to settle for second in the championship behind Hill. However in 1997, when the Nürburgring race became the Luxembourg Grand Prix the European Grand Prix switched back to Jerez, it was all about Jacques vs Michael Schumacher.
8. 1997 European Grand Prix, Jerez, Spain, October 26
The only time the European Grand Prix has been the final race of the season was 1997 – and the organisers got what they wanted with a proper title showdown with Michael Schumacher one point ahead of Jacques Villeneuve. Qualifying didn’t sort anything out, with both Villeneuve and Schumacher, plus Heinz Harold Frentzen setting exactly the same qualifying time. Villeneuve took pole by virtue of setting his time first. Schumacher led from the start though, and Villeneuve adopted a watching brief, staying close to his rival. The Williams looked faster than the Ferrari and Villeneuve appeared to be choosing his moment. When Jacques finally attempted the decisive pass, Schumacher attempted to nerf the Williams into the wall. It went wrong, Schumacher ended up in the gravel and all Jacques had to do was finish to take his Championship. Playing it exceptionally carefully, the Canadian let both McLaren’s though in the closing stages, gifting Mika Hakkinen a first grand prix victory. Schumacher received the largely meaningless punishment of being stripped of second place in the Championship. He was allowed to keep his results, however.
9. 1999 European Grand Prix, Nürburgring, Germany, September 26
The European Grand Prix skipped 1998, the last year in which it was not held but after it’s two-year experiment with hosting the Luxembourg Grand Prix, the Nürburgring took back the European designation. It also reclaimed another tradition by bucketing down with rain. The 1999 race was bizarre in that anyone leading the race almost instantly met with calamity. Heinz-Harold Frentzen led from the start but retired after 32 laps when his engine cut out. David Coulthard inherited the lead but slithered off, then Ralf Schumacher led but picked up a puncture. Giancarlo Fisichella took over but he spun. Eddie Irvine, who at the start of the race was tied for the Championship lead might have been in with a shout but for the Keystone Cops pitstop of the decade. Eventually Johnny Herbert paddled merrily over the finishing line to record his final, and Stewart Grand Prix’s only victory.
Not the slickest pitstop you’ll ever see…
10. 2007 European Grand Prix, Nürburgring, Germany, July 22
In the 21st Century the ‘Ring hosted the European Grand Prix until 2007. Michael Schumacher picked up four more victories but the most memorable were Fernando Alonso’s two wins. In 2005 Kimi Räikkönen led for McLaren until the final lap when one of his tyres let go in the most dramatic way imaginable. If Fernando got that one easily, he was made to work twice as hard as usual in 2007 in what was possibly the wettest European Grand Prix of all time. Chaos and pandemonium reigned at the start with cars slithering everywhere as rain began to fall. Most cars pitted at the end of lap one, Räikkönen tried but slid out of the pitlane and back onto the track. Jenson Button made up 14 places in the Horrible Honda on the opening lap before sailing across a small lake and being dumped on the gravel beach along with several of his colleagues. The race was red flagged and the grid reformed with Markus Winklehock driving for Spyker in his one and only grand prix, on pole at the restart. He’d peeled in from last off the parade lap to fit rain tyres.
When things got underway again, normal service was resumed. Felipe Massa led for Ferrari but Alonso hammered his way past to take the victory, behind them Mark Webber took his first podium finish for Red Bull at the track where two years later he would record his first grand prix victory. But by then the Nürburgring was hosting the German Grand Prix as the European race had gone to Valencia.
Kimi let's go…
…Or more precisely the Port of Valencia, where a street circuit was created around the America’s Cup yacht basin. While there are always rumours of new races the deal to take the European Grand Prix to Valencia came out of the blue, but given the popularity of Fernando Alonso and the bumper crowds at the Spanish Grand Prix, it made sense to have two races in his home country rather than two in Germany where the retirement of Michael Schumacher had left a huge void. So far Valencia hasn’t been enormously popular: hugely inflated hotel prices have deterred tourists while a series of uncompetitive Renaults and Ferraris haven’t given Alonso a decent shot at victory. The track itself doesn’t help matters, being extremely parsimonious with overtaking opportunities. There’s plenty of speculation that this year might be Valencia’s last, or at least it’s last as the European Grand Prix with a possible race share with Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix being mooted. With European nations struggling to hold onto their national grand prix rather than seeking to add another, it may be that the European Grand Prix has run its course.