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From the archives: F1s final friendly fixture

Friday, December 27 2013

The 2013 Race of Champions was postponed at the last minute but 30 years ago the name was used for the final time in a very different event at Brands Hatch.

The event was a non-championship race for Formula 1 cars and was inaugurated in 1965, one year after the first Grand Prix at the Kent circuit. At the time the British round of the World Championship alternated with Silverstone, so the Race of Champions was a convenient way to fill the gap years. However from 1967 it became an annual fixture for ten years and winners included Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt, as well as local resident Tom Pryce and folk hero Gilles Villeneuve.

ROC ProgrammeNon-championship F1 races were hugely popular in the UK, which was fast becoming the sport's power base in the 1960s. Every champion of that decade spoke English as their first language and many of the teams and men who would shape the sport first came to prominence then. Oulton Park and Snetterton hosted unofficial F1 races as well as Brands Hatch and in earlier years the drivers would also compete in support events.

However by the early 1980s the influence of one of those men, Bernie Ecclestone, elevated F1's profile and with emphasis placed further on the World Championship and teams keen to concentrate on overall glory, the 'friendly' fixtures dwindled in both numbers and entries. Indeed the 1983 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch was to be the final non-championship Formula 1 event anywhere.

The '83 event took place on 10 April, as the World Championship season was getting into its stride. With the French Grand Prix just one week away and a tyre test being held at the Paul Ricard circuit at the same time, just 13 cars were entered for the race.

Amongst this list was the World Champion, Keke Rosberg. F1's original 'flying Finn' set the pace for Williams from Ferrari's Rene Arnoux and the British team's first World Champion Alan Jones, two races into an abortive comeback with Arrows. The field also featured John Watson and Nigel Mansell, whilst qualifying in twelfth place was Stefan Johansson with the Spirit team. The car was making its debut with the new Honda turbo engine and whilst it barely lasted four laps of the race, had shown promise, a potential that would one day be fully exploited by Williams and later McLaren.

Rosberg and Arnoux set off in the lead, but the Frenchman would soon fall foul of tyre issues and engine troubles. The Goodyear tyres seemed to be caught out in the cold spring weather and soon the Williams would begin to struggle with blistering. However future Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan, racing for Tyrrell, had scrubbed his sets, and cruised up behind the World Champion in the late stages.

For several tense tours the American threatened to take a shock win, but Rosberg, showing his class, resisted even last lap attacks. Jones took third before retiring from the sport once more, whilst both Watson and Mansell retired before ten laps had even been run.

Rosberg only stood on the podium once more that season, but his Williams team had secured the Honda engines for the following season. It may have been the final non-championship F1 race, but Brands Hatch would later hold the European Grand Prix at short notice, and ran points scoring rounds in consecutive years until 1986.

Read about Brands Hatch's history in Chas Parker's book, available in the MSV shop. Click here for more details.