SEPTEMBER 18, 1995

What you may not know about Estoril

THE Estoril racing circuit is not far from Lisbon, Portugal, on the northern coast of the estuary of the River Tagus.

THE Estoril racing circuit is not far from Lisbon, Portugal, on the northern coast of the estuary of the River Tagus. It can be found in the hills behind the once-glamorous resort town of Estoril - which has grand hotels reminiscent of the French Riviera and a huge casino - and the small fishing port of Cascais, which has been swallowed up by Estoril's development.

Built on wasteland in the early 1970s, the track was opened in June, 1972. Its early development was not helped by the oil crisis of 1973, and the Portuguese Revolution which followed in 1974. As a result the circuit did not host a major international event until 1975. This was a Formula 2 event, won by a man on the verge of breaking into F1 - Jacques Laffite, who streaked home half a minute ahead of the rest in his Martini-BMW.

Formula 2 in the late 1970s was dominated by the French and the circus returned to Estoril in both 1976 and 1977: ReneÊArnoux won in 1976 in his Martini-Renault, 20secs clear of Jean-Pierre Jabouille in an Elf-Renault. In 1977 it was the turn of Didier Pironi, who led home Arnoux.

After this brief interlude Estoril dropped out of the spotlight. In 1977 there was an under-subscribed round of the World Sportscar Championship, dubbed the Grande Premio Costa del Sol, in which the dominant Alfa Romeos of Vittorio Brambilla and Arturo Merzario finished in formation three laps ahead of the rest of the field.

It was not until the early 1980s that Estoril began to re-emerge, largely thanks to the involvement of Cesar Torres, head of the Automobile Club of Portugal. Initially the circuit was used as a special stage for the Portuguese Rally but soon F1 teams - unable to visit South Africa for winter testing because of the political troubles - began to use Estoril. Major development work was done and in 1984 Torres put forward Estoril as the site for a Portuguese GP. The track could not have got off to a better start with the World Championship being decided between Niki Lauda and Alain Prost - McLaren team mates. Prost won the race, but Lauda was second and won the title by just half a point.

The teams returned to Portugal early in 1985 and, in rainy conditions, the locals witnessed the first F1 victory for a new star named Ayrton Senna. Another youngster dominated in 1987, Ferrari's new signing Gerhard Berger, but the Austrian was under pressure from Prost in the closing laps and spun off with two laps to go, allowing Prost to win his 28th Grand Prix victory - breaking Jackie Stewart's long-standing record of career wins.

Prost won again in 1988, but he lost out to Berger in 1989 after Mansell and Senna had tangled. The British driver would be banned from racing in the following Grand Prix after ignoring a black flag and colliding with Senna. A year later Nigel won for Ferrari, but in 1991 he was in trouble again, being disqualified again. Riccardo Patrese won for Williams.

Mansell won again in 1992, while Patrese was fortunate not to be hurt when he nearly flipped on the main straight, having run over the back of Berger's McLaren.

In 1993, the Portuguese race marked Michael Schumacher's only victory that season, less than a second ahead of Alain Prost at the finish; while 1994 was a Williams-Renault 1-2, with Schumacher unable to race because of his three-race ban.

The design of the track is probably responsible for some of the close races at Estoril as the long straights are offset by the difficult corners at the back of the track.