During its 13 seasons on the Formula 1 calendar, the Estoril circuit hosted a number of classic F1 moments, including the closest ever title decider and Ayrton Senna’s first ever win. We take a look back at some memorable moments at the former host of the Portuguese Grand Prix.
How Estoril joined the F1 calendar
In 1984, Formula 1 was supposed to head to New York for a race at Flushing Meadows – site of the 1964 World’s Fair. The race never materialised and was cancelled prior to the season beginning. It was then announced that a new street circuit in Spain, near Marbella, would step in as a replacement – but these plans too were cancelled just weeks later.
Instead, F1’s governing body FISA announced that a race would take place at the Estoril circuit, near Lisbon in Portugal. Having fallen into disuse in the 1970s, the circuit was brought up to standard and hosted the first Portuguese Grand Prix since 1960 on October 21, 1984.
1984: The closest ever title decider
Estoril was host to the final round of the season and the first race at the circuit was to be a title decider. McLaren team-mates Alain Prost and Niki Lauda were the two drivers still with a shot at taking the title. Prost’s win at the previous race put him 3.5 points behind Lauda in the Drivers’ Championship. Prost would win the inaugural Estoril race but with Lauda just behind, the Austrian won his third and final title by just half a point. It remains the smallest margin by which an F1 title has been won.
1985: Senna’s first win
At the first F1 race to be held at Estoril, Ayrton Senna finished on the podium with Toleman. Now in more competitive machinery, the Brazilian dominated the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix weekend. Driving the iconic black and gold liveried Lotus, Senna delivered a masterclass in the pouring rain. The race reached its two hour time limit, by which point Senna had built up a lead of over a minute. He’d taken pole position, set the Fastest Lap and led every lap of the race – becoming the fifteenth driver to record a Grand Slam in Formula 1.
1987: Prost sets a new record for most wins
At the 1987 Portuguese Grand Prix, Alain Prost recorded his 28th Grand Prix victory. By doing so, the Frenchman set a new record for most wins in Formula 1. He took the accolade from Jackie Stewart, who had been the previous record holder for fourteen years. With his victory, Prost also equalled Niki Lauda’s record tally of 54 podium finishes.
While Prost was making headlines, Adrian Campos set a more undesirable record. The Spaniard became the first driver to fail to finish twelve consecutive races. His streak would come to an end with a fourteenth place finish at his home event one week later.
1992: Mansell sets a new record for most wins in a season
At the 1992 Portuguese Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell took his ninth win of the 1992 season, eclipsing Ayrton Senna’s record of eight wins in 1988. Mansell’s record for most wins in a year has since been beaten in ten seasons, by Michael Schumacher and, more recently, Lewis Hamilton.
While Mansell was making history, Mansell’s Williams team-mate Riccardo Patrese made contact with the rear of Gerhard Berger’s McLaren in the race. The car of the experienced Italian was sent somersaulting through the air, sliding to a stop down the pit straight. The two drivers were unharmed in the dramatic incident.
1993: Prost wins his final title
Alain Prost announced his retirement from Formula 1 just ahead of the 1993 Portuguese Grand Prix weekend. While Michael Schumacher took his only win of the season, Prost’s second place was enough to secure his fourth and final title. Prost finished just 0.982s behind Schumacher in the race.
1995: Coulthard takes his maiden win
Having secured his maiden podium finish at the 1994 Portuguese Grand Prix, David Coulthard went one better the following year and became a Grand Prix winner at Estoril. Driving for Williams, Coulthard took pole with an advantage of almost four tenths over team-mate Damon Hill.
This race was also notable for a large accident for Ukyo Katayama at the start. After connecting with Luca Badoer’s Minardi, Katayama flipped and rolled multiple times down the pit straight. The race was halted, and the Japanese driver spent two days in hospital before making a full recovery.
Why Estoril fell off the F1 calendar
By 1996, the Estoril circuit was once again in need of modernising. Despite being asked several times by the FIA, local authorities refused to upgrade facilities at the circuit. This would ultimately lead to the venue being removed from the calendar for the 1997 season. Soon after the announcement, the local government pledged $6 million to improve the Estoril track and the event returned on the provisional 1998 calendar. However, the work was not completed in time and F1 never returned.
F1’s eventual return to Portugal
Formula 1 returned to Portugal after a 24-year absence for the 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix. The return was brought about by calendar changes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of Estoril, F1 instead visited Algarve International Circuit – the Portimao track having been constructed twelve years after Estoril last hosted an F1 race. As for Estoril, the circuit still holds an FIA Grade 1 license – meaning that future Formula 1 races at the circuit are a possibility, albeit an unlikely one.