What Happened On This Day July 5 In F1 History?

From 300 miles of racing at the 1953 French Grand Prix to Alain Prost's first F1 victory in 1981.

Mark Phelan

By Mark Phelan
Updated on July 12, 2024

Alain Prost 1981 French Grand Prix
Alain Prost wins as the 1981 French Grand Prix marking his first F1 win // Image: © Sutton

What happened on this day, July 5 in Formula 1 history? Find out interesting facts and stories about Formula 1 on this day.

1953

After 300 miles of racing, the 1953 French Grand Prix was decided in the final straight when Mike Hawthorn in a Ferrari overtook Juan Manuel Fangio in a Maserati to clinch victory. With just a second separating the leading two cars, it was widely acclaimed as the best grand prix since the inception of the Formula One World Championship and marked the first win by a British driver. Throughout the season, a fierce battle for Italian pride raged between Ferraris and Maseratis, culminating at the Reims circuit. Froilan Gonzalez, driving a Maserati, took an early lead in his A6GCM, but his light fuel load forced him to pit, thrusting him back into a fierce contest with Fangio, Hawthorn, and Alberto Ascari in a Ferrari. The battle raged on for the entire race, with no driver able to gain a clear advantage. In the end, the top four cars crossed the finish line within five seconds of each other, a remarkable feat after 2 hours and 44 minutes of racing.

1959

Jean Behra’s promising career at Ferrari ended dramatically following a physical altercation with team manager Romolo Tavoni after the 1959 French Grand Prix at Reims. Fellow Ferrari driver Tony Brooks won the race, seemingly outperforming Behra in front of the Frenchman’s home fans. Behra eventually retired from the race due to a broken piston and returned to the pits, convinced that Ferrari had favoured Brooks over him. In a heated discussion with Tavoni, Behra threw a punch at his boss and was immediately dismissed from the team. Less than a month later, Behra tragically died while racing a Porsche RSK Spyder at Avus. He lost control and flew off the top of the 45-degree banking at the Nordkurve, hitting a flagpole and dying instantly.

1970

Clermont Ferrand, one of the greatest Grand Prix circuits of all time, nearly lost the right to host the 1970 French Grand Prix. However, local supporters gathered enough funds to prevent the race from moving to Albi. On this day, Jochen Rindt claimed victory in front of massive crowds gathered on the hillsides. Jacky Ickx initially led the race, but his Ferrari’s flat-12 engine, which had sounded troubled on the way to the grid, failed 15 laps in. Jean Pierre Beltoise then took the lead but lost time due to a slow puncture, eventually conceding the position to Rindt. The Lotus driver went on to win the race. Despite the locals’ efforts to keep the race at Clermont Ferrand, it moved to Paul Ricard the following year and returned only once more in 1972 before permanently dropping off the calendar.

1981

The 1981 French Grand Prix delivered a thrilling race, marked by two distinct halves and culminating in Alain Prost‘s first F1 victory. Nelson Piquet made an excellent start from the Dijon grid, leading the race ahead of John Watson, Prost, Andrea de Cesaris, and Gilles Villeneuve. While Prost’s Renault showed impressive speed, it took him several laps to overtake Watson’s McLaren, allowing Piquet to extend his lead. However, on lap 58, heavy rain drenched the track, rendering it undriveable and prompting the stewards to halt the race. Fortunately, it was only a passing shower, and the eager organisers decided to restart the race from the grid in the positions the drivers held on lap 58. Prost quickly closed in on Piquet, eventually forcing his way past, followed closely by Watson, to secure his maiden victory.

1992

Eleven years later, similar weather conditions led to another 1992 French Grand Prix being split into two halves, this time at Magny-Cours. Riccardo Patrese led the first half in the dominant Williams, ahead of his teammate Nigel Mansell, but his lead evaporated with the mid-race downpour. At the restart, Mansell was right behind Patrese, and the Italian eventually and quite obviously waved him through. After the race, Mansell sidestepped questions about whether Patrese had let him pass: “I think it was the biggest casino of a race that we have had with regards to the weather. I must compliment Riccardo because the first race was great and it was a shame that it was stopped.”

2009

Bernie Ecclestone sparked global outrage when he claimed Adolf Hitler was a man who “could get things done.” In an interview with The Times, Ecclestone was asked if he had a favourite historical dictator, such as Stalin or Napoleon. He responded: “Maggie [Margaret Thatcher] has gone. In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people able to get things done. In the end he got lost so he wasn’t a very good dictator. Either he knew what was going on and insisted, or he just went along with it — either way he wasn’t a dictator.” These comments generated headlines worldwide and were heavily criticised by politicians and Jewish organizations.

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About The Author

Senior Editor

Mark Phelan
Mark Phelan

Mark is a staff writer specialising in the history of Formula 1 races. Mark researches most of our historic content from teams to drivers and races. He has followed Formula 1 since 1988, and admits to having a soft spot for British drivers from James Hunt and Nigel Mansell to Lando Norris. He loves a great F1 podcast and has read pretty much every drivers biography.

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