Peter Collins remembers the dramatic start at the 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix
The 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix was the 13th race on that year’s 17 event world championship calendar.
It was staged at the Estoriil circuit near Lisbon and close to the beautiful Cascais resort.
Even then, Estoril was beginning to show its age, but there was that indelible link with past champions and classic races that gave it a certain authenticity, something the gleaming modern circuits like this year’s venue Portimao will only achieve in time.
The main stand opposite the pits was a large fairly basic concrete structure bleached and cured by the sun over many Mediterranean summers.
Not the most comfortable, but it was still a glorious place to while away the hours sitting in the Mediterranean sun watching the multiple practice sessions as the teams geared up for Sunday’s race.
So, there we were, cooped up in our oven-like commentary box, pre-race business taken care of, mics in hand, and ready for the off.
The start of that particular Portuguese Grand Prix was dramatic. As the cars hurtled towards turn one, Ukyo Katayamas’ Tyrrell veered left and into the space about to be occupied by a hard accelerating Luca Badoer in the Minardi.
The Tyrrell was launched skywards after the cars wheels touched. It then barrel rolled on the grass verge and crashed down heavily on its roll bar and worryingly, back into the oncoming traffic, debris flying in all directions.
Luckily most drivers managed to take evasive action, although Andrea Montermini also got caught up in the incident in his Pacific Ford.
An eerie silence always seems to descend after a big accident. It is accentuated when it immediately follows the ear splitting thunderous roar of a Formula one race getting underway.
In those days, the ground quite literally shook when every driver on the grid floored his accelerator and the awesome V8, V10, and most impressively V12 Power was unleashed. Staggering.
Immediately there was concern for Katayamas well-being. From our vantage point, high above the main stand, the drivers cell looked intact, but it was difficult to know if the popular Japanese driver would walk away unscathed from such a high speed shunt.
The race was stopped, medical and safety personnel were quickly on the scene to extract Katayama from the car and ensure his life wasn’t further threatened by the ever-present danger of fire.
These are the moments when you must choose your words very carefully as a commentator.
The initial tone when describing such an incident is quite naturally dramatic, but straight away, you have to pause and take on a far more considered matter of fact delivery.
A drivers life is in danger, you know it, the spectators know it, viewers at home know it, the director cuts up shots of worried faces all along the pit lane and in the stands.
They generally steer clear of close ups of the scene of the accident, for very obvious reasons. Remember this was Sept 1995 just 16 months after Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were killed at Imola.
Safety in Formula One was under the microscope after that tragic San Marino Grand Prix weekend and the sport did not need another fatality on its hands.
Still unconscious, Katayama was eventually removed from the cockpit, and word filtered through quickly from the team that he hadn’t suffered any serious injuries. There was a collective sigh of relief all ‘round. Time to gather ourselves and re-set for the re-start.
The grid reformed with David Coulthard’s Williams on pole, with championship contenders Damon Hill also in a Williams and Michael Schumacher driving for Benetton in third.
Coulthard remained out in front, but Damon Hill was caught napping by Schumacher, who pounced to claim second spot from the British driver. For the record it was Coulthards maiden victory.
Michael Schumacher went on to win the 1995 World title, Damon Hill finishing second. His time would come through a year later.
The Portimao circuit is a relatively new facility, but the undulating terrain around the parish of Mexilhoeira Grande has helped deliver a really wonderful race track and it usually serves up great racing.
Given its geographical location in the Algarve (remember that?!), just as in times past in Estoril, some pleasant weather is also as good as guaranteed. We will be back.