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Pick your classic grand prix - race five

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Andrew Benson | 07:00 UK time, Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Formula 1's return to Europe means our classic grand prix series can resume normal service - all the selections ahead of the Spanish race come from that country's rich F1 history.

We have an eclectic bunch for you to peruse this time around, with the five choices spanning four decades of F1 on the Iberian peninsula.

Before I run through the options, though, a quick reminder of the rules for those of you who might be unfamiliar with this process.

In an attempt to whet your appetites for the Spanish Grand Prix on 9 May, we have come up with four races from the event's history. Your job is to tell us which one of those you would most like to see highlights of and why.

We will use those answers to inform our choice of which one we highlight in the run-up to the race next week. That means we will offer the full 'Grand Prix' highlights programme of the time, as well as the shorter highlights packages we cut for all the races for this feature.

These highlights will be shown on the BBC Sport website and the red button. We do our best to get them on to Freeview as well as digital satellite and cable, but because of the restricted space we can not always guarantee that.

Right, down to business.

Our first selection is the 1977 Spanish Grand Prix. While the race itself was not especially memorable, it was a defining moment in F1 history because it marked the first time that the true possibilities of aerodynamic 'ground effect' became apparent.

Mario Andretti in the Lotus 78The Lotus 78 is one of history's defining grand prix cars. Photo: Getty

Most people remember Mario Andretti's 1978 world championship year in the Lotus 79 as the time the team finally nailed 'ground effect' - massively increasing downforce and therefore grip by using a shaped underbody and sealing the area with sliding 'skirts' to create a 'venturi effect' under the car.

Actually, though, the 1977 car, the 78, was Lotus's first attempt at 'ground effect', and it was only unreliability that prevented Andretti claiming the title that year, too.

The Spanish race - then in its second year in its new home of Jarama near Madrid after the banning of Barcelona's brilliant Montjuic Park track on grounds of safety following the disastrous 1975 race - was the first European race of the 1977 season, and Andretti arrived there fresh from winning his home grand prix at Long Beach, California.

He had to fight hard for the US win but in Spain Andretti simply dominated from pole position. He went on to win twice more that season, but lost the title because of the consistency of Ferrari's Niki Lauda. A year later, Lotus would not make the same mistake.

Our second choice focuses on 1988 and Alain Prost's memorable victory for McLaren. Although this was the season in which a dominant McLaren won 15 of the 16 races, this was one which should have eluded the brilliant Frenchman.

In the final year of turbos, the boosted cars, such as the McLaren, were limited to just 150 litres of fuel for a race, and the Jerez track, where this race was held, proved more problematic for McLaren than any other.

Prost jumped into the lead at the start from team-mate Ayrton Senna - who, as usual, was on pole - and drove as cautiously as he could while holding off the normally aspirated Williams of Nigel Mansell. Prost finally got some breathing space when the Englishman was delayed at his pit stop and went on to win, keeping the title battle with Senna alive until the next race in Japan.

Senna provided an illustration of just how much trouble McLaren were in. From the start, his fuel gauge was reading in the negative, and he came under increasing pressure from the non-turbo cars behind him, eventually finishing fourth.

The next choice is 1994, the fourth year at the Spanish race's current home, the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona.

Damon Hill celebrates his win at the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix, with Michael Schumacher alongside him after finishing secondVictory in Spain in 1994 was a cathartic moment for Hill and Williams. Photo: Getty

At this time, F1 was still reeling from the death of Senna at Imola a month before and the weekend was marked by political rows about changes to the cars that had been enforced by then-FIA president Max Mosley on the grounds of safety, and the introduction of a silly chicane to slow cars on the back straight.

Michael Schumacher's Benetton had won all four races preceding Spain, and as he romped into the distance in the early laps, he looked all set for a fifth.

But then he began to slow down, and he was soon passed by Damon Hill's Williams. After losing time for a number of laps, though, Schumacher's pace began to stabilise, and he held the gap to Hill to finish second. It was only afterwards that it emerged that Schumacher's car had become stuck in fifth gear, making this one of the greatest drives of his entire career.

For Hill and Williams, the fact that they had been gifted the win was less important than the win itself. Badly needing a lift after the trauma of Senna's death in one of their cars, this was the cathartic moment they needed to enable them to refocus on the second half of the season.

In those days, the Spanish GP was one of the more low-key events on the F1 calendar. F1 might have had found a permanent home at the Circuit de Catalunya, but it always had something of a niche appeal in Spain.

Until, that is, the arrival of a certain Fernando Alonso on the scene. His win at the 2006 event, our next choice, cemented the Spanish fans' love affair with their new hero.

Alonso had driven superbly in 2003 to finish second to Schumacher, keeping the driver in the faster Ferrari on his toes throughout the race - and he also finished second behind Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren in 2005, the Spaniard's first championship year.

In 2006, Alonso finally gave the fans want they had wanted, a chance to celebrate a first ever home win for a Spanish driver. So far, Alonso has yet to repeat that success - but he must be strongly fancied to do so this year.

Finally, we have last year's race, and Jenson Button's brilliant victory for Brawn. The win should really have gone to team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who was on a faster three-stop strategy, which was initially the plan for Button, too.

Button was switched to a two-stop strategy at his first pit stop to avoid coming out behind slower cars, and while Barrichello failed to keep up the required pace, Button was brilliant in his middle stint, keeping up a relentless pace that consigned the Brazilian to the runner-up spot.

It's worth saying, incidentally, that if this race is the chosen one, we will make the full hour-long highlights show broadcast last year available on the internet.

Button, too, must have a strong chance of winning in Spain this year.

So there you have it. Five races, five choices. I look forward to reading your responses.


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