It has been almost fifteen years since Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Moktoum Al Maktoum announced his plans for a new worldwide racing class. The idea, the A1 Grand Prix 'World Cup of Motorsport' which was announced at a press conference in Dubai. Today, in our second part of this feature, we pay attention to the first season of the A1 GP.
The first A1 Grand Prix weekend started on Friday September 23rd, 2005. During two sixty minute sessions, the drivers got the chance to drive at Brands Hatch for the first time. During these two practice sessions, they had to deal with no less than eight red flag situations. Jos Verstappen of the Netherlands was hit in the rear by Karun Chandhok. Verstappen's car flew into the air, putting him on the sidelines for the rest of the day. On Saturday morning, Team France was the fastest, and that would foreshadow the rest of the season. Nelson Piquet Jr, active at the time in the British Formula 3 championship, drove the fastest times in qualifying on Saturday afternoon. The Brazilian was on pole position for the sprint race that was held on Sunday.
The first race of the new class took place on Sunday, 25th September. Under the eyes of an estimated 100,000 spectators, A1GP kicked into life at the circuit in Kent. Team Netherlands, with Jos Verstappen behind the wheel, had a dramatic start. Stephen Simpson of Team South Africa hit Verstappen, leaving Jos to end his first race in the pits due to damage to the car.
For the 'main' race, Nelson Piquet Jr was on pole position. He made the best start off the line and was the first to enter the opening corner. Team France, with Alexandre Premat behind the wheel, did not move away. Out in front, Piquet continued to lead the event, as behind him arose a number of exciting fights. Team Italy, with Enrico Toccacelo behind the wheel and Team Lebanon with Khalil Beschir became embroiled in a tight battle. The Italian was a little too enthusiastic when he entered Paddock Hill with his car running alongside Beschir's. What followed was a big hit. A hit that is now, thirteen years later, still in our mind's eye. Beschir rolled over and over before coming to a standstill in the gravel. Both drivers were unharmed, but the world had become acquainted with a spectacular crash.
Team Brazil would eventually win the first main race. With two wins and the fastest lap, the team went into the next round as the championship leaders. Jos Verstappen finished in seventh place and brought home four points for the Netherlands. Will Power, who drove for Team Australia, would do an excellent job with a fourth and second place for his team. It was the only time that Power was active in this series in 2005-2006. Power, last year's winner of the Indianapolis 500, was replaced in Germany by Christian Jones, the son of former Formula 1 World Champion Alan Jones.
The second race was held at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz circuit in Germany. The circuit, which used to be mainly used by the Champ Cars that drove their German 500 here, was equipped with an infield section. It was also the first weekend when it became clear that Team France, with Nicolas Lappiere and Alexandre Premat as drivers, took an advance on the title. Nelson Piquet from Team Brazil had a difficult weekend. During the sprint race, Piquet managed to come home in third place, but during the main race, the Brazilian dropped out. The first retirement of the main race went to Scott Speed. The American, who was preparing for his Formula 1 debut for Toro Rosso.was also the culprit of the chain collision that took place in the sprint race. Speed would be replaced by Bryan Herta after three races, partly because Toro Rosso decided that he would not be allowed to drive A1 races in the 2006 calendar year.
In Portugal, Australia, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and the sprint race in South Africa, the French continued to dominate the championship. France was closely followed by Neel Jani from Switzerland and Robbie Kerr from England. The dominance of these three countries eventually resulted in a huge gap to the rest of the field.
Jos Verstappen came to Durban, South Africa after he had a disappointing weekend in Dubai. Verstappen, at that time had a best result of fourth place from the season so far. But that was soon to change, as Verstappen was very competitive during this weekend. After a good start in the sprint race, Jos was third. Following a mistake from Robbie Kerr, Verstappen moved up to second place behind Team France. In a race where Verstappen kept the pressure on Alexandre Premat, Verstappen made an all-or-nothing attempt in the last lap to take the lead. The attack ended in tears. Verstappen hit the French car and spun off the track. Verstappen was furious, but the mistake was really with Jos himself.
But perhaps what an angry Verstappen is capable of doing was showed in the main race. Verstappen, who started from sixteenth, cut through the field at high speed and eventually won the race, and deservedly so. The victory in South Africa was the first of two podiums that Verstappen would score for Team Netherlands that year. During the main race in Mexico, at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the Dutchman came second. A performance of size, only he could not know then that his son would do better later.
During the season many driver changes took place. Team France had two regular drivers who alternated. The only team that competed with the same driver at the start of the season as they started with was Team Netherlands. Jos Verstappen eventually finished seventh in the championship with 69 points. France became the champions, Switzerland was second and England was third. After winnign the opening two races the Brazilians found themselves in sixth place in the championship. Piquet Jr scored only two other podiums after his double at Brands Hatch.
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