Thursday 5 February 2015


A road part of Monsanto Park in its current state 
Like many of the European countries in the past that have expressed interest in motorsports and have hosted Formula One races, Portugal too came up with a proposal. Since the 1950's, there were constant negotiations with the sport authorities about a race in Portugal and four years later, those negotiations bore fruit. With no stand alone race tracks, the streets of Porto first hosted a sports car race and then soon after in 1954 Lisbon hosted a race in the most unlikely part of the city, Monsanto Park.

If any one of the readers have made a visit to Lisbon, one cannot miss the name 'Monsanto Park' in many of the tourist maps. Monsanto Park was created by the local authorities in 1930's as a plan to reforest the bare lands of Monsanto Hills. With the disruption of the existing vegetation, Monsanto Park provided the right platform to replant many of the trees and create a park with roads, access, play areas and to conduct leisure activities. In this area of roughly 2,500 acres, a race track of 5.44 km was carved out of the forest park.

With the unpopular sentiments of hosting the first ever Portuguese Grand Prix at Porto, Boavista was overlooked and instead Monsanto Park stepped up to host the second Portuguese Grand Prix in 1959.

It is always a challenge to host races on public roads where temporary safety measures needs to be incorporated keeping in mind the race cars have no speed limits.

In the 1959 race, Stirling Moss, the ace driver of the 50's raced with Rob Walker's team and demonstrated the speed of Cooper-Climax outpacing the Cooper factory team to start the race in pole position. With no hopes of winning the driver's championship, the Brit had nothing to lose and his qualifying pace became the talk of the town.

The championship fight was on between the Australian Jack Brabham driving the revolutionary Cooper-Climax factory's car and leading the driver's standings by five points over Ferrari's Tony Brooks.

Sixteen cars qualified for the race and surprisingly, five of them were Americans. With the August Sunday that year being one of the hottest days of the summer in Lisbon, the race was scheduled to start at 5 pm sparing the drivers to race in that intense heat.

At the start, Moss got a poor one and quickly slipped to third position with Brabham taking the lead followed by Masten Gregory. While one championship contender was at the helm, Tony Brooks on the other hand was the last car running at the end of the first lap. Moss was quick to respond and was back in the lead on lap 2, a position which he never gave up for the rest of the race.

The first of the casualties to retire from the race happened to be on lap three when Innes Ireland ended his race with a gear box failure. Two laps later, future world champions Graham Hill and Phil Hill got tangled in a spin which severely damaged both cars.

The championship leader Jack Brabham was the next unfortunate driver to be thrown out of the race. He went off the track and hit a telegraph pole while avoiding the last placed driver Mario Cabral. This promoted his team-mate Bruce McLaren into third position with Gregory Masten taking the place behind Stirling Moss, who by now was on a race of his own. However, McLaren's luck ran out thirteen laps later and he too retired from the race owing to transmission problems.

While all this drama was on, Moss seemed unstoppable and he was on a different zone when compared to other drivers that trailed him.  By the time he started his last lap, the 62nd of the race, Stirling Moss had lapped every driver present on the circuit; such was the domination of the Brit and more importantly, the superiority of Cooper-Climax. After a disappointing season leading up to this race in Monsanto Park, Moss was finally able to win his first Grand Prix of the year and as a result moved five points behind Tony Brooks to be placed third in the driver's championships. Jack Brabham retained his lead and would go on to win his first of the three world titles. 


I have spent some time around the area of Monsanto Park and also happened to drive a passenger car around the area. It is hard to imagine an F1 race in such a backdrop with some sections having tramlines as a part of racing circuit. Unless, there are measures taken on the lines of Albert Park, Australia, there is hardly any future for such public roads. 

Post the Monsanto Park race, the future looked bleak for Lisbon  and after the 1960 Boavista race in Porto, Portugal had to wait until 1984 to host another Grand Prix. That took place not far away from the pit straights of Monsanto circuit - which serves as the autostrada to Estoril, a name which was associated with F1 for more than a decade up until the mid 90's, when it regularly hosted the F1 races. 

And unlike Estoril, which is a purpose built F1 circuit, Monsanto was a street circuit which did not step up to host more races and there by relegated to be just a one race circuit, although the place continues to be as popular as ever without Formula One. 

Courtesy: allf1.info

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