IN THE SPOTLIGHT

60 years of the Macau Grand Prix

The Macau Grand Prix has been thrilling fans for 60 years, building a momentous history and helping to create F1 champions along the way

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 November, 2013, 6:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 11:24am

The Macau Grand Prix is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion the racing is taking place over two weekends instead of one.

The first qualifying practices and races were held yesterday and will continue today, with the rest going ahead from Thursday to Sunday. On Saturday the Motorcycle Grand Prix will take place, while Sunday sees the climax of the other three top events - the Formula 3 Grand Prix, the GT Cup and the FIA-WTCC Guia Race.

But what has become a major attraction for motorsports enthusiasts from all over the world began in curious circumstances. The Grand Prix was conceived in 1954 as a treasure hunt around the streets of the city. Soon afterwards it was suggested that the track could host a professional racing event for local enthusiasts.

In 1960 the Grand Prix was entered on the international racing calendar for the first time as a "national race with foreign participation" and became subject to the regulations published by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) for sports and grand touring cars.

In 1964 Hong Kong police inspector Albert Poon was the first Hongkonger to win the Grand Prix in his Lotus Type 23, finishing the race in three hours 40 minutes and 44.2 seconds.

The race was an amateur event until 1966, when Belgian driver Mauro Bianchi entered in an Alpine A220. Alpine Renault also sent engineer Jean-Paul Castilleux to assist Bianchi with technical aspects of the car.

Bianchi's victory and exposure led to more professional racing teams entering the Grand Prix in the following years.

In 1967 the race suffered its first tragedy, when double champion Arsenio "Dodjie" Laurel was killed after losing control of his car and crashing.

His death led to calls for safety improvements.

In 1977, Formula Pacific regulations were introduced and cars raced in this category until 1983, when the organisers decided it was becoming outdated and the race would be held as a Formula 3 event instead.

Initially, they wanted to a stage an F2 race, but as they were unwilling to make any large circuit modifications - which included cutting down trees - they settled for F3.

This turned out to be the right decision, as since then it has raised the event's reputation by attracting the best young drivers from Europe and Japan.

A strong showing can catapult a promising driver to superstardom. The first F3 race in 1983 was won by Ayrton Senna from Brazil, who went on to become F1 world champion in 1988, 1990 and 1991.

The 1990 winner was Germany's Michael Schumacher, who then won seven F1 world titles.

Current F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel, of Germany, also took part in 2005 and 2006. Vettel finished third in 2005, but finished way back in 2006.

Just four years later, Vettel would go on to win his first F1 title, making motorsport history as the youngest ever world champion at 23.

The 2009 world champion Jenson Button finished second in 1999, while 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton competed in 2003 and 2004, but did not make the podium.

The motorcycle race was introduced in 1967 and top riders such as Kevin Schwantz, Carl Fogarty, Ron Haslam and Michael Rutter have taken part.

The first Guia race for touring cars was held in 1972.