Graham Hill Bend at Brands Hatch was named after the late great Formula One double world champion. The corner itself has seen many iterations over the years, with some of its most dramatic changes proposed in the recent past. This article takes a look at how this corner has changed, and what it might look like in the future.
Graham Hill Bend is the third corner on the Brands Hatch circuit (both the Indy and GP layouts). But the corner hasn’t always been called this.
Originally this corner was simply known as Bottom Bend, and was a much less distinct corner than it is now. The below satellite image from around 1970 shows one of the original iterations of the Indy circuit.
Bottom Bend, highlighted in the pink square, was a very long, gradual, almost constant-radius corner. It never really stops being a corner before you reach the next left-hander of Surtees (shown as 6 on the map above).
The ‘straight’ bit between Bottom Bend and Surtees comes incredibly close to the start / finish straight. It could do this back then as the inner pits and paddock area wasn’t developed in to the larger space-consuming area it is now. Instead, the grass area off to the left of the circuit at Bottom Bend, known as South Bank (now south bank car park) was a huge spectator area normally packed with fans and cars.
Bottom Bend becomes Graham Hill Bend
At the end of 1975 the infield pits and paddock area was dramatically overhauled and expanded. This gave lots of space for teams to park their trucks and support vehicles, and it was completed in time for the 1976 Race of Champions.
To create this extra space between the main straight and the bottom straight, the bottom straight had to be completely remodelled and moved towards South Bank. The straight became more distinct and was named Cooper Straight. At the same time the old Bottom Bend is renamed Graham Hill Bend in honour of the driver who had recently, and unexpectedly, passed away (see more below).
The below satellite image from 1990 shows the new pit area and the updated track between Graham Hill bend and Surtees. It also shows that Graham Hill Bend is still not what it is today as it is still appears to be very long sweeping corner. There were more modifications to come…
Graham Hill Bend changes in 1998 / 1999
In 1988 track changes took place to Dingle Dell corner. But it wasn’t until a decade later at the end of 1998 that Graham Hill was changed again. The straight run down the hill from Druids was extended, albeit with a slight left kink in it, and the corner itself was much later and tighter. This clipping from Motorsport magazine talks about the planned works to this corner, and the reasons behind them.
When the construction work was completed in time for the 1999 season, Graham Hill Bend became the corner that we know it as today. This much more distinct corner always provides plenty of action for any race series, as the run down the hill from Druids is a great overtaking opportunity. Cars running wide on the exit of the new Graham Hill Bend are now always at risk of running wide in to the barriers or spinning across the track. The corner is however much slower than it used to be. Drivers who had raced on both versions seemed to prefer the much faster flowing nature of the pre-1999 corner.
The image below is from 2001, showing the new layout of the corner.
Graham Hill was a double Formula 1 world champion, winning the championship in both 1962 and 1968. He is also the only driver in history to have won the Triple Crown of Motorsport – the F1 World Championship, Indy 500 and Le Mans 24 hours.
His motor racing career didn’t start until very late. At the age of 24 he didn’t have a driver’s license, but on a bit of a whim he visited Brands Hatch and paid 5 shillings a lap for a go in a driving school’s 500cc Formula 3 car. After four laps and a total cost of 20 shillings he was hooked on racing, and soon after he competed in his first ever race in an F3 car, at Brands Hatch.
He was known for his humour, charisma and dashing English charm. He sadly passed away when flying a plane over London on a foggy night in November 1975. His death was a great loss to motorsport fans and the British public who had grown very fond of their double World Champion.
In 2012, Motorsport Vision (the circuit owners) had their plans approved to completely remodel Graham Hill Bend yet again. This time it would be the most dramatic overhaul the corner had ever seen. The images below show the new layout that was proposed at the time.
The run down the hill from Druids would be extended further and the little kink removed. Instead, there would be a 180 degree hairpin followed directly by a tight right hander leading on to Cooper Straight.
Despite the local council giving the circuit planning permission to make these changes, Brands Hatch never followed through with their plans. Exactly why this happened no-one is sure, but there were a number of complaints from drivers and fans submitted to the council and MSV about the proposed changes.
Why did Brands Hatch want to remodel Graham Hill Bend so dramatically, especially as its current format provided an opportunity for overtaking on the way in to the corner? Well this proposal would have surely invited more overtaking with lunges up the inside on the way in to the hairpin and lots of side-by-side action through the following right hander for fans to oggle at at all the Brands Hatch events.
Additionally, where the hairpin is proposed to be is currently a huge grass run-off area which is very rarely used, so it is likely they wanted to do something with that space. But it would slightly encroach on the infield runoff of Paddock Hill Bend.
Fast forward 10 years and Graham Hill Bend still hasn’t changed. But never say never; the planning permission was granted so Brands Hatch always have this change up their sleeve.