• April 3 down the years

Piquet dishes the dirt in Brazil

What happened on April 3 in Formula One history?
Nelson Piquet caused controversy for his comments in Brazil © Getty Images

The opening race of the season, the Brazilian Grand Prix, was mired in controversy from the off when Nelson Piquet publicly insulted Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and their wives and families in the pre-race build-up. Senna qualified on pole but his car became jammed in first gear on the parade lap; he switched to his reserve car, started from the pit lane, and battled back into second position before being black flagged for changing cars. Alain Prost went on to win the race.

In an era where death was a recognised part of the risk of the sport, Gunnar Nilsson's was a career cruelly cut short by cancer at the age of 29. "His rare talent had taken him swiftly to the top as No. 2 to Mario Andretti," wrote the Times, "[and] he was perhaps the most naturally gifted of the new generation of grands prix drivers." His career seemed on the rise when he won the wet 1977 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder, but then became increasingly inconsistent. No one knew it at the time, but he was suffering from cancer, and he was diagnosed at the end of the year. He still signed with Arrows as its No. 1 for the 1978 season but his condition deteriorated rapidly and he was forced to stand down before the first race. He dedicated his remaining months on running the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Treatment Campaign, linked to Charing Cross Hospital, declining pain-killing drugs so he could work as long as possible. His death came five weeks after that of fellow Swede, rival and friend Ronnie Peterson.

After a processional 2002 season, interest in Formula One plummeted and it was revealed more than US$110 million of sponsorships remained unsold among the ten teams. Jordan Ford - running in 2003 without a title sponsor - had the highest amount of inventory available at $21.6m and even Ferrari had a US $17m package unsold.

McLaren announced the signing of a 13-year-old karting whiz kid, Lewis Hamilton. Ron Dennis said Hamilton had the ability to go all the way to the top and made him a member of the team's prestigious driver support programme. "We did not expect this so soon," Hamilton's father said. "When McLaren first spoke to us our reaction was one of disbelief. What McLaren is giving us is a complete package, making sure Lewis's education stays on the right track and he keeps his feet on the ground. It is almost as if the motor-racing side is a bonus. But Lewis will have to produce the results they are looking for."

The USA Grand Prix East at Long Beach marked a turning point as it ushered in the ground-effects era with a win for Mario Andretti in the Lotus 78. Andretti also became the first American to win a grand prix on home soil.

Nigel Mansell's first outing on an oval circuit in Indycar ended in tears when his Lola struck a wall at the International Raceway in Phoenix at 170mph during a practice session. He was knocked unconscious and flown to hospital by helicopter, being released with concussion and bruises to his right shoulder. He had already won the first IndyCar race of the season, on a street circuit at Surfers' Paradise in Australia.

The Bahrain Grand Prix took place the day after Pope John Paul II died and several teams and drivers offering their respects, most notably Ferrari, who raced with blackened nose cones as a mark of respect. The celebrations on the podium after Fernando Alonso's start-to-finish win were also muted. Michael Schumacher was forced to quit after a spin, his first technical retirement in 59 grand prix dating back to 2001.

A decade of speculation over the future of Silverstone was to follow, but the first shots came from Bernie Ecclestone who warned there was no guarantee the race would stay there when the existing deal ended in 2001. "They can do all the restructuring it likes but I might not sign another contract. Shares in nothing are worth nothing." He added Silverstone were no longer in discussions with him. "They said they'll see what happens," he said. "They don't know what they are doing at the moment. They are not in any position to sign anything with anyone. Brands Hatch has put forward a proposal to host the Grand Prix and I am considering it." Its long-term future was not secured until 2010.

Chuck Weyant was a prominent driver in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. He competed four times in the Indianapolis 500 in 1955 and between 1957 and 1959 at a time it was included in the Formula One World Championship.