Of the hundreds of Grands Prix contested since Formula One was established in 1950, a handful stand out as classics. Whether by virtue of spectacular individual achievements, competitive drama, technical wizardry or their impact on the development of the sport, the races profiled here offer some of the defining moments in the history of F1 motor racing.
French Grand Prix 1953
Reims — 5 July 1953
Grand Prix racing in its first three seasons had been dominated by the Continental drivers and teams — Alfa Roméo, Ferrari and Maserati — but the winds of change were sown at the Reims triangle, the 4th event of 1953, officially known as the XL Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France. With Alberto Ascari (who had won every GP in 1952) on pole, joined by newcomer teammate Mike Hawthorn of Great Britain, the race by half-distance became a slipstreaming battle among Ascari, Giuseppe (“Nino”) Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio, Froilan Gonzalez and Hawthorn. After Gonzalez pitted, Hawthorn and Fangio engaged in a thrilling, side-by-side duel on the long Reims straights, the drivers signaling to each other and clearly enjoying every moment. Going into the final lap Hawthorn inched ahead after the two blasted past the pits in a dead heat, kept the lead in the critical last turn at the Thillois hairpin, and beat Fangio — whose Maserati had lost first gear — to the line by 1.0s, with Gonzalez just 0.4s behind and a whisker ahead of Ascari in 4th place. It was the first Grand Prix win by a Briton, a prelude of many more to come. Classifications.
German Grand Prix 1957
Nürburgring — 4 August 1957
Juan Manuel Fangio — 46 years old and already a four-time world champion — arrived at the Nürburgring’s 14.2 mile Nordschleife (“North Ring”), nicknamed “The Green Hell,” in 1957 under a blazing August sky fresh off Stirling Moss’s British GP victory at Aintree for Vanwall, the first-ever GP win by a British constructor. Starting on half-tanks in his gorgeous Maserati 250F, Fangio judged he could build up a sufficient lead over the Ferraris of Hawthorn and Peter Collins to stop for fuel and retain the lead. But Maserati was not the best organized of teams, and Fangio’s lap 11 pit stop lasted an agonizing 53s, allowing Hawthorn to take the lead by more than a minute when Fangio finally rejoined the race. “The Maestro” proceeded to unleash the most spectacular pursuit of his career. He broke and re-broke the Ring lap record by an amazing 12 seconds on three consecutive laps — eventually bettering his pole time by fully eight seconds — and when the Ferraris realized the danger, he was already in their mirrors. As the cars thundered past the South Curve, Fangio closed right up to Collins’ gearbox, and swept by with a wheel on the grass, peppering Collins with stones. It was the Argentine’s 24th and final Grand Prix victory, and also his greatest. As Fangio said later, “On that day in 1957 I finally managed to master the Nürburgring. It was as if I had screwed all the secrets out of it and got to know it once and for all. . . . Even now, I can feel fear when I think of that race. I’d never driven like that before, and I knew I never would again.” Classifications.
Argentine Grand Prix 1958
Buenos Aires — 19 Jan. 1958
The Grand Prix of Argentina, the opening race of the 1958 Formula One season, will not be remembered as a classic duel, but rather because it saw the first glimpse of a radical change in F1 car design. The Cooper T43, fitted with a Coventry 2.0 litre engine, gave away 500cc of displacement to the more powerful Ferraris and Maseratis. But John Cooper had developed a mid-engine design that placed the engine behind the driver, allowing better weight distribution and superior handling. Driving a customer Cooper for Rob Walker’s private team, Stirling Moss qualified just 7th, a full two seconds behind Fangio’s pole position. Nonetheless, amid general amazement Moss won the race in the small English car, starting a coup d’état that would soon overthrow the existing scale of values in the small society of Formula One. Taking advantage of rule changes that outlawed aviation petrol and that limited races from 310 miles (500km) to 186 miles (300km), Cooper recognized that reduced fuel consumption and shorter races inevitably led to lighter cars, with less generous proportions, as the cars had less weight to support and did not have to last so long. The “Cooper revolution” was in full sway by 1959, when Jack Brabham won the championship with a Cooper T51, and in 1961 all the cars lined up for the opening Grand Prix of the season at Monaco were built with the design that just three years earlier, only Cooper was using. Classifications.
Dutch Grand Prix 1967
Zandvoort — 4 June 1967
If the Sixties had a single turning point, it was the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. While earlier technical innovations — like the monocoque chassis and use of the engine as a stressed member of the suspension — were perhaps more important, Zandvoort witnessed the debut of the Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8 engine, the power plant that would go on to dominate Formula One for nearly two decades. Born of a partnership between Team Lotus and Ford, the Cosworth DFV brought two-time F1 World Champion Jim Clark just his second Grand Prix victory since his dominant 1965 season, where Clark led every lap of every race he finished. With minor trouble with wheel bearings hampering his qualifying performance, Clark started well back in 9th on the grid — third row in those days — behind teammate Graham Hill’s pole position (4.2s faster than the lap record). After 11 laps Hill was out, handing the lead to Jack Brabham, followed by Jochen Rindt, but just five laps later Clark had passed both, taking a lead which he held to the end, eventually winning by 23.6s. By the end of 1967 the Lotus 49s were so dominant that Hill and Clark would toss a coin to see who should win, with only unreliability denying Clark a third World Championship. Although Team Lotus’ exclusive use of the DFV ended in 1968’s season-opening South African GP — Clark’s final F1 win before his tragic death at Hockenheim in April 1968 — the Cosworth would go on to win more than 150 Grands Prix, competing successfully through 1983. Classifications.
German Grand Prix 1968
Nürburgring — 4 August 1968
The daunting Nürburgring was at its most capricious in August 1968, with mist and torrential rain rendering the track treacherous and visibility virtually non-existent. Driving with a broken wrist, Jackie Stewart set his Matra-Ford in 6th on the starting grid, but moved past pole sitter Jackie Ickx’s Ferrari and into an 8s lead by the end of the first 14-mile, 187-turn lap. After another lap he led by 25s, and nearly a minute after five laps. At the finish, Stewart won by an amazing 4m 3.2s, giving him time to to climb out of the car and accept congratulations before the others even came into sight. Stewart thought it was not his greatest race — which he believed was the 1973 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, where Stewart unlapped himself on the entire field — saying later that “I can’t remember doing more than one balls-out lap of the ‘Ring than I had to. It gave you amazing satisfaction, but anyone who says he loved it is either a liar or wasn’t going fast enough!” But like Fangio’s drive 11 years earlier, Stewart’s 1968 performance at Nürburgring proved that this devilishly difficult circuit brought out the best in the best Formula One drivers of all time. Classifications.
British Grand Prix 1973
Silverstone — 14 July 1973
Silverstone, the birthplace of the modern Formula One era in 1950, is a circuit that has witnessed many fantastic duels, and the 1973 Grand Prix of Great Britain was one for the ages. With a nine-car shunt on the opening lap at the ultra-fast Woodcote corner — which red-flagged the race and soon led to installation of the first of the chicanes that have now neutered this tremendous track — the British GP was transformed into an epic battle among pole-sitter Ronnie Peterson in the Lotus 72D, McLaren drivers Deny Hulme and Peter Revson, and first-year F1 newcomer James (“Hunt the Shunt”) Hunt in a private March. Revson stalked defending World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi and Peterson until mid-race, where with a light rain starting to fall he took the lead. After Fittipaldi dropped out with transmission failure with 30 laps to go, the Peterson-Hulme-Hunt trio moved as one. At the finish, the three were separated by just 0.6s, with Revson taking the checkered flag — and his only GP win before being killed in practice at Kyalami in March 1974 — just 2.8s ahead. Classifications.
Japanese Grand Prix 1976
Mt. Fuji — 24 October 1976
The 1976 season was all about the artistry and courage of Niki Lauda, and in the end revealed James Hunt as the World Champion, Britain’s last for the next 16 years. Lauda had won six of the first nine races to start the season, but at the German Grand Prix on 1 August, Lauda crashed his Ferrari at Bergwerk, a 150 mph section of the Nürburgring, in a massive, flaming accident accident that still brings shivers when viewed to this day. Suffering severe facial burns and inhaling toxic fumes from the car’s burning bodywork, Lauda was expected to die and received the Last Rites in the hospital. In a rare display of sheer determination, he made a near-miraculous recovery to return to the cockpit just six weeks later for the Italian GP. Fuji was drawn in another dimension: a widespread disbelief that Lauda was actually alive, never mind driving his Ferrari.
Coming into this final race, Hunt needed to finish four points ahead of Lauda: which meant, under the traditional scoring system of the day, that he needed to finish at least 3rd or better (with Lauda not scoring). Hunt dominated the first-half of the race — run in atrociously bad weather — with a fantastic start. When Lauda abruptly withdrew after three laps, not willing to risk his life in a race that today would surely have been red-flagged, it seemed James had everything wrapped up. Yet as the track dried his rain tires began to shred. Pitting from a safe 3rd place, Hunt rejoined in 5th with just five laps to go. Ferrari began celebrating Lauda’s title, but they were counting out an inspired Hunt, who quickly passed Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni to retake 3rd. Still, Hunt was unable to communicate with his pits, which meant he did not know what position he was in, and kept pushing for his life to catch Patrick Depailler. At the end, Hunt crossed the line unable to see the track, not knowing where he had placed or whether he had captured the drivers’ title — while Mario Andretti almost anonymously won the race in his Lotus 77. As Hunt berated his crew for terrible pit signals, it was only the grinning face of McLaren team manager Teddy Meyer that told Hunt he had won the World Championship. And, on that treacherous day at the foot of Mt. Fuji, he truly deserved it. Classifications.
French Grand Prix 1979
Dijon — 1 July 1979
Turbocharged engines were not new to Grand Prix racing — superchargers were used as early as the 1930s — but the turbo era of modern Formula One began slowly. With Renault leading the way, the turbo finally overcame its acceleration lag and unreliability to take its first win at the 1979 French GP at Dijon. Yet Jean-Pierre Jabouille’s victory was overshadowed, in the most dramatic way possible, by a tremendous duel between Gilles Villeneuve and René Arnoux for 2nd place. With Jabouille safely in the lead, Villeneuve’s Ferrari and Arnoux’s Renault bounced, squirted and banged wheels corner after corner on the closing laps, never more than a car length apart. Known as a pure racer who gave everything regardless of consequences, Villeneuve would not be denied on this July day, taking the lead for good with three corners left after a fantastic, full-wheel lock outside line pass and then the checkered flag 0.24s ahead. Dijon was also one of the first Formula One races televised by Britain’s BBC, for whom famous commentator Murray Walker recapped: “This is incredible! In this historic French Grand Prix, the oldest of them all, there has never been a battle for position as dramatic as this. Villeneuve is incredible!” Classifications.
Monaco Grand Prix 1984
Monte Carlo — 3 June 1984
Nigel Mansell could have won it. Ayrton Senna, in only his 7th GP, probably would have, but when the race was red-flagged Alain Prost had hung on to victory in one of the wildest races ever run in the principality of Monaco. Prost had pole position, but Mansell’s JPS Lotus took the lead on lap 10 and pulled away. His first-ever Grand Prix lead lasted all of five laps. Going up the hill to Casino Square, Mansell lost it in the biggest possible way when he hit the painted white line on the road with the power on, got wheel spin, and his car flicked into the Armco barrier, destroying the rear suspension. The race, though, was far from over.
Within two laps, Senna (who started 13th for Toleman) had moved past Lauda’s McLaren and them closed to 7s behind Prost by lap 31, shaving 27s off of Prost’s lead in just 11 laps. Senna passed Prost for the lead on the next lap and believed he had won, but by then the race had abruptly been halted due to rain, leaving the classifications where they had been at the last pass of the start-finish line. Head-strong and opinionated in his early years (some would say for his entire career), Senna blamed the F1 establishment for robbing him of victory, but after reflecting realized “I probably got more publicity out of the way the thing developed than if I had won.” Nonetheless, the perception of Ayrton Senna from this moment was altered. He had thrust himself upon the big stage and would, very soon, take his own place atop the podium. Classifications.
Portuguese Grand Prix 1985
Estoril — 21 April 1985
Ayrton Senna scored his maiden Grand Prix victory in the most dominant of style in weather so bad it had caused a driver of Alain Prost’s sublime ability to crash — but weather in which, throughout his career, Senna was time and time again to put the crowning touch on his stature as the greatest driver of his era. In the torrential rains that hit Estoril in April 1985, Senna’s effortless progress through the pack, as his rivals slithered and crashed behind his gleaming black Lotus — with that soon-to-be famous fluorescent yellow helmet visible even through the clouds of spray — seemed guided around the track as if by an invisible hand. Senna was on pole after one example of what would become his trademark: a blinding qualifying lap, all drama and breathtaking beauty. After holding first place at the start, he pulled out a lead that soon became impregnable, finishing more than a minute ahead of Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari and lapping the entire balance of the field. Portugal was a sign of things to come in Formula One. Senna led more laps than anyone else in 1985, but he only won once more, as the Lotus-Renault was a mere shadow of the great Team Lotus machines of the 1960s and 70s. It would not be Senna’s season, but other years would of course be different. Classifications.
Australian Grand Prix 1986
Adelaide — 26 October 1986
Collecting his first Grand Prix win, after many frustrating failures, at the 1985 European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, Nigel Mansell was on the verge of the World Championship the next season. Winning in 1986 at Spa-Francorchamps, Estoril, Montréal and Le Castellet — together with the British GP, taking that race in Nelson Piquet’s spare car after Frank Williams refused to impose team orders for Mansell to give way — Mansell approached the season’s finale at Adelaide leading Alain Prost by six points and Piquet by seven. All he had to do to win the World Championship was to keep going round and round the agreeable contours of the Australian street circuit, making sure he didn’t hit the walls.
Putting his Williams-Honda turbo on pole, Mansell took the lead at the green light and settled into 4th place, allowing the race to find its pattern. Prost pitted with a puncture and Mansell passed Senna and Piquet for 2nd place, 25s behind Keke Rosberg’s McLaren. Then Rosberg’s right rear tire failed, and on lap 64 of 82, as the Goodyear technicians tried feverishly to inform the other Goodyear teams (including Williams), Mansell powered down the long High Street straight at 180 mph on full throttle when his own left rear tire exploded, flinging up a fountain of yellow, molten sparks as his car bucked from side to side in a frenzy. With fantastic agility, Mansell got the Williams under control and ebbed to a stop up the escape road — safe. He held his arms aloft in the cockpit, a motion of great despair and grief, as the World Championship slipped away. Prost went by to win the title, and only later did Mansell learn that if he had crashed into the wall on the straight, the race would have been red-flagged and he would have been World Champion. “Oh my God” was all he could say when told how close he had really come. Classifications.
Monaco Grand Prix 1988
Monte Carlo — 15 May 1988
Moving from Lotus to McLaren after the 1987 season, Ayrton Senna joined Alain Prost to form the most dominant 1-2 team ever seen in Formula One, together winning 15 of that year’s 16 races. And although Senna edged Prost for his first title, it was also a season of many lessons for the young Brazilian. Chief among these was Monaco — a race Senna would eventually win a record six times — where Senna learned patience the hard way. And it was perhaps the 1988 event that best demonstrated the specific pitiless nature of this incomparable street circuit. With Senna on pole, Prost made a bad start and found himself blocked by Gerhard Berger, allowing Senna to pull out a full 54s lead. When the Frenchman moved into second, Senna at first allowed him to close up, but on lap 66 suddenly panicked, forced the pace and made an elementary mistake, losing control of his McLaren and crashing into the barrier at Portier, when he had the race won. Senna was so ashamed he went straight to his Monte Carlo apartment and would not speak to the press. Senna said, “I changed a lot my strategy as far as driving was concerned from that day on, and it was all a consequence of the mistake at Monaco. It was a difficult day, not such a good result, but a necessary result, perhaps, that gave me so much success after it.” A highly religious man, Senna later commented that “I think I was going through a period of adjustment, of discovery, of some important aspect of life, which is God.” Classifications.
Canadian Grand Prix 1991
Montréal — 2 June 1991
In 1991, driving a plainly inferior McLaren-Honda MP4/6, Ayrton Senna started the season by recording four pole positions and four wins in the first four races. No one had ever started a Formula One World Championship campaign with four straight victories, and for the rest it was more than demoralizing. The only challenge to Senna was Team Williams. Designed byPatrick Head, the revolutionary “active” Williams-Renault FW14 of Nigel Mansell was the first F1 car combining a semi-automatic gearbox with traction control, but broke the old dictum that “To finish first, first you have to finish.” The Williams began to improve at Monaco, where Mansell took second to Senna, and at the Canadian GP on 2 June it looked like Williams were finally ready to make their move. Mansell qualified 2nd, took the lead in the first corner, held it all the way and ended the penultimate lap with a commanding lead of more than a minute. Waving to the crowd, Mansell turned into the final hairpin, and the engine cut dead, the car coasting to a slow stop, a victim of electronic, “black box” gremlins. Nelson Piquet pushed forward to take the checkered flag for Benetton — for what would be his last F1 win. The balance of the 1991 season would see a fruitless quest by Mansell and Williams to catch Senna, including a disqualification while leading at Estoril after a wheel fell off in the middle of the pit lane. Mansell won three in a row in France, England and Germany, and came into Suzuka needing two more victories (and no more than a 4th from Senna) to take the title. But he went off into the sand chasing the Brazilian on lap 10, and Aryton Senna had clinched his 3rd Formula One championship in four years. Classifications.
British Grand Prix 1992
Silverstone — 12 July 1992
Nigel Mansell finally got his World Championship in 1992, with the active Williams overcoming its reliability problems and easily dominating the rest of the F1 field. Mansell’s single season record of nine wins in 16 races, combined with 14 poles and five consecutive GP victories, tying Jim Clark, set a standard of excellence that may never be matched. In this coronation season, the race that stands out for “Red 5″ is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Qualifying on pole by a full 2s from teammate Ricardo Patrese, Mansell led from green light to checkered flag — losing the lead only momentarily at the start on the long run down to Copse — thrilling his legions of British fans. Right from that first corner his determination was enormous, and while others fought over lesser placings, Mansell made absolutely certain no one else should even think of coming close to him. Mansell was invincible and he knew it. His dominance was so enormous that he gained nearly 3s a lap on teammate Patrese, led by 10s after just four laps, and spent the entire race all driving all alone and absolutely out of sight. When the checkered flag fell, even before the backmarkers had crossed the start-finish line, Mansell’s Williams FW14B was engulfed in a sea of adoring humanity that rivaled anything ever displayed by the Tifosi at Monza — forcing him to abandon his car on the circuit and press through a wall of flesh to the podium. It was not Mansell’s first British GP victory (that was in 1986), and not his the most dramatic of his four career wins (that was in 1987, overtaking Nelson Piquet), but certainly his most rewarding. Mansell credited it to “people power” rather than horsepower, saying that “I’ve never experienced anything like that, anywhere in the world, in my career.” The win was also Nigel’s 28th career GP victory, moving him past Jackie Stewart as the all-time leading British F1 driver. Classifications.
European Grand Prix 1993
Donington — 11 April 1993
The 1993 Formula One season was not a good one for Ayrton Senna, as Honda had pulled out of F1 and the McLaren MP 4/8, powered by a customer Ford engine, was underpowered and ill-handling. But in characteristic style, the aggressive Brazilian won five Grands Prix, including the European GP at a restored Donington Park circuit in England— where Auto Union and Mercedes had dueled in the late 1930s — in one of the most memorable drives of his career. Qualifying for the 3rd race of the season was dry, putting Senna 5th behind Prost, Damon Hill, Schumacher and Karl Wendlinger. But race day dawned cold and wet, weather in which Senna had excelled for a decade. Indeed, despite the fact that all the top teams (except Benetton) had automatic traction control (now banned in F1), it was Senna that was McLaren’s secret weapon, as his dynamic opening lap so dramatically demonstrated.
At the start, ignoring Schumacher’s efforts to squeeze him off the circuit on the run down to Redgate, Senna sliced inside the Benetton at the 1st corner. Then he picked of Wendlinger’s Sauber to take 3d place as the rains continued and the cars plunged down the hill. Next on the bill was Hill’s 2nd-place Williams, which succumbed at the next corner. Barely 45 seconds into the race, Senna was suddenly right up on Prost’s gearbox as they came through the S-bends to the new loop. Hard under braking for the hairpin, Senna thrust his McLaren into the lead, driving as if the track were bone dry and asserting his wet weather supremacy with major assurance. Having passed five cars to move into the lead before the first lap was half over, Senna cruised to an easy win as the rest of the field spun and shunted themselves out of contention. Not the least of these was Prost, who stalled in the pits and then compounded his embarrassment by being overtaken by Hill. Senna finished 1m 23s in front of Hill — with a lap on every other finisher and more than 2 laps on seven of the 10 other classified drivers — having taken two of the first three races of a season, once again, in a car that should not have been winning. Classifications.
Belgian Grand Prix 1995
Spa — 27 August 1995
Nestled in the Ardennes forest, Spa-Francorchamps has always been a mercurial circuit, with ever-changing weather and a layout so challenging Martin Brundle once said, “If you don’t hold onto your heart at Spa, it will come out of your throat.” In the 1995 World Championship battle between Michael Schumacher, then driving for Benetton, and Damon Hill at Williams, the Belgian Grand Prix proved to be all of that and more — perhaps one of the best, and most competitive, races of the decade. With Schumacher demolishing his monocoque in a Saturday practice crash, the German was stranded 16th on the grid. Gerhard Berger’s put his Ferrari on pole, but the Austrian got wheel spin at the start, allowing teammate Jean Alesi and Johnny Herbert, in the 2nd Benetton, to move side-by-side at full speed through the fabled left-right Eau Rouge corner. Herbert took the lead at Les Combs with an marvelous outside pass under braking, Hakkinen spun his McLaren at the La Source hairpin on lap 2, and Alesi regained the lead at Radillon. But by then, Schumacher had already moved up to 10th, leaving Herbert and David Coulthard to battle for the lead after Alesi dropped out on lap 3 with a broken rear suspension. After two spins by Herbert, Coulthard was leading from Hill, moving Schumacher up to 5th, 12s back. By lap 15, however, as Coulthard lost his gearbox and Berger and Hill refueled, Schumacher took the lead.
Then, in a superb display of car control and aggression, Schumacher stayed on slicks as the rains began. Schumacher and Hill (the latter now on wets) battled nose-to-tail and then side-by side for three laps, with Schumacher refusing to give way, a tremendous bit of defensive driving. On lap 23, Hill finally managed to get by on the Kemmel straight, but the rain ended, and as his tires began to go away on the drying track, Hill lost the lead to Schumi two laps later. Hill returned to the pits for slicks, but then the rains started again, the safety car was called out, and when Hill went back in for a 3rd tire change on lap 32 he was assessed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for pit lane speeding, effectively ending the race. Having majestically overtaken virtually the entire field, Schumacher won easily from there, posting his 16th GP win to move into a tie with Sterling Moss for all-time Formula One career victories. Some observers feel Schumacher’s 1995 European GP win at the Nürburgring was a better drive, but the Spa-Francorchamps race in August of that season takes the laurels hands down for high-speed drama, courage and exciting tactical duels. Classifications.
Australian Grand Prix 1996
Melbourne — 10 March 1996
Arriving in Formula One straight off of an IndyCar championship and Indianapolis 500 victory, Jacques Villeneuve, son of the legendary Gilles, took on the second seat at Williams-Renault. But the 1996 season’s opening race, at Melbourne’s restored Albert Park circuit, proved that Jacques was anything but a second-place driver — even though that is where the Canadian eventually finished. Villeneuve toasted Williams teammate Damon Hill in qualifying to take pole position by 0.138s. He led the field at the start down the straight to the sharp right-hand first corner where, far down in the pack, Martin Brundle’s Jordan collided with Johnny Herbert’s Sauber and then cartwheeled, broke in half and landed heavily in the sand trap in one of the more dramatic shunts in years (from which Brundle walked away unhurt). Villeneuve led again at the re-start and held first place through a lap 29 pit stop, trading fastest laps with Michael Schumacher (with the German in his first drive for Scuderia Ferrari). Second to Hill after rejoining, Villeneuve got past on lap 31 when, three laps later under, he fought off a hard challenge by Hill with a thrilling move, sliding across the grass, flicking out from understeer and holding the inside line. It appeared that Jacques would win his very first GP start, but a short 10 laps later vapor began to leak from the rear of his Williams. With five laps left, holding a 1.5s lead, Jacques was given the “slow down” sign by the Williams pits, as telemetry revealed a potentially fatal oil pressure problem. Villeneuve had posted pole, fastest lap and six World Championship points in his maiden F1 race — a clear sign of the striking form that would take him to the Formula One title in 1997. Classifications.
Belgian Grand Prix 1998
Spa — 30 August 1998
After two years of molding the Scuderia Ferrari around himself, Michael Schumacher felt that 1998 was going to be his year to finally bring the World Championship to the prancing horse of Maranello. At the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit Spa-Francorchamps, Ferrari’s historic 600th GP, Schumacher came into the race a mere two points behind Mika Häkkinen, who had taken over as McLaren team leader with the departure of Ayrton Senna in 1994. Schumacher was 4th in qualifying, with the silver McLaren-Mercedes of Hakkinen and David Coulthard occupying the front row as they had much of the season. Then came absolute carnage. At the start in heavy rains, Coulthard spun his McLaren just after La Source, ricocheting from one wall to another, collecting several other cars and setting off a massive chain reaction. All told, 11 cars were involved in the huge shunt, which left the track littered with wheels, carbon fibre and naked monocoque tubs — but no injuries.
The race was red-flagged and re-started 50 minutes later. At the restart, Häkkinen spun at the same spot, bringing on the safety car and leaving nine cars, including the Finn’s, out of the race (four drivers did not have spares and five were lost on the second crash). This put Schumacher into the lead and in fantastic shape to take over the World Championship battle. He was lapping 3s faster than anyone else, leading from Hill, Jean Alesi and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, when just past half way he came up on David Coulthard in 8th — a full 2m 13s behind — to put the Scott a lap down. Just as John Watson commented on television that he hoped Coulthard “doesn’t do anything too rash to stop Michael from going by and getting those points,” Coulthard suddenly backed off to let Schumacher overtake. But Coulthard kept his McLaren right in the racing line, and blinded by the spray from Coulthard’s tires, Schumacher plowed into the back of the McLaren at full speed, ripping off the front right suspension to transform his Ferrari into a three-wheeled monster. After a thrilling drive, Schumacher was suddenly out, losing a great opportunity to take control of the season at a crucial point in the Formula One championship. The German tore off his helmet in the pits and stormed over to the McLaren garage, roaring to fight, only to be restrained by his crew. In the anticlimactic end, Damon Hill inherited the lead, scoring Team Jordan’s first-ever GP win after eight years and more nearly 130 races. Classifications.
Japanese Grand Prix 2005
Suzuka — 9 Oct. 2005
Demonstrating again how wet conditions are the ultimate equalizer in Formula One, the Japanese Grand Prix of 2005 delivered. Many fans expected a processional race after Fernando Alonso clinched the World Championship two weeks earlier in Brazil. But in qualifying the circuit was subject to heavy downpours, leaving the familiar faces well down the order, with Ralf Schumacher scoring an unlikely pole — the final of his career. By Sunday, the weather was warm and sunny, a nice fast track and a good circuit for the McLarens to excel. Yet with teammates Kimi Räikkönen and Juan Pablo Montoya both stranded far back on the grid (17th and 18th) a win seemed to be a difficult thing even to imagine. At the start, it was chaos. Alonso, in his Renault, went flying through the field from 16th. Alonso was already up to 8th at the end of the first lap while Räikkönen was involved in a shunt with Jacques Villeneuve’s Sauber and Montoya. Cue the Safety Car for six laps. After the typical series of confusing pit stops and refueling, it was actually Giancarlo Fisichella who looked like the favorite to win the Grand Prix, as he was 20 seconds ahead. But Fisichella pitted, rejoining behind Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Räikkönen. After Button and Webber pitted together, Räikkönen had only two laps to press his advantage over the pair and did so expertly, pulling out of the pits with nine laps to go in 2nd to Fisichella, having somehow cut the Italian’s lead to just 9s. Fisichella was told to “push, push and push” by his team on the radio, but to no avail. As they began the final lap, Räikkönen tucked up behind the Renault down the main straight, darted to the left — missing the rear of the leader by mere inches — and swept stunningly by around the outside of the first corner to take an amazing win. Peter Windsor described Räikkönen’s move on Fisichella as “a sharp Finnish knife cutting through a tender piece of Italian Salami.” Kimi prevailed by just under 2s, despite having led for only six laps in total, scoring his final victory for McLaren. Classifications.
Brazilian Grand Prix 2008
Interlagos — 2 November 2008
It would be difficult even to imagine a more poignant moment. At the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix of 2008, Felipe Massa of Ferrari needed to win the race, with Lewis Hamilton of McLaren finishing 6th or worse, in order to secure the F1 World Championship. Massa impressively did exactly that, starting from pole position and putting his F2008 across the start-finish line first, taking the checkered flag as the race victor from Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel, with Hamilton well back in the pack behind several non-title contenders. Felipe and the Scuderia faithful went crazy! But as Hamilton rounded the last corner of a wet Interlgos track, Timo Glock was struggling with degrading dry tires and well off the pace. Hamilton passed for 5th and 39.09s later, Felipe’s championship was no more. Last race, last lap, last corner. A more epic but profoundly sad conclusion could hardly be scripted. On the slowing down lap Hamilton lifted his visor and dabbed his eyes, saying on the radio “I am speechless.” In parc férme, Massa lifted his own visor and put a gloved hand over his eyes. Then he clambered out, facing the crowd, tapped his heart three of four times, bowed and raised both hands with index fingers pointed up to the sky. At least I won the race; at least I did all I could do. Magnificently gracious in defeat, just one year later Felipe fractured his skull in a freak accident when hit by a spring that had fallen off the Brawn of Rubens Barrichello ahead. He returned to F1 and Ferrari in 2010, but by nearly all accounts was not the same driver as before. Classifications.
Canadian Grand Prix 2011
Montréal — 12 June 2011
At Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in June 2011, the Canadian Grand Prix made history as the longest ever in F1, lasting more than four hours after the race was delayed due to torrential rains, and with a record five Safety Car deployments. High drama came at the very end. It was on the 70th and last lap that Jenson Button forced defending World Champion and race leader Sebastian Vettel into an error, overtaking the young German’s spinning Red Bull to score an epic victory. Button’s win is sure to go down as one of the classic comeback drives in F1 history because less than half way into the event, the 2009 titleist (starting a relatively poor 7th on the grid as McLaren struggled with low-downforce speed) had fallen back, way back. After a start-line melee, collisions with both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, and a drive-through penalty for speeding behind the Safety Car, by lap 40 Button emerged from pit exit in 21st place out of 21, more than 100 seconds behind Vettel. He was dead last, indeed — except that the latest Safety Car (from his own incident) meant that in reality Button was only 16s behind Vettel’s RB7. And fitted this time with super-soft option tires, Button began to slaughter the opposition, gaining two seconds a lap on the leaders. With 16 laps remaining he caught Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher who were fighting for 2nd and 3rd. Button roared past the pair of them and into 2nd place with five laps left. Vettel was now only 3s ahead. It was suddenly clear that one of the most surprising comebacks ever witnessed in F1 was in the cards, and there was a palpable air of disbelief to the voice of the McLaren radio mechanic as he told Button the driver was in a position to win the GP, despite having pitted six times. After taking the checkered flag in unbelievably dramatic style — pressuring Vettel into his first serious mistake, an almost slow-motion, ugly-looking half-spin, in a season Vettel utterly dominated — a wild-eyed Jenson called the performance, his 10th career win, “the best race of my life.” Classifications.