Last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix – a rain-hit, stoppage-interrupted affair lasting some four hours – was hailed by many in Formula 1 as one of the most exciting Grands Prix of all time.
It was also just the twenty-sixth time in the sport’s history that a driver has taken victory after taking the lead on the very last lap of the race.
Some of these races classed under this particular statistic weren’t actually ‘last lap’ wins – Brazil 2003 and Spain 1975 are two examples where the race was red-flagged shortly after the lead changed hands. For others, the race win was rather disingenuously handed to them on the final lap by their team-mate, such as in Japan 1991, Austria 2002, and USA 2002.
And these races have failed to make our latest ‘Richard’s Top-Ten’ list. No, the ones we’re interested are where the victor lucked into a win by dint of their rival running into misfortunate on the final lap, or where they’ve fought tooth and nail to secure a shock – but well-deserved – win.
So, in the spirit of all things subjective, we present our ‘Top-Ten Last Lap Wins’ – remember that to finish first, one must first finish the race…
10. Canadian Grand Prix, 1991
As Nigel Mansell waved to the crowds as he started his last lap of the race, no driver who watched the race would ever do the same again.
This weekend would deliver Nigel his first win of the season with Williams in a year that had promised plenty, but thus far failed to deliver. And as he waltzed serenely to the finish line after a seemingly straightforward race that had accounted for the retirements of McLaren rivals Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger, Mansell could finally start to claw back some of the huge points’ deficit Senna had already built up. But something was about to go horribly wrong.
Williams’ day started to go wrong when second-placed Patrese pitted at two-thirds distance with a puncture. Despite climbing back to third place, the Italian slipped behind Stefano Modena’s Tyrrell when his gearbox started to misbehave. Meanwhile Nelson Piquet was running a distant second in the Bentton, while Mansell continued on unhindered.
Around the last lap, Mansell approached the hairpin with less than a mile until the chequered flag. But he had trouble selecting a gear on the downshift, the revs plummeted, and the engine died. An incredulous Piquet took the spoils – his last-ever F1 win – while Mansell was left to rue a premature celebration…
[Video via senorsoupe]
9. San Marino Grand Prix, 1982
The disqualification of two FOCA team drivers from the season-opening Brazilian Grand Prix had the privateer teams up in arms, and they all (except for Tyrrell) boycotted the San Marino Grand Prix, which fielded a 14-car grid headed by the two Renault drivers.
The French cars broke down during the race and it was left to the Ferraris of Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi to bring home a hugely popular 1-2 in front of their loyal tifosi.
Towards the end of what was a generally dull race, Pironi closed right up on race-leader Villeneuve, and the Canadian – believing that victory was his as team orders meant that Pironi would stay behind him – foolishly thought that the Frenchman was simply putting on a show for the fans.
Pironi got ahead and was quickly overtaken by Villeneuve, and on the last lap Villeneuve thought he could cruise to the line, with victory seemingly assured. But Pironi had one last shot and out-braked Villeneuve at Tosa to lead the final lap and win the race.
Villeneuve was livid and never spoke to Pironi again, and to the great tragedy of the sport, he died at the very next round at Zolder attempting to wrest pole position from Pironi.
[Video via f1educator]
8. Hungarian Grand Prix, 1997
The ‘moral winner’ can often be quite distinct from the actual race-winner, and Formula 1 is littered with hard-luck stories of drivers robbed of race victories by one such calamity or other.
The 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix is one such case in point. The blisteringly hot temperatures gave the grid’s few Bridgestone runners a leg up in competitiveness and suddenly Damon Hill – the defending champion in the little-fancied Arrows – was right up there, qualifying a tremendous third.
On a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult, Hill made a good start to take second at Turn 1, and on lap 11 he forced his way past race leader Michael Schumacher.
Running untroubled almost to the end of the race, Hill had built up a lead of 35 seconds. But with three lap to run, his Arrows faltered: a hydraulics problem was affecting his throttle and gearshift.
He limped around the circuit losing twenty-seven seconds to Jacques Villeneuve in the next two laps, before the Canadian shot by on the final lap to take a surprise win. Damon stuttered home in second place, having come just a few miles short of taking Arrows’ first-ever win on its 299th Grand Prix.
The team would never win a race.
7. Spanish Grand Prix, 2001
It’s said that the most important laps of any Spanish Grand Prix are the first and last ones. And while Michael Schumacher led them both, it was Mika Häkkinen who most deserved the win.
Having endured a so-far troubled 2001 season, the Finn was finally dealt a good hand and worked a great McLaren strategy call to a treat to pass Schumacher during the final pit stops.
Enter the final lap and his McLaren’s Mercedes engine coughed its last, and by Turn 3 his race was finished as a trail of smoke and sparks came from the rear of his car.
Even the lucky victor, Michael Schumacher, agreed that this was hardly the way to win…
[Video via jordanrenault]
6. European Grand Prix, 2005
Kimi Räikkönen had done everything right at the 2005 European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. He lead from a front-row start and looked set to take a small bite out of Fernando Alonso’s championship lead.
But the 2005 rules dictated that a single set of race tyres had to last an entire race distance, and when Kimi flat-spotted a front tyre trying to lap Jacques Villeneuve, it started a slow and steady process that would see his hopes of victory gradually unravel.
The Finn’s mid-race lead of 15 seconds was trimmed to just seven seconds after the final round of fuel stops, and Alonso was steadily chipping away at Räikkönen’s lead as the McLaren driver was clearly struggling with his flat-spotted tyre.
At the start of the final lap, Kimi led by one second and looked set to hang on for a great victory. But as he braked for Turn 1, the vibration on his flat-spotted tyre proved too much and his front suspension shattered, sending him into the gravel trap at high speed.
Alonso could hardly believe his luck, while Räikkönen and McLaren were left to rue the risk of going for outright victory.
[Video via davepusey]
5. South African Grand Prix, 1978
In many ways, however, the event was one that should not have been won by Ronnie Peterson, the so-called ‘Fastest Man in the World’ who had inexplicably gone winless for over a year. Instead, it should have been won by his team-mate Mario Andretti, or perhaps by Riccardo Patrese in the Arrows or Patrick Depailler in the Tyrrell.
Front-row starter Andretti made a great getaway to lead from the off and quickly disappeared into the distance. However, he had overdone his tyres, and dropped back at a quarter distance to conserve his rubber for a late-race push.
The lead fell to Jody Scheckter’s Wolf, which was being hotly pursued by Patrese, who was driving sensationally in Arrows’ second-ever Grand Prix. The Italian pushed the South African so hard that Scheckter’s tyres began to fade, and Patrese surged through to take the lead. Driving with a composure that wasn’t always evident in his record-breaking career, Patrese looked on-course for a shock win until his engine blew with 15 laps to go.
Depailler took over the lead, who was being chased by Andretti, John Watson and Peterson, who was climbing up the order after starting on the sixth row of the grid.
Watson would spin out of the race on some oil, and before Andretti could challenge Depailler for the lead, his engine started to splutter as it ran short on fuel – team boss Colin Chapman had decided to siphon some fuel out of the tank to save on weight!
In the closing laps, Depailler’s engine began to blow smoke, but Peterson was unable to take significant chunks out of the Frenchman’s lead until his Tyrrell – now also running low on fuel – started to splutter and cough as well.
Approaching the last lap, Depailler was still in front with Peterson closing right up. The pair ran side-by-side, with both desperate to win as they banged wheels more than once. At the penultimate corner, Depailler’s Tyrrell momentarily slide sideways, and Peterson’s Lotus nipped through to take the lead and a win by just three car-lengths.
4. Italian Grand Prix, 1971
Before chicanes ruined its super-fast layout, Monza could regularly be relied on to provide the best racing of every Grand Prix season. It was effectively one massive opportunity to slipstream the driver in front, and it was almost impossible to get a clean break ahead of the chasing pack.
To see up to a dozen cars battling for the lead wasn’t an uncommon sight at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, and one of the most thrilling slipstreaming races has to be the 1971 Italian Grand Prix, which until recently held the record as the fastest Grand Prix (in terms of average speed) and the closes race finish ever.
BRM’s Peter Gethin scored his only Grand Prix win here after starting from eleventh place, a position from which a Grand Prix victory would be nigh on impossible today.
A whole host of drivers took turns at the front of the field, including Clay Regazzoni, Ronnie Peterson, and Jackie Stewart, as up to 15 cars jostled at the head of the field.
At a quarter race distance, both Ferraris and Stewart retired, allowing the likes of Mika Hailwood, Jo Siffert and Chris Amon to take turns out front. Amon looked set to finally break his duck with a win, but he ripped his whole visor off trying to remove a tear-off, and had to drop back with seven laps to go.
By the last lap, Gethin had managed to close onto the leading pack, and the entire crowd was in for a huge climax as Peterson led Cevert, Hailwood, Gethin and Howden Ganley. Cevert took the lead at the Lesmos while Gethin moved into third place, and then the Briton made his move with a do-or-die lunge at the Parabolica.
Arriving too quickly with tyres screeching, Gethin took to the grass as he passed Peterson and Cevert, who moved over fearing a collision. As they sprinted for the finish line, Gethin headed the quintet that was covered by just 0.61 seconds, with Gethin’s margin over second-placed Peterson just 0.01 seconds. What a race!
[Video via AACForums]
3. Canadian Grand Prix, 2011
The very race that prompted this entire Top-Ten feature article, this year’s Canadian Grand Prix defied expectations and records along the way.
Set your driver a series of impossible challenges to overcome in order to win a race. Six visits to the pit lane. A drive-through penalty. Contact with two drivers (one of whom is your team-mate) that results in the end of their respective races. Having to charge from last place at mid-distance, battling a two-hour mid-race stoppage, several safety car interruptions and a constantly evolving track surface that varied from flooded to near-dry.
Now combine all of those elements into a single 70-lap race, and you’ve survived all of these elements. It’s the final lap of the race, and Sebastian Vettel – winner of five of this year’s six races – is leading the race and set for win number six. Suddenly, he slides wide as he outbrakes himself into Turn 6. You take the gap and the lead of the race for the final half-lap of an epic race. This was Jenson Button’s day, and this is how he won an extraordinary Canadian Grand Prix.
2. Monaco Grand Prix, 1982
Racing at Monaco produces little in the way of overtaking, but generally plenty in the way of incidents, and when you add a spot of rain in the closing stages of a race, then things really do get interesting on this most challenging of street circuits.
The 1982 season would prove to be one of the most closely-contested seasons until last year’s thrilling five-way championship tussle. Almost thirty years ago, a total of eleven drivers were race-winner that year, with no driver winning more than two Grands Prix.
Renault had technical superiority but poor reliability, and things looked to be going well at Monaco with the French team enjoying an early 1-2 with Rene Arnoux leading Alain Prost.
But on lap 15, Arnoux spun and stalled at the Swimming Pool complex to give Prost the lead, while Riccardo Patrese in the Brabham steadily began to chip into Prost’s new lead.
It wasn’t until the closing stages of the race that things began to heat up. A late rain shower took away all the grip, and Keke Rosberg was among the first to hit the barriers. On lap 74, Prost fell foul of the surface and crashed out before Tabac. Patrese now assumed the lead, but he spun half a lap later at Loews Hairpin.
Didier Pironi now took the lead in his Ferrari, but he was travelling more slowly as his car began to run dry of fuel, and he ground to a halt on the final lap in the tunnel. This would have given Andrea de Cesaris the lead, but his Alfa Romeo had also run dry.
Derek Daly was now set to win in his Williams, but he crashed a few corners later when his gearbox seized, and a disbelieving Patrese – having managed to bump-start his car after being pushed off the Loews kerbs by the marshals – slipped through to take his first Grand Prix victory.
[Video via tvspnd1228]
1. Japanese Grand Prix, 2005
After wet weather had completely scrambled the grid at Suzuka, championship favourites Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen found themselves mired at the back of the field, which was the perfect launchpad for one of the most memorable Grands Prix in the sport’s history.
In front of a capacity crowd, Alonso and Räikkönen gave a great demonstration of good old-fashioned racing as they stormed through the field with a series of impressive overtaking moves.
Up at the front, Alonso’s Renault team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella assumed the lead once the Toyotas had finished their usual PR home-soil PR exercise of running their cars at the front with scarcely any fuel in them. By lap 37, the Italian held a lead of almost 20 seconds, but in the space of nine laps, Räikkönen had leapt from fourth to second with his final pit stop, and he was now just five seconds behind.
After three more laps, Räikkönen had clipped the gap to just 1.8 seconds, and by the end of the penultimate lap, he was right with the panicked Fisichella.
As they went down to Turn One Raikkonen went for the outside line, hit the rev limiter of the McLaren and ignored it and swept around the Renault in very classy style to move into the lead. It was all great and it was over. After starting from 17th on the grid, Räikkönen had made it look spectacularly easy.
[Video via MSCMGP2010]