Before F1’s 1000th grand prix: the greatest races of all time

Ten of the best from the sport’s first 999 outings, featuring Fangio, Prost, Senna, Mansell and Stewart

1957 German Grand Prix, Nürburgring

Winner: Juan Manuel Fangio

Juan Manuel Fangio braking into the South curve during the early part of the race.
Juan Manuel Fangio braking into the South curve during the early part of the race. Photograph: Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images

Fangio’s fifth and final title and his 24th and last GP win was achieved in magnificent style on the mighty Nordschleife circuit. The Ferraris of Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn were going to run without pitting, so the Argentinian opted for a half tank of fuel on softer tyres and a pit stop for his Maserati. He duly pulled out a 30-second lead over Collins when he stopped, only for a mechanic to drop a wheel nut. On rejoining, he was 51 seconds behind Hawthorn and Collins but Fangio was sublime. In 10 laps he broke the lap record nine times and on the penultimate circuit passed Collins and then Hawthorn. The master was not to be denied.

1969 British Grand Prix, Silverstone

Winner: Jackie Stewart

Jackie Stewart celebrates race win with wife Helen
Jackie Stewart celebrates after the 1969 British Grand Prix with his wife Helen. Stewart would go on to win his first title that year. Photograph: Colorsport/Rex/Shutterstock

Stewart, on the way to his first title, had to earn victory the hard way after battling with Jochen Rindt at Silverstone. From the off Stewart in the Matra and Rindt in the Lotus were the class of the field. For 62 of 84 laps the pair went nose to tail and wheel to wheel, exchanging fastest laps and the lead as they tore away from the pack. Rindt repeatedly tried to edge away only for Stewart to reel him back in as they vied even while sweeping past backmarkers. A climactic finale was only denied when Rindt was forced to pit with a loose endplate that was damaging a tyre. The record books show Stewart by a lap but it was one of his hardest-fought victories.

1971 Italian Grand Prix, Monza

Winner: Peter Gethin

Peter Gethin beats Ronnie Peterson
Peter Gethin (left) in a BRM car beats Ronnie Peterson by one-hundredth of a second to win the race. Photograph: Popperfoto

Still F1’s closest finish after a flat-out blast on the pre-chicane Monza. Chris Amon had taken pole for Matra while Britain’s Gethin started 11th in the BRM. An almighty scrap ensued. Clay Regazzoni’s Ferrari took an early lead but was surpassed by Ronnie Peterson in the March, who then fell to Stewart’s Tyrrell, in turn passed by Regazzoni. When Stewart and Regazzoni both retired, Amon was back in front before he too dropped away with a fuel problem, leaving five frontrunners with nothing in it. Gethin took the flag by one-hundredth of a second from Peterson. The top five were within 0.61 seconds, eight drivers had led and that lead had changed hands dozens of times across 55 laps.

1979 French Grand Prix, Dijon

Winner: Jean-Pierre Jabouille

Jean-Pierre Jabouille Gilles Villeneuve and René Arnoux on the podium
Jean-Pierre Jabouille took first place but the race was remembered for the battle for second between Gilles Villeneuve and René Arnoux. Photograph: Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

The win may have been Jabouille’s but the race is revered for the contest between Gilles Villeneuve and Renault’s René Arnoux for second. Villeneuve’s Ferrari was no match for the turbo-charged Renaults so he ran a risky low-downforce configuration. Jabouille took the lead at the halfway point and Arnoux caught Villeneuve with five to go. The pair battled furiously, repeatedly changing places and refusing to give up they banged wheels, went off, scraped close and closer still, F1 writ large as glorious gladiatorial combat. On the final lap Villeneuve dived up the inside of the hairpin and took the place. When they climbed from their cars they embraced and poor old Jabouille’s win was forgotten.

1981 Spanish Grand Prix, Jarama

Winner: Gilles Villeneuve

Gilles Villeneuve leads the pack in the Spanish Grand Prix
Gilles Villeneuve leads the field in a fiercely contested race. The Ferrari driver would eventually cross the line 0.2 seconds in front of Jacques Laffite. Photograph: Lat Photographic/Rex/Shutterstock

Battling with an unwieldy Ferrari, Villeneuve moved from seventh to third at the start and by the end of the first lap passed Carlos Reutemann for second. Alan Jones was in front until he made an uncharacteristic error, span and fell away. Villeneuve had an unlikely lead over a baying pack of Jacques Laffite, Reutemann, John Watson and Elio de Angelis. The Ferrari was quick in a straight line but torturous through the corners and Villeneuve was hounded. Try as they might, however, the chasers could not pass, with Villeneuve inch-perfect and unassailable. He took the line 0.2 seconds in front of Laffite and the first five were only 1.24sec apart. A masterpiece.

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1984 Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo

Winner: Alain Prost

Alain Prost races in the rain at Monaco
Alain Prost races in the rain at Monaco. The race was stopped on lap 32. Photograph: Sutton

A Monaco marked by drama, controversy and the definitive arrival of Ayrton Senna made this an encounter for the ages. Heavy rain delayed the start where Prost led from pole with Senna in the uncompetitive Toleman in 13th. At the front Nigel Mansell took the lead only to crash out on lap 16 by which point Senna had stormed up to an incredible third place. The Brazilian passed Niki Lauda for second on lap 19 and set out after Prost as the rain poured down. In the wet conditions he was seemingly on a different track, closing the gap by four seconds a lap as Prost was desperately signalling for the race to be stopped. It was, to the consternation of many, on lap 32 but Senna had made his mark and F1 had a new star.

1986 Australian Grand Prix, Adelaide

Winner: Alain Prost

Alain Prost takes the chequered flag in Adelaide
Alain Prost suffered a puncture on lap 32 but fought back to take the chequered flag in Adelaide. Photograph: Tony Feder/Getty Images

The championship decider between Mansell, his Williams teammate Nelson Piquet and McLaren’s Alain Prost, that swung between all three. Third was all Mansell required. McLaren’s Keke Rosberg had an early lead and Prost suffered a puncture on lap 32, forcing him to fight back with a series of blistering laps. Mansell still solidly held the third he needed when on lap 63 Rosberg went out as a tyre disintegrated and Prost moved past Mansell into second. One lap later the British driver also suffered a tyre failure on the Dequetteville straight. Williams had to pit leader Piquet for new rubber on safety grounds and despite a huge push he could not catch Prost, winner and champion after perhaps the most unpredictable finale of them all.

1987 British Grand Prix, Silverstone

Winner: Nigel Mansell

Nigel Mansell is pursued by Alain Prost
Nigel Mansell is pursued by Alain Prost. The Williams driver recovered from a vibration problem to beat teammate Nelson Piquet to first place. Photograph: John Redman/AP

Mansell’s finest hour at his home race may have been a two-horse race but was a nail-biting thriller nonetheless. Battling his Williams teammate Nelson Piquet for the title, the Brazilian held the lead with Mansell snapping at his heels until midway through the race when the British driver suffered a vibration problem that forced him to pit. He emerged 29 seconds behind Piquet with 28 laps to go. A magnificent chase ensued, Mansell breaking the lap record eight times as he drew ever closer before, with two laps to go, he sold Piquet a dummy into Stowe and took the lead and the win. An epic race with an epic ending as he and his car were engulfed by the crowd.

1993 European Grand Prix, Donington

Winner: Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna celebrates with Damon Hill
Ayrton Senna (right) celebrates with Damon Hill. The Brazilian moved from fifth to first in one lap. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Treacherously wet and drying conditions forced Senna to deliver his absolute best in repeatedly mastering the track and his rivals. Just as the rain had stopped the Brazilian burst from the start making it from fifth to first in one lap. With the rain coming and going a sequence of stops ensued and Senna lost 20 seconds and the lead due to cross-threaded wheel nut. When the rain returned Senna gambled on his control on slicks and it paid off as the track swiftly dried, a feat he managed again toward the end and the race was his. Senna rated his win in the wet at Estoril as the harder challenge but Donington was the greater spectacle. Lewis Hamilton delivered a similarly brilliant performance in the wet at Silverstone in 2008.

2011 Canadian Grand Prix, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

Winner: Jenson Button

Jenson Button races in the rain
Jenson Button in the rain during the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix. The race took four hours to complete. Photograph: Canadian Press/Rex/Shutterstock

A modern classic, interrupted by rain and taking four hours to complete, Button’s win was worth the wait. Sebastian Vettel had led in the Red Bull from the off while Button took a drive-through penalty for speeding behind a safety car. Relegated to 15th he fought back until the race was red-flagged because of heavy rain and a two-hour break ensued. After the restart Button had to pit again for a puncture. He emerged at the back of the field but undaunted, charged, scythed through the pack caught Vettel and pressured him into a mistake on the final lap to take the win. After six pit stops and the longest race duration in F1 history, Button had played the lead in an operatic performance.


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

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