Europe, Donington Park, April 11, 1993
Senna in a class of his own at Donington
To the architect, this wasn’t as special as his maiden F1 victory in Portugal eight years earlier. Now he had traction control, a privilege not available to all… but then nor was it his exclusive preserve. After a modest getaway, Ayrton Senna had been squabbling for fifth place as he turned into Redgate for the first time – yet he was well ahead at the same point one lap later. What followed was a lesson in decisive racecraft through fluctuating conditions, the Brazilian making many peers look pedestrian in terms of both race pace and speed of thought. But then he’d long since made a habit of the extraordinary.
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Monaco, Monte Carlo, May 19, 1996
It might have been Michael Schumacher’s race, but having been beaten off the line by Damon Hill the pole-sitter subsequently crashed during the opening lap at Mirabeau Inférieur. It should have been Hill’s race, but his engine blew while he led by about a fortnight. Jean Alesi inherited first place, but there was a sense of inevitability when his suspension failed, simply because he was Jean Alesi. And there, from 14th on the grid, was Olivier Panis, who had proved that passing was possible – if a little forcibly at times. It was his first and only GP win, Ligier’s ninth and last.
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Belgium, Spa-Francorchamps, August 30, 1998
A Jordan 1-2 at Spa – but not everyone was pleased
Quite an afternoon for David Coulthard, this. Firstly he was tipped into a spin that triggered a race-stopping pile-up beyond La Source on the opening lap. When the contest eventually restarted some time later, he was the immovable object concealed within the ball of spray Michael Schumacher had assumed to be clear. Having pitted to retire, Schuey promptly tried to throttle the Scot. Away from the raised tempers, Damon Hill plotted a serene course to earn Jordan its first GP victory – a 1-2, no less, ahead of the younger, slower Schumacher (who was quite cross about the late imposition of team orders).
Europe, Nürburgring, September 26, 1999
Sacked by Williams for not being as fast as Jacques Villeneuve (to replace Damon Hill, axed despite being faster than Villeneuve), championship outsider Heinz-Harald Frentzen led for Jordan until sidelined by electrical failure. Fellow title contenders David Coulthard and Eddie Irvine also failed to score in a race punctuated by showers and shrewd (or myopic) tyre calls. Mika Häkkinen salvaged fifth as best of the “favourites” and the day ended with Prost driver Jarno Trulli in second place, sandwiched by Stewart team-mates Johnny Herbert and Rubens Barrichello. Most of the internet’s capacity would be required to relate the full tale…
Brazil, Interlagos, April 6, 2003
Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari among the cars in Interlagos’s F1 scrapyard
A sodden track triggered a safety car start and conditions gradually improved, save for a river running across the road at Turn Three. That caught out several drivers, including Michael Schumacher. Subsequent rain triggered more pandemonium. Mark Webber crashed coming onto the pit straight – and Fernando Alonso had an even bigger shunt after collecting some of the wreckage. Kimi Räikkönen was summoned to the podium’s top step after the red flag flew, but three days later the FIA identified a timekeeping error and awarded the race – correctly – to Giancarlo Fisichella. He received his trophy somewhat belatedly, at Imola…
France, Magny-Cours, July 4, 2004
It wasn’t the most balanced of seasons – Ferrari winning 15 of 18 grands prix, and all but two of those victories failing to Michael Schumacher – but there was ample artistry to offset the lack of competitive tension. We’d seen Schumacher do this kind of thing before – notably at Budapest in ’98, when he’d driven a sequence of what were effectively qualifying laps to make a three-stop strategy work against the notionally faster McLarens – and here he served up a repeat. Beaten to pole by Fernando Alonso’s Renault, Ferrari devised a four-stop strategy and Schumacher promptly converted.
Japan, Suzuka, October 9, 2005
Artificially mixed grids tend to stick in a purist’s craw, but it’s fine when when nature intervenes to subvert the natural hierarchy. These were the days of cars qualifying one at a time – and deteriorating conditions savaged the chances of the quicker guys running towards the end. Michael Schumacher started 14th, Fernando Alonso 16th and Kimi Räikkönen 17th. Alonso’s recovery included passing Schumacher at 206mph… around the outside of 130R. Räikkönen edged ever closer to leader Giancarlo Fisichella and swept ahead going into the first turn on the final lap. If only all motor races could be like this.
Brazil, Interlagos, November 2, 2008
A year earlier Lewis Hamilton had been the Paulistas’ darling – a cavalier rookie fighting for the world title in their own back yard. And here he was again, same situation but now public enemy number one because he was up against one of their own: Felipe Massa. The home-spun hero drove impeccably, leading all the way from pole. When he crossed the line he was technically champion, as Hamilton was sixth – one place adrift of where he needed to be. On a wet track, however, he passed Timo Glock’s dry-shod Toyota at the campaign’s final corner to break local hearts. Massa’s subsequently dignified response was magnificent.
Canada, Montréal, June 12, 2011
Button celebrates his unlikely win
It might not sound an obvious winning strategy, but Jenson Button made six pit stops, suffered one puncture, survived a collision with McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton, collected a drive-through penalty for lapping too briskly during one of several safety car periods… and pulled-off a last-lap pass to defeat Sebastian Vettel by 2.7sec. On an ordinary day he’d have been lucky to finish in the top 20, but this wasn’t an ordinary day. Between laps 40 and 64 he rose from 21st to second and, with a little assistance from safety cars, was 3.1sec in arrears with six laps to go. Not his most conventional victory, but perhaps his best.
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Europe, Valencia, June 24, 2012
A slightly forlorn track on the fringe of a wonderful city, Valencia had produced some tactically interesting races since its introduction in 2008 – but not much in the way of raw spectacle. By year five the facility was falling apart and the end was clearly nigh, but its final grand prix was a suitable send-off. At a venue where passing was thought to be almost impossible, crowd favourite Fernando Alonso won from 11th on the grid. He was aided by Renault alternator failures, but science remains powerless to explain how he squeezed around the outside of Romain Grosjean at Turn Two.
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Abu Dhabi, Yas Marina, November 27, 2016
Champion, and soon to-be retiree
Built on vacant desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Yas Marina has conjured some processional clunkers during its time as host for the seasonal finale. There wasn’t much overtaking in this one, either, but the psychological brutality was compelling: Lewis Hamilton in the lead, ignoring team instructions to up his pace when all he wanted to do was reverse team-mate Nico Rosberg into the pursuing pack, his last hope of salvaging a title that would elude him if the German finished on the podium. Both did everything that was required; title secured, Rosberg announced his retirement just a week later.
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Austria, Red Bull Ring, June 30, 2019
After a couple of close calls, Charles Leclerc finally appeared on course for a maiden grand prix victory. Ferrari, though, was governing his pace against the Mercedes W10 of Valtteri Bottas when the real threat was emerging a little farther back. Max Verstappen might have been significantly in arrears, but he had a tyre advantage – and permission to wrench every last drop of Honda horsepower for the afternoon’s balance. When it came, with two laps to go, his pitch for the lead was as uncompromising as it was effective – but after reviewing footage the stewards let it stand. Verstappen vs Leclerc; a snapshot of F1’s potentially thrilling future.
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