The power of one


The already much-missed Peter Gethin scored a singleton Grand Prix victory. But what a win it was.

On the final lap of the 1971 Italian GP at Monza, in only his second start for BRM, he overtook three cars to take a lead that he tenaciously clung to as they flashed, as one, across the line. His hundredth’s margin is the narrowest on record. His average speed remained the fastest for 32 years.

One-offs are intriguing because of their solitariness alone. Each represents the day of days when a driver fulfilled a long-held dream. Right place, right time, (sometimes) right car – when it just sorta clicked.

But there is a mysticism about them too that reaches beyond the individual to grasp the sport’s fabric. It’s rare for them not to carry significance beyond the obvious. Sure, you can always unearth a nugget if you dig deeply enough – but these World Championship facts were revealed by blowing off the dust.

Luigi Fagioli, 1951 French: oldest winner at 53 years 22 days
Piero Taruffi, 1952 Swiss: only race not won by Ascari that season
Joachim Bonnier, 1959 Dutch: BRM’s first win
Giancarlo Baghetti, 1961 French: only winner on debut
Innes Ireland, 1961 United States: Team Lotus’s first win
Lorenzo Bandini, 1964 Austrian: only GP at Zeltweg airfield
Richie Ginther, 1965 Mexican: Honda and Goodyear’s first win
Ludovico Scarfiotti, 1966 Italian: most recent home win at Monza
François Cevert, 1971 United States: first French winner for 13 years
Jean-Pierre Beltoise, 1972 Monaco: BRM’s final win
Carlos Pace, 1975 Brazilian: completed hat trick for home drivers
Jochen Mass, 1975 Spanish: Lella Lombardi sixth – only half-point for a woman
Vittorio Brambilla, 1975 Austrian: works March team’s first win
Gunnar Nilsson, 1977 Belgian: two Swedes on podium for only time (below)
Alessandro Nannini, 1989 Japanese: inherited win after Senna’s DSQ
Olivier Panis, 1996 Monaco: from 14th on the grid, a principality record
Robert Kubica, 2008 Canadian: first win for German make since 1962
Heikki Kovalainen, 2008 Hungarian: the 100th individual winner

Boy, when destiny kicks in, it really gives it a hoof.

The ‘singular’ men missing from the list – excluding all the Indianapolis 500 winners bar Bill Vukovich from 1950-60 – are Luigi Musso, Jean Alesi and Jarno Trulli.

Musso shared a Lancia-Ferrari with team leader Juan Manuel Fangio to win the 1956 Argentinian GP at Buenos Aires. Although a rare occurrence, this being the second of three occasions that it happened – Fagioli’s win was also shared by Fangio, albeit in an Alfa Romeo – I deemed it insufficiently striking.

It’s the same for Alesi’s victory at the 1995 Canadian GP, although I am sure that you will join me in giving thanks that this most charismatic of drivers, a racer born at least 30 years too late, was able to break his duck, and to do so at the wheel of a V12 Ferrari. (Has ever an engine’s note better suited its driver’s nature?) Jean’s ‘surfing’ celebrations on the back of Michael Schumacher’s Benetton were memorable and uplifting, but not historically significant.

And Trulli’s success at Monaco in 2004 was the dullest of the lot – he will disagree, of course – the thoughtful Italian driving his Renault flawlessly to control proceedings from his first pole position.

Nineteen out of 22 is a spooky statistic.

GP motor racing is scientific and evolutionary. But occasionally – no more than once every 38.5 races, in fact – it gives you reason to wonder.

You may also like