Racefans Top 21 Greatest Formula 1 Grand Prix of All Time
It’s the story of every Formula 1 tragic, you spend the entire week looking forward to seeing the greats of modern motor sport come out to play, the excitement builds as the grid is set, only to see the prospect of a thrilling round of the Formula 1 World Championship turn flat. This is not due to the result but rather the distinct lack of excitement in the race itself. In Australia, where the majority of races (although this is reducing quickly) are broadcast live, at times when most people are anything but, the best judge of a great race is whether you are still awake to witness the podium ceremony. It’s the greatest obstacle to any Formula 1 fan when conveying their passion for the sport that yes, on occasion, a Formula 1 race can be just ‘cars racing around in circles’. However, there are those occasions when the cars not only come out to race, but do so in a way that goes into motor racing folklore and is spoken of for years to come. For those that are new to Formula 1, for those looking for proof to convince others, and for those who want to see how their preferences rank or if they are even considered, here it is, the definitive Racefans Top 21 Greatest Formula 1 Grand Prix of all time.
Now I’ll be the first to concede that rules only serve to dull the excitement of anything, Formula 1 can attest to that at times, however in compiling this list I had to specify what makes a Grand Prix truly one of the ‘Greatest’. On this issue I looked at the following six factors:
1. Unpredictability: A race that epitomises Murray Walker’s belief that “anything can happen in Grand Prix racing and it usually does”.
2. On-track Battles: Those races that drew the excitement from the racing on the track, regardless of whether it was between ten cars or two.
3. Significance: The excitement of a race is never more heightened than when the championship is on the line.
4. Individual Brilliance: This can be a race excitement killer and explains why some of the great Formula 1 drives do not appear in the list however, sometimes individual brilliance makes for an extraordinary race.
5. Off-track significance/Controversy: A race will never be great with this alone, however this may be the added spice that puts it over the top.
6. Grandstand finish: Was the race thrilling to the very last corner?
Since the 1950 British Grand Prix at Silverstone there has been 869 Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix (following the 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix). So before choosing the top 21, there has to be a short list. So that you can see if your races made the first stage of consideration, I have included the 64 races below.
The Short List
2012 European Grand Prix, Valencia Street Circuit (winner: Alonso)
2011 Canadian Grand Prix, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (winner: Button)
2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos (winner: Massa)
2008 Japanese Grand Prix, Fuji International Circuit (winner: Hamilton)
2008 Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps (winner: Massa)
2008 British Grand Prix, Silverstone (winner: Hamilton)
2008 Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco Street Circuit (winner: Hamilton)
2007 Japanese Grand Prix, Fuji International Circuit (winner: Hamilton)
2007 European Grand Prix, Nurburgring (winner: Alonso)
2006 Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai International Circuit (winner: Schumacher)
2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring (winner: Button)
2006 San Marino Grand Prix, Autodromo Enzo de Dino Ferrari (winner: Schumacher)
2005 European Grand Prix, Nurburgring (winner: Alonso)
2005 San Marino Grand Prix, Autodromo Enzo de Dino Ferrari (winner: Alonso)
2005 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka International Circuit (winner: Raikkonen)
2004 Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps (winner: Kimi Raikkonen)
2004 Italian Grand Prix, Monza (winner: Barrichello)
2003 British Grand Prix, Silverstone (winner: Barrichello)
2003 Brazilian Grand Prix, Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace (winner: Fisichella)
2003 Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne Street Circuit (winner: Coulthard)
2001 Brazilian Grand Prix, Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace (winner: Coulthard)
2000 Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps (winner: Hakkinen)
2000 German Grand Prix, Hockenheim (winner: Barrichello)
1999 Luxembourg Grand Prix, Nurburgring (winner: Herbert)
1999 French Grand Prix, Magny Cours (winner: Frentzen)
1998 Luxembourg Grand Prix, Nurburgring (winner: Hakkinen)
1998 Belgian Grand Prix, Spa Francorchamps (winner: Hill)
1998 Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring (winner: Schumacher)
1998 British Grand Prix, Silverstone (winner: Schumacher)
1997 European Grand Prix, Jerez Circuit (winnner: Hakkinen)
1997 Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco Street Circuit (winner: Schumacher)
1996 Spanish Grand Prix, Circuit de Catalunya (winner: Schumacher)
1995 European Grand Prix, Nurburgring (winner: Schumacher)
1995 Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps (winner:Schumacher)
1994 Australian Grand Prix, Adelaide Street Circuit (winner: Mansell)
1994 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka International Circuit (winner: Hill)
1993 European Grand Prix, Donington Park Circuit (winner: Senna)
1992 Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco Street Circuit (winner: Senna)
1991 Brazilian Grand Prix, Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace (winner: Senna)
1990 Australian Grand Prix, Adelaide Street Circuit (winner: Piquet)
1990 Mexican Grand Prix, Autoromo Hermanos Rodriguez (winner: Prost)
1989 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka International Circuit (winner: Nannini)
1988 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka International Circuit (winner: Senna)
1988 Italian Grand Prix, Monza (winner: Berger)
1987 British Grand Prix, Silverstone (winner: Mansell)
1986 Australian Grand Prix, Adelaide Street Circuit (winner: Prost)
1986 Spanish Grand Prix, Jerez Circuit (winner: Senna)
1985 San Marino Grand Prix, Autodromo Enzo de Dino Ferrari (winner: De Angelis)
1985 Portuguese Grand Prix, Estoril Circuit (winner: Senna)
1984 Dallas Grand Prix, Dallas Street Circuit (winner: Rosberg)
1984 Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco Street Circuit (winner: Prost)
1983 United States Grand Prix West, Long Beach Street Circuit (winner: Watson)
1982 Austrian Grand Prix, Ostereichring (Winner: De Angelis)
1982 Detroit Grand Prix, Detroit Street Circuit (winner: Watson)
1982 Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco Street Circuit (winner: Patrese)
1981 Spanish Grand Prix, Jarama (winner: Villeneuve)
1979 United States East Grand Prix, Watkins Glen (winner: Villeneuve)
1979 French Grand Prix, Dijon-Prenois (winner: Jabouille)
1971 Italian Grand Prix, Monza (winner: Gethin)
1970 German Grand Prix, Hockenheim (winner: Rindt)
1968 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring (Nordscleiffe) (winner: Stewart)
1967 Italian Grand Prix, Monza (winner: Clark)
1961 Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco Street Circuit (winner: Moss)
1957 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring (Nordscleiffe) (winner: Fangio)
The Racefans Top 20 Greatest Formula 1 Races of All Time
21. 1998 Foster’s Belgian Grand Prix.
You know that when the chaos and drama that was the 1998 edition of the Belgian Grand Prix comes 20th on the list, there are some amazing races to come. The Belgian Grand Prix was round 13 of the 1998 World Championship, a year that began in Albert Park where the McLaren MP4/13s of David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen displayed one of the most dominant performances in any opening race of a Formula 1 season, qualifying over seven tenths ahead of Michael Schumacher in third and lapping the entire field in the race to follow. While the McLaren’s spent the later stages of the Australian Grand Prix interpreting the finer points of their gentleman’s agreement made prior to the race start, in order to determine which driver should win, Ferrari’s story was far different with Michael Schumacher retiring on lap 5 with a blown engine. After the opening race, any driver not in a silver arrow simply had no business being in the championship fight. However, heading into Belgium, Schumacher was 7 points behind Hakkinen in the lead and the championship was all to play for.
In typical Belgian style, race day brought heavy rain and not many in the field would have doubted an upset result. Very rarely is a race defined within the opening 500m but as the cars accelerated away from the La Source hairpin and commenced the decent down towards the imposing Eau Rouge rise the slow starting David Coulthard, was suddenly sideways and slamming into the inside retaining wall and bouncing back into the path of the twenty cars behind. The carnage that followed took out 13 cars and was described by Murray Walker as “the worst start to a Grand Prix I have seen in my entire life”. It was this horrendous accident that has seen most wet weather races now commence behind the safety car, a decision that has on some occasions robbed Formula 1 fans of spectacular wet weather conditions.
At the restart almost an hour later, Damon Hill got the jump on the front row and lead the field up through Eau Rouge. Behind however, Michael Schumacher and Hakkinen had got a little close for comfort at La Source, the slight tap from the Ferrari, forcing the McLaren to spin on the spot and face backwards to the field, so that Hakkinen had a birds-eye view to see the Sauber of Herbert slide sideways and destroy the front left corner of the McLaren. With Schumacher overtaking Irvine for second into Le Combe and behind the unfancied Jordan of Damon Hill, only David Coulthard stood to threaten the German for the race win, a threat that evaporated almost immediately when Couthard found the gravel after a mistimed pass on the Benetton of Alex Wurz. On lap 8 Schumacher overtook Hill and proceeded to pull out a lead of some 30 seconds. However on lap 24 of 44 Schumacher came upon Coulthard to lap him. Coulthard, who had been informed that Schumacher was behind him, slowed on the race line to let the German through on the downhill approach to Pouhon. Not expecting the McLaren to slow, Schumacher plowed into the back of the McLaren, resulting in the two cars following each other into the pits. Due to either sheer rage at Coulthard’s driving or his belief that the McLaren number two had tried to have him off, Schumacher marched into the Coulthard garage to be greeted by half the McLaren team forming a wall between the two drivers in one of the more dramatic in-race out-of-car clashes seen in Formula 1.
With the top teams out of the race, and their drivers looking to duke it out in the pits, it was left to the Jordan drivers of Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher to take the Irish teams first ever Formula 1 Grand Prix win after making their debut in the 1991 season. What unfortunately doesn’t propel the race higher in the rankings is the imposing of team orders by the Jordan team, much to the chagrin of Ralf Schumacher who had been closing down Hill in the final laps. This ensured that much like the fight between Coulthard and Schumacher, it was effectively over before it ever really started. Nevertheless it remains as one of the most dramatic races in Formula 1 history and worthy of an inclusion in the top 20.
20. 1982 Monaco Grand Prix
When Ricardo Patrese crossed the line to claim his first Formula 1 Grand Prix, Murray Walker commented in exasperation that it was “certainly the most eventful, exciting, momentous Grand Prix I have ever seen”. What makes the statement more incredible was that with three laps to go, the 1982 edition of the Monaco Grand Prix had been nothing special. However, what occurred on the final three laps of that unbelievable May afternoon will forever be remembered. Alain Prost had dominated the race in the Renault RE30B after inheriting the lead on lap 14 from his team mate Rene Arnoux, who went to great lengths in pulling out a 6-second lead, only to lose control of the car on the entrance to the swimming pool complex and subsequently stall the engine.
For the next 60 laps Prost led the way with the Brabham of Riccardo Patrese in second and Didier Pironi in third. However on the third last lap Prost, ever-aware of the threatening chance of rain, pushed too hard, losing control on the exit of the harbour chicane and slamming into the armco on either side of the road. For the French locals, the dismay of watching two French cars be binned by two French drivers both while leading on the French riviera so that a British built, German powered car, sponsored by an Italian dairy products company could take the win, would’ve been hard to accept.
However, for the young but experienced Patrese, the relative ease that should’ve been the final two laps all got too much as the boy from Padua pressed the pedal that little too hard on the run down to Lowe’s hairpin ending up backwards at the bottom of the hill. As the Brabham lay stationary, Pironi took the lead with Andrea De Cesaris in second and Derek Daly in third. Crossing the line to commence the last lap, Pironi appeared to give an incredible degree of respect to the lapped cars behind him as one after another they overtook the leading Ferrari. Just as the French thought they would at least get a local winner, the reason for Pironi’s lack of speed became apparent as the Ferrari ground to a halt in the tunnel out of fuel. This gave the lead to De Cesaris who discovered that his Alfa Romeo was equally incapable of completing a race distance as he was, handing the race to Derek Daly. With the flag almost in sight, Daly’s Williams ground to a halt at the La Rascasse corner, leading James Hunt to comment that “we’re all sitting by the start/finish line waiting for a winner to come past and we don’t seem to be getting one!”
Patrese, who’d bump started the Brabham by rolling down the hill to the harbour, had gone from fourth to first on the final lap without overtaking a car operating under its own power, to win one of the most incredible completions of a Formula 1 race in the history of the sport.
Next week I will reveal positions 19 through 16 in the countdown to the greatest Formula 1 Grand Prix of all time.