Racefans Top 21 Formula 1 Grand Prix of All Time [Part 2]
19. 2000 Mobil 1 German Grand Prix
By all measures the 2000 edition of the German Grand Prix had everything. A spectacular stratline crash, great on-track battles, the arrival of rain during the race, a popular debut winner and a disgruntled former Mercedes Benz employee. Just as the race appeared to have settled into a predictable rhythym, the fortunes of the leaders shifted wildly and for Rubens Barrichello, staying out of trouble, together with a risky tyre strategy, ensured the Brazilian took the win despite having started from 17th on the grid.
At the start Mika Hakkinen launched well off the line to be on the inside of pole sitter David Coulthard who, in trying to maximise his entry into the first corner, moved left onto Michael Schumacher who slowed momentarily to avoid the McLaren, only to be struck from behind by Giancarlo Fisichella sending the Ferrari and Benetton straight into the outside retaining wall. For Schumacher, his second consecutive first corner retirement, this crash had suddenly enabled Hakkinen to take the championship lead, an occurrence that would have seemed highly optimistic after the first part of the season.
With the McLarens of Hakkinen and Coulthard in the lead, the race took on a predictable pattern at the front. Behind the McLarens however, both Barrichello and Heinz-Harold Frentzen, who had qualified well down the grid, were benefitting from their two-stop pit strategies and the abundant overtaking opportunities on the long straights of the Hockenheim Circuit. By lap 18 Barrichello had climbed from 17th on the grid to be 4th behind Trulli and the two McLarens, albeit some 30 seconds behind. It was around this time that a man, either bidding his time to disrupt the race for the Mercedes-Benz powered McLarens, or simply drunk out of his mind, emerged from the forrest beside the ciruit wearing a banner which read ‘Mercedes-Benz, who knew about my health problems, offered me a job I could not do and then sacked me for my physical ineptitude after 20 years service’. While many wondered how the man had got a job at all or even knew the meaning of the word ‘ineptitude’, the safety car was brought out so the cars could be slowed down for the lunatic to be locked up, while still enabling him to catch the end of the race. If the man’s protest was designed to disrupt the race for the Mercedes-Benz powered McLarens it worked, as not only did it evaporate their lead, but the introduction of the safety car came when both McLarens had passed the start/finish line, enabling both Trulli and Barrichello to pit without losing time. When both McLarens came around to start a new lap only Hakkinen came in to make a pit stop while Coulthard continued on. To avoid being stuck behind the safety car for an entire lap, Coulthard should have queued behind his team mate because after he eventually stopped, he rejoined at the back of the field. One Mercedes down, and the rain would do the rest.
On lap 34 and with 10 laps remaining, rain began to fall on the circuit and Hakkinen, along with the majority of the field, jumped into the pits for wet tyres. However, what became increasingly apparent was that the rain was only falling in the stadium section of the circuit but not on the forrested section. With the top four not opting to pit, the race took on a very strategic dimension with the leading cars able to maximise their pace on the straights but left floundering on the corners at the end of the lap. Fortunately for Barrichello, the rain never increased and he was able to withstand the pressure from Hakkinen to claim a brilliant victory from what seemed an impossibility the day before.
18. 2007 European Grand Prix
The 2007 Formula 1 World Championship will be remembered for four things: the spectacular debut of Lewis Hamilton; the first three-way showdown for the championship in 21 years; the falling out between Fernando Alonso and McLaren; and the ‘Spygate’ scandal, which saw the McLaren team fined a hundred million dollars and excluded from the constructor’s championship for utilising stolen Ferrari information. While the journalist who named the scandal went unpunnished. However, if 2007 was to be remembered for five things then the European Grand Prix would certainly make the list.
Qualifying had brought few surprises with Kimi Raikkonen snaring pole from Fernando Alonso. The one driver out of place on the grid was Hamilton, who started 10th after suffering a tyre failure at the beginning of Q3, resulting in a sizeable off that only Robert Kubica could dismiss as a minor shunt. As the cars lined up on the grid the teams were aware of imminent rain, yet no one could afford to jeopardize their race by choosing to start on wet tyres, that was except for Formula 1 debutant Marcus Winkelhock, who had qualified his Spyker-badged, Midland-badged Jordan, at the back of the grid, 1.4 seconds slower than team mate Adrian Sutil. While it had been clear from qualifying that Winkelhock would spend the race doubling as a mobile chicane, it was reassuring to all drivers that he would do so while resplendent in the Spyker traffic-cone orange livery.
Off the line and the field got away cleanly. This was until the second turn when both BMWs decided to create more tension within the team as Heidfeld missed-timed his pass on the inside of Kubica. As Kubica spun, Hamilton clipped the BMWs rear wing and destroyed his rear tyre. As the rain arrived, Raikkonen approached the final turn and headed for the pits seeking wet tyres. He would still be seeking wet tyres when he exited the final turn as well. The Fin may have embarrasingly overshot the pit lane entry but had avoided humiliation by narrowly missing the pit lane armco, a move known in the business as doing a ‘Coulthard’. With the rain worsening, the entire field headed for the pits except for Winklehock whose performance would’ve made the tortoise proud, as he held a 30-second lead over Massa in second place.
For the next ten minutes the sport of Formula 1 would take a back seat to a spectacle soon to be submitted for inclusion in the Olympic Games: car curling had arrived!! First to set the bar was Button, whose Honda hit the rivers on the approach to turn 1 ending side-on with the tyre wall. Hamilton was next with a greater distance but no spin. Sutil was next, going even further into the turn 1 gravel trap than Hamilton. Rosberg and Speed then displayed some high speed parallel parking, ending up either side of Button against the wall. However, top points went to Vitantonio Liuzzi for attempting the 360 degree double course car crash which, were it not for the quick thinking safety car driver, may well have come off. As it was Liuzzi had to settle for a 540 degree JCB tractor glance crash. With the rain worsening the red flag came out and the race would be restarted in the cars order on the previous lap. While he would lose the lead on the opening corner of the restart Winkelhock claimed a series of Formula 1 records unlikely to be repeated, becoming the only driver to qualify last and start from pole in the same race, and the only driver to a lead a Formula 1 race in their first and only Formula 1 start.
For the next 41 laps Massa and Alonso battled it out for the lead, by no means nose-to-tail but close enough to keep each other honest. The excitement of a Formula 1 battle of this kind is hard to describe in words, stalemate at 250km/h with each driver countering the others advances. Despite the tension however, there is no denying that a Formula 1 race without overtaking can seem like a scoreless draw in football. However the wonder strike was to come. With the re-emergence of the rain Alonso gradually began to creep in closer. With 4 laps to go Alonso made his move, forced wide by Massa into turn 6, Alonso, like so many champions before him, simply stayed wide knowing he’d have the inside line for the corner to come. This didn’t stop Massa who tried to squeeze Alonso out, but by this stage his front right wheel could only strike the McLaren’s side pod. Alonso was through and into the lead with a defining move that the preceding battle deserved.
In the post-race press conference, Massa, no doubt frustrated at having been completely out-classed in the changeable conditions, had a heated argument in the drivers weighing area with Alonso, who simply turned to the television camera in the room, gritted his teeth and clenched his fist in delight.
17. 1995 Belgian Grand Prix
By the time the Formula 1 circus reached the Belgian Grand Prix the rivalry between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill had increased further following the collision between the two drivers at the British Grand Prix and a series of bad mistakes that were frustrating Hill’s quest for the title. Leading in to the Belgian Grand Prix, Hill trailed Schumacher by 11 points in the Adrian Newey designed FW15, believed by many to be vastly superior to Schumacher’s Benetton B195.
With qualifying conducted in changable conditions, the cars lined up in a very unfamiliar order with Hill starting 8th, Schumacher 16th (at that stage only the second time he had been out-qualified by a team mate) and the Ferrari’s of Berger and Alesi locking out the front row, a rare event at the time (the last being at the 1990 Portugese Grand Prix). As the lights went out, Berger failed to get away, enabling team mate Alesi and Johnny Herbert in the second Benetton to contest the lead, battling side-by-side up Eau Rouge and down Radillion with Herbert getting the better of Alesi around the outside at Les Combes. At the commencement of lap 2 the treacherous on-track conditions caught out Hakkinen in fourth, who spun and stalled his McLaren at the La Source hairpin. In typical Alesi style the French-Sicilian muscled his way back past Herbert for the lead on the entry into Les Combes only to retire in typical Ferrari fashion with failed suspension. On lap 6 Herbert surrendered the lead to Coulthard when he spun at Les Combes and again at the bus stop chicane. For the next 8 laps Coulthard gradually opened up a lead over his team mate Hill who was already up to second, however any thoughts of a debut win for the Scot were dashed when the Williams retired with an overheated gearbox, later attributed to the Jordan of Eddie Irvine striking the rear of the Williams at the opening corner. On lap 15 Berger headed to the pits for his first scheduled pit-stop and a chance to discover the Ferrari’s need for an Electronic Control Unit, effectively ending the Austrians chances at victory. This development left Hill in the lead with the Benetton of not Herbert but incredibly Schumacher behind. In 16 laps Schumacher had come from 16th on the grid to be threatening for victory. The stage was set for the battle of 1995.
Lap 16 and Hill pitted for slick tyres, handing the lead to Schumacher. Lap 19 and Schumacher pitted for slick tyres, handing the lead back to his British rival. Lap 21 and with rain starting to fall again, Hill headed for the pits and a move to wet tyres while Schumacher chose to stay out. By the end of the 1995 season, many looked to the Benetton strategists as contributing to the superior performances of Schumacher over Hill, however strategists are only able to employ superior strategy where a driver is capable of providing it, and it is here that Schumacher was prepared to drive in damp conditions in the belief that the rain would not remain. With wet tyres, Hill immediately closed on Schumacher, desperate to take full advantage of his obvious traction advantage.
Commencing lap 22 and Hill loomed on Schumacher, through Eau Rouge, along Radillion and up to Les Combes, nobody expected Schumacher to withstand Hill’s progression. Despite Schumacher’s best efforts, the Williams had the inside line into Les Combes with Schumacher resigned to taking the ideal line through the corners in the hope of getting a better exit… or so it seemed. In a moment of sheer audacity, matched only by extreme skill, Schumacher remained on the outside, forcing his way back up the inside at the immediate left hand bend and pushing Hill wide onto the curbs. Even before his death over a year earlier, Ayrton Senna and much of the wider media, had suspected the Benetton team were secretively using traction control, banned at the end of the 1993 season, needless to say that Schumacher was doing nothing to quell this. For almost three laps the champion resisted Hill’s attempts to overtake him, all the while buying time in the hope the track would dry. After passing Schumacher, Hill began to struggle on his worn wet tyres, running wide at Stavelot and allowing Schumacher back through. On lap 26 Hill entered the pits for dry tyres and as he exited the pit lane the rain began to fall. Fortunately for Hill however, the safety car was brought out, enabling both he and Schumacher to enter the pits on lap 44. With the battle set to resume with both drivers on wet tyres, a 10 second stop and go penalty graphic appeared on the monitors… Hill had been too hasty in exiting the pit lane, a final frustrating nail in the coffin, ever-increasingly resembling a Williams FW15.
While the battle for the lead effectively ended when Hill served his drive-through penalty (many felt it ended when Schumacher turned up on Thursday), there was plenty of action throughout the field, with Frentzen overtaking Blundell for fourth with four laps to go, and Hill hunting down Brundle on the final lap, the Ligier driver having another brilliant Belgian Grand Prix after starting 13th on the grid. With Schumacher first, Hill second, and the Ferrari’s nowhere, the cream had certainly risen to the top, while the sugar had disintegrated in a manner that made you wonder if it had ever been entered at all.
In the post-race press conference Hill criticised the tactics adopted by Schumacher as being far too heavy-handed believing that the German had deliberately barged Hill off the road when trying to overtake the German at Les Combes. Despite this however, Hill graciously acknolwedged “that anyone who comes from 16th on the grid to win deserves to be congratulated… The conditions were very tricky and Michael drove a stupendous race.”
16. 1983 Toyota United States Grand Prix West
Ever heard the argument, “Formula 1 is only exciting when it rains”. Well, here’s the first of your rebuttal arguments. The 1983 edition of the US Grand Prix in Long Beach would prove to be the last, but it was an epic finale.
History has shown Formula 1 that no American grand prix is complete without a dispute over the track surface, location and layout. So much so that now Formula 1 disputes them before they’re even finalised. So when the Toleman of Derek Warwick trundled back into the pits with bent rear suspension on Friday morning, it wasn’t too surprising to hear that Warwick hadn’t struck one of the many surrounding concrete walls. Instead, Warwick had launched off the enormous bump at the end of Seaside Way straight, with the damage incurred as the T183 returned to earth. While many saw the incident as warranting urgent track repairs, others would no doubt have highlighted the irony that the only car with the curb weight and construction of a tank, had proven so brittle over the bumps. Nevertheless, by day’s end only quick-dry cement marked where the bump once was.
With limited track time, an air of uncertainty greeted the field as they lined up on the grid, headed by the Ferrari’s of Tambay and Arnoux. The importance of tyres has never been lost on Formula 1, and amidst a three-way tyre war between Michelin, Goodyear and Pirelli 1983 was no different. If qualifying had shown anything it was that the Goodyears had grip, the Pirellis had some, while the Michelins had none. The performance of the tyres over a few laps was one thing however, over 75 laps would prove an entirely different challenge. Keke Rosberg, starting from third on the grid, was no doubt aware that his normally aspirated Williams FW08C may beat the turbo Ferrari’s off the line, but only reliability, or Ferrari’s lack thereof, would see him take the flag. As the green light glowed Rosberg went red, launching of the line and oversteering the Williams spectacularly left and right around Tambay only to smash the front right of Arnoux out of the way. Second by the first corner and down along Seaside Way where the ‘Flying Finn’ was anything but finished. In Tambay’s slipstream and pulling out to pass, the Williams either hit the newly laid concrete from two days earlier or Rosberg left a fag in the cockpit, either way, the Williams’ flat spin surprised many, none more so than Rosberg, who miraculously failed to miss Tambay and anything else that would’ve resulted in near death. As it was he only lost second place.
For the next twenty-five laps Rosberg hounded Tambay for the lead while behind the battle raged between the Tyrrell of Alboreto, the Brabham of Patrese and the Ligier of Jarrier, the Ligier prevailing, but not before rearranging Alboreto’s steering arm and utilising the escape road. Up front the Ferrari was lightning on the straights but overcast in the corners. As there were more corners than straights, Rosberg had a chance, but was still reliant on Tambay making a mistake. This came on lap 25 when Tambay left a gap open at the hairpin just large enough to get a Williams through… that was before Tambay came back across. The ensuing prang ended Tambay’s race which continued unabated as Rosberg faced the presence of the Ligier of Jarrier and his team mate Laffite who, taking a leaf from his new team mates aggressive style, left Rosberg with two choices; hit the brakes or hit the wall. Rosberg chose neither, but hit the wall regardless, Jarrier ramming him from behind for good measure, ending one of the more eventful 25-lap drives in Formula 1 history. Important to note that by Lap 25 Watson and Lauda were ninth and seventh but where were the rest of the turbo powered cars?
Behind the leading Laffite, accidents and the need for new rubber had seen the McLarens carve up the mid-field. The Renault of Prost struggled with mis-firing engines all weekend and never figured. While eventual 1983 champion Piquet had the kind of race McLaren expected, qualifying well down and remaining there for the entire race. The Alfas of Baldi and De Cesaris, crashed and broke down respectively while the Toleman’s both retired predictably. The two Lotus’s proved to chew through Pirellis faster than the Ferrari’s did the Goodyears, opitimised by De Angelis’ retirement due to a lack of tyres!!
This left only the Brabham of Patrese to fly flag for the lag, closing down Laffite who was beginning to struggle on his soft tyres. On lap 42 Patrese went for the lead on Laffite at the end of Shoreline Drive only to find himself even further down it when Laffite took the first turn. As the Brabham rejoined the circuit who else but the wily ‘Wattie’ should take the place. Having passed so many cars it was hardly surprising to learn that after passing Laffite on lap 45, Watson had no idea he’d taken the lead. Who could really blame him. From a position where points had seemed unlikely Watson was leading with 30 laps still to go!! Behind the McLaren’s, Arnoux had moved up to third with the demise of Patrese’s Brabham but not before another epic battle with the local favourite Eddie Cheever as the two came up to pass the rubber-less Laffite. Any chance that Arnoux had for the win evaporated with the Frenchman requiring two stops for tyres. For the McLarens, the achilles in qualy was the secret to success on Sunday as neither Watson or Lauda made a single pit stop.
Six down and fifteen to go in the search for the greatest Formula 1 Grand Prix of all time. Be sure to check in soon as we will go from 15 through to 12. Agree with the entries so far? What do you think should be here and what do you think is to come?