Racefans Top 21 Formula 1 Grand Prix of All Time [Part 6]
1. 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix
At the commencement of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship season very few would’ve bet against another closely fought title fight. 2007 had seen a year dominated by close racing and spectacular action, none more so than that displayed by the inter-team rivalry at McLaren with their new-boy, defending double world champion Fernando Alonso, pitted against the old-hand in everything McLaren except Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton. In an age where drivers look, talk, and sound all the same, Hamilton’s appearance on the Formula 1 scene, while not surprising, was seen as unique in the eyes of the world media who quickly heralded him as “The Tiger Woods of motor racing”. However, where Woods displayed an uncanny ability once in the lead to remain there, the same could not be said for Hamilton, who’s championship charge faltered with a DNF and 5th place in the final two rounds, handing Kimi Raikkonen the world championship for Ferrari. 2007 had seen three drivers in contention for the title at the season’s final race and few could’ve expected a scenario in 2008 to top that.
Having already featured in the top 21 list, the 2008 Championship season was not short of a classic race or two. Following the revelations that McLaren engineer Mike Coughlan was found in possession of Ferrari material obtained from Nigel Stepney, and the subsequent US$100 million fine handed down to McLaren, together with their disqualification from that years Constructors Championship, 2008 would be the Woking workers year of redemption.
Somewhat predictably, the 2008 championship fight would be decided once again around the twists and turns of the Interlagos Ciruit, located to the south of the city of Sao Paulo. Unsurprisingly, Lewis Hamilton was challenging for the title, and while he faced numerous opponents at many races throughout the year, it was Felipe Massa that was proving to be his main threat. To the surprise of many, Kimi Raikkonen failed to get his season going following a promising start. This was more than could be said for Heikki Kovaleinen whose performances throughout the year did almost everything to persuade Ron Dennis to parch things up with Fernando Alonso. As the Spaniard was considered most likely to have revealed McLaren had Ferrari’s crib notes this would always be doubtful.
Hamilton led the championship into the final race needing only a fifth place or better, regardless of what position Massa finished in order to take the title. Simple enough, after all, with all the problems he had in 2007, he still came home fifth. For Massa the scenario was simple; he had to win. Pole on Saturday was a good start and with his teammate providing a rear defensive from third he was doing all he could. Hamilton lined up fourth while David Coulthard lined up in his final Formula 1 race in 14th as the rain began to fall. A delay ensued so that drivers and their teams could decide on whether they felt lucky.
The race itself was conducted in changeable conditions, once more providing the field with a chance to display their supreme skills. It also provided Kazuki Nakajima with the chance to end David Coulthard’s Formula 1 career at the second corner pitching the Scot into a spin and out of the race. The race was dictated by pit strategy and as Hamilton attempted to shadow the decisions of his championship rival, he found himself faltering to those around him. Emerging with dry tyres Hamilton was seventh before fighting past Trulli and Fisichella (the first man to have stopped for dry tyres), to be in the coveted fifth place. All the while Massa led well ahead of Alonso and Raikkonen. The race ran to script until the late return of rain with 8 laps to go left those at the front with everything to lose, scrambling in to the pits for wet tyres, while those further down trying to last the distance and ensure the rain would hold out. With four laps to go, everyone had pitted except for the Toyota’s with Glock finding himself fourth ahead of Hamilton and Vettel.
With three laps to go, and with the rain starting to fall, attention was centred on Hamilton but split between the looming threat of Sebastian Vettel’s Toro Rosso, and the pace of the dry-weather shod Toyota of Timo Glock. Across the line and still Vettel loomed on the fifth placed Hamilton which in any other event would have been entertaining but hardly earth-shattering. As it was, even the home town fans had by now conceded their man was simply untouchable on the day, Massa had led from start-to-finish and it was only the progress of his rival that would determine the world champion. Through the final complex of corners and Robert Kubica, who lead the championship following his debut win in Round 7 at Canada, now found himself battling to unlap himself, a reminder of the progress of Formula 1’s top teams and BMW’s decision to halt progression on its 2008 car. Kubica went past, Hamilton ran wide, Vettel slipped by, and as he crossed the line with two laps to go and Hamilton seemingly unable to respond, attention shifted firmly on to Glock. Across the line for a final time and Glock was twelve seconds down the road and Vettel displaying the skills of a future champion directly ahead.
Massa crossed the line to take the win shaking a finger within the cockpit, waiting for word to come through on the results behind.
As the MP4-23 emerged through the spray all eyes moved to the graphic in the top left-hand corner of the screen which flickered “5. HAM” were seemingly so insignificant that for three seconds after Hamilton crossed the line even Felipe Massa’s family and an over-exuberant Ferrari mechanic broke into delirium within the Ferrari pit. The two consonants and a vowel, aligned by one numeral, would ensure that the home town crowd would receive a home town win but nothing more. For Massa, news that Glock had conceded his lead over Hamilton all the way up until the very last corner would have been nothing short of crushing, though surely thoughts must have quickly moved to his engine failure while leading with three laps to go in Hungary, or the Ferrari pit stop light sequence in Singapore which went green despite a fuel horse being connected to the car. There, as in Brazil, Massa had done everything right, and to be given no crueler lesson on just how much a team sport Formula 1 really is.
As Hamilton celebrated with his team, the crowd could’ve cheered for Massa’s win or got angry because of Lewis’. They chose the latter. While you could not condone the jeers at the sight of a Brazilian driver being denied the championship by one solitary point, they could easily have been directed towards Lewis Hamilton’s girlfriend Nicole Sherzinger, whose theatrics were either attributable to the close finish of the race or the presence of international TV cameras. Few could be sure.
With the teams packing up after another spectacular season, thoughts were already turning towards the new era that would greet Formula 1 in 2009. While less focus on aerodynamic devices (or so they thought), and slick tyres, would help produce more exciting races, many would’ve left the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix thinking “It doesn’t get better than that one.”
Why did certain races not make the top 21?
Where’s Europe 1993? What about Japan 1990? What about Dijon 1979? Spain 1986? I certainly considered these races however the reason they have not made my top 21 list of greatest Grand Prix of all time is that they feature only one aspect, which while sensational, be it a superlative performance, an incredible battle, or an amazingly controversial moment, as an entire Grand Prix they are very one dimensional. For me personally, Clark’s 1967 Italian Grand Prix drive and Fangio’s 1957 Nurburgring performance are two of the greatest drives of all time. But what both races have in addition to incredible drives are thrilling conclusions. In comparison, Senna won the European Grand Prix by lapping the entire field up to second place man Damon Hill, while Jackie Stewart won the 1968 German Grand Prix by a staggering 4 minutes ahead of that years eventual world champion Graham Hill. Staggering drives yes, but for those wanting to witness everything that Grand Prix racing has to offer, perhaps not.
The three countdowns that I would like to outline in the future would be the top 10 greatest drives in Formula 1, the top 10 most memorable on-track moments and the top 10 most memorable off-track moments in Formula 1. It is in these lists that many of the races absent in the top 21 may well appear.
Breakdown of the top 21
While not intentional, the top 21 features races from every decade of the sport. There is no question that the lack of television coverage has deprived the ability for races in the opening three decades of the sport to be more memorable than those of recent years. Equally, the tightening of regulations in the sport has led to a closing of the performance between cars, thus making for closer racing, save for the epic conclusions to the 1969 and 1971 Italian Grand Prix. Here is a breakdown of the races:
1950s: 1 1960s: 2 1970s: 1 1980s: 6 1990s: 4 2000s: 6 2010s: 1
Without question, what is encouraging, is the number of races that can be considered in a list of this kind, and after the conclusion of the 900th Formula 1 race in Bahrain it’s safe to say that there will be many more seeking inclusion in the years to come. So where does Bahrain 2014 rank? Let’s put it at 22.
Hope you’ve enjoyed a trip back through some of the greatest Grand Prix of seasons past and welcome any comments on what race you think is the all time greatest and why. Until next time, all the best.