The Grandest Prix: Formula One’s Greatest Races Of All Time

December 12, 2016

- Grant Whittington


Formula One never seems to be immune to drama. Newly-crowned world champion Nico Rosberg emerged unscathed from his long-standing battle with Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton, although it was the British driver whose spirited challenge ultimately led to the German announcing his shock retirement merely days after his triumph.

Since its inaugural season in 1950, the sport has been blessed with many great rivalries and incredible drivers which have contributed to a superfluity of enthralling and exhilarating races. With purpose built circuits all across the globe abound with their own distinctive characteristics and imaginative layouts, history can often be just a slip of the accelerator away.

Trying to compile a list of the top five races of all time is a virtually impossible task, especially if you take into account that as of the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, there have been 956 GP’s contested in the last 66 years. From ecstasy to catastrophe, from scintillating to contentious, there is nothing else that captures the raw adrenalin and excessive thrill of Formula One. Without question, these five magnificent contests have all contributed to its storied legacy and are guaranteed to bring you to the edge of your seat.

1971 Italian Grand Prix

Simply breathtaking. The racing definition of blink and you’ll miss it. This frenetic and furious assault on the simplistic Monza National Autodrome is widely regarded as the fastest Formula One race in history with an average recorded speed of 150.754mph.

There was even the theatre to match the alacrity as five drivers fought tooth and nail for first prize with Peter Gethin jumping from fourth place to lead on the final lap and claim a remarkable victory. Incredibly, the top five drivers were separated by just 0.61 seconds as top spot exchanged hands 24 times during this rapid shootout.

1957 German Grand Prix

Argentinean Juan Manuel Fangio dominated the opening decade of Formula One, accumulating five World Drivers’ Championships and producing a number of spectacular drives – his victory in Nürburgring is often cited as his greatest.

His strategy to operate on softer tyres and only half a tank of fuel allowed him to take corners faster, although this meant in return that a pit stop would be a requisite. The pit stop was a calamity as Fangio’s mechanic dropped a wheel nut under the car resulting in the Maserati driver falling from first to third and his 30 second lead being transformed into him now being 48 seconds off the pace.

However, ‘El Maestro’ came storming back to overtake Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins on the 21st lap and in the process he broke the lap record an astonishing nine times. After the race, Fangio commented, “I have never driven that quickly before in my life and I don’t think I will ever be able to do it again”.

1993 European Grand Prix

His career may have ended in tragedy, but Ayrton Senna’s drive at Donington Park was a masterclass amidst the torrential downpour. He passed four drivers on the opening lap to take the lead and despite his inferior car and second-rate traction control; Senna was able to keep pace with his rivals whilst the conditions remained volatile throughout.

As the race reached its conclusion, Senna had lapped the entire field except one car and substantiated the belief that on wet tracks he was without equal – the Brazilian having made four pit stops in the wet-dry conditions compared to Alain Prost’s seven.

1987 British Grand Prix

Nigel Mansell’s stunning performance at Silverstone saw him miraculously recover from a 29 second deficit and overtake the leader Nelson Piquet on the penultimate lap following his ingenious dummy on the Hangar Straight which allowed him to sneak in on the inside at the Stowe Corner.

As Mansell began his surge through the field, the intensity and voraciousness of his home crowd increased with every fleeting lap. “It was like a flipping Mexican wave all the way around the circuit, said Mansell. The last 11 or 12 laps were just incredible. I think I broke the lap record 11 times in the last 15 laps.”

1981 Spanish Grand Prix

This was another timeless Formula One nail-biter as Gilles Villeneuve prevailed in a climatic ending which saw the four cars immediately behind his Ferrari finish within a distance of just 1.24 seconds.

On an abnormally hot day in Jarama, Villeneuve decided to go all out guns blazing as his Ferrari was such that it was only competitive for the first few laps. The Canadian seized the lead at lap 14 and from then on in he produced a flawless calculated display through his astute tactical positioning on corners which allowed nobody to pass him on the narrow track.

This race would prove to be his last victory as well as the last Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama, but to this day it remains a Formula One classic.


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