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Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Last Lap Surprises

As we all know, a Formula 1 race is never ever over until the chequered flag has fallen. Here are 10 of the most memorable moments to happen right at the climax of a Grand Prix._

10. Damon Hill’s finest hour comes undone, Hungary 1997:

With just a single point to his name after 10 rounds of the 1997 season, reigning Champion Damon Hill must have been quite surprised to have found himself leading the race by over half a minute in the closing stages of the Hungarian Grand Prix. Particularly as he was at the wheel of a not particularly reliable, nor particularly fast, Arrows with a Yamaha engine.

However, lead the race he did. Arrows were one of the teams running Bridgestone tyres at a time when Goodyear ruled the roost, and the hot sticky conditions in Budapest saw the Bridgestone runners come to life. Hill qualified a magnificent 3rd place, vaulting to 2nd at the start when Jacques Villeneuve made a tardy getaway. Stalking leader & former championship rival Michael Schumacher, Hill passed on Lap 11 and proceeded to pull away with ease. With Goodyear struggling and retirements behind Damon, Hill stretched his legs and dominated the race.

“I was getting to the point where I thought I could count on winning the race, but whenever you think like that something crops up.” he said afterwards. However, it wasn’t to be. A washer failed in his hydraulic pump, leaving his car with intermittent power and locked in 3rd gear. He was able to shuffle around the track, but was powerless to stop Jacques Villeneuve from blasting past on the grass leaving Turn 3 on the final lap. The French-Canadian won the race, while Hill brought it home an astonishing 2nd. Arrows never came close to winning a race again, folding during the 2002 season.

9. Schumacher & Barrichello can’t stop playing “No no, after you” – 2001/2002:

Now known as the Red Bull Ring, the A1 Ring played host to some memorable races in the early 2000s. 2001 saw David Coulthard take a rare win for McLaren that season while behind him, Rubens Barrichello – running second- eased off the gas leaving the final corner to allow Michael Schumacher to pass him and take silver after being instructed to do so by the team. This was despite it being just Round 6 of the championship.

Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A.
Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A.

Fast forward on a year, and Rubens Barrichello dominated the race from pole position. However, with the team much more clear cut about driver status in those days, Rubens was ordered to allow Michael to pass during the last phase of the race. This was an order that Rubens initially appeared to ignore, but he very deliberately backed off on the exit of the final corner and allowed Schumacher to take the win. This led to condemnation from the crowd and boos & jeers greeted the men as they emerged onto the podium. An embarrassed Schumacher ushered Rubens up onto the top step in acknowledgement of his moral victory, an action that resulted in a massive fine for Ferrari.

Scuderia Ferrari S,p.A.
Scuderia Ferrari S,p.A.

Ferrari Chairman Luca Di Montezemelo addressed the media after the race: “I am sorry for Barrichello, who was great for the whole weekend and deserved to win. Sometimes however, one has to act letting the head rule the heart. While, with a few laps to go, I was instinctively happy for Rubens to win, ten seconds after the chequered flag I said to myself, “yes, that was the right decision. Because I want to make it clear that this was a decision which I agree with a hundred percent.”

Roll forward a few months to Indianapolis, where the roles were reversed. With both titles already wrapped up, Ferrari continued to show crushing dominance with Schumacher & Barrichello wrapping up P1 & P2. However, leaving the final corner, Schumacher slowed. Somewhat confused, Barrichello did so as well and the pair crossed the line side by side with neither seeming to understand who had actually won the race.

Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A.
Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A.

It turned out that Barrichello had, with a winning margin of just 0.011 seconds. While Schumacher played it off as a favour returned for Austria with no title pressure hanging over him, less sugar-coated rumour suggested that Michael had intended to set up a grandstand finish but was caught out by Barrichello’s willingness to just keep driving.

8. Jack Brabham throws away the win – Monaco 1970:

Round 3 of the 1970 season took place at Monaco. 3 time World Champion Jack Brabham lined up 4th for the race in one of his own cars, while Jochen Rindt started from 8th in the last race for the Lotus 49.

With the race running to 80 laps, incidents and accidents led to Brabham leading the race in the closing stages ahead of Rindt. While the young Austrian driver was able to catch the seasoned veteran ahead of him, he appeared unable to get past Brabham. With just a handful of corners to go, who would guess that Brabham would make the error that cost him the Monaco Grand Prix?

The final corner in those days was called Gazometre, and Brabham approached it offline due to coming up behind lapped traffic. Caught out on more slippery tarmac, Jack locked up and slid straight on. Jochen sailed around the final corner and crossed the line, only leading the race for a total of about 100 metres but taking the race win.

Jack would still lead the World Championship after the race, but finished a distant 6th by season end after a poor second half of the season. Rindt would go on to claim the title that season, albeit posthumously; the Lotus man was killed in a crash during practice at the Italian Grand Prix.

7. Raikkonen’s Ruination – Nurburgring 2005

Having had a poor start to the 2005 season, Kimi Raikkonen & McLaren were starting to look like very potent challengers for the title despite Fernando Alonso & Renault’s early season hay-making. Round 4 in Imola saw Raikkonen rampage away at the front before a driveshaft failure knocked him out, before the Finn dominated Rounds 5 & 6 in Barcelona & Monaco. Aiming for three in a row at the Nurburgring, he missed out on pole position to Nick Heidfeld’s Williams, but snatched the lead into Turn 1.

Raikkonen would lead the race pretty comfortably throughout, but some small errors showed that it wasn’t a complete romp for McLaren. Running wide into the gravel at the halfway point cost Kimi a few precious seconds, while he also picked up a bad flat spot on his right front tyre while lapping Jacques Villeneuve. The 2005 regulations were idiosyncratic when it came to tyres – the drivers all had to compete the race on just one set of tyres with no changes permitted unless granted so for safety reasons.

Raikkonen’s flat spot proved his undoing. His pace slowed, and this allowed the then second placed Fernando Alonso to start hunting him down at over a second a lap. Onboard footage showed the McLaren shaking itself to bits as Raikkonen hustled around with a tyre now more rectangular than circular. Would McLaren & Kimi play it safe and guarantee a points finish by pitting for safety?


As you would expect, they didn’t. Raikkonen entered the last lap just 1.5 seconds clear of Alonso, before his right front suspension exploded under braking for Turn 1. The wheel tethers prevented the Finn from being struck by his tyre, but he was powerless to stop his car from flying off backwards into the gravel. He narrowly avoided smashing into the lapped Jenson Button who was innocently negotiating Turn 1, and came to rest gently against the tyre barrier. Before Kimi even had time to get out of the car and behind the barrier, Alonso finished the race and claimed the win. As a result, Fernando’s points lead over Kimi grew to 32 points instead of being cut to 20 had Kimi succeeded in crossing the line first.

6. Mansell gives Piquet a present – Canada 1991:

World Copyright - LAT Photographic
World Copyright – LAT Photographic

Nigel Mansell didn’t start the Canadian Grand Prix from pole position, as that honour went to team-mate Riccardo Patrese. However, Mansell got the jump on Lap 1 and went on to dominate the race. With the McLarens of Senna & Berger both retiring from the race, Williams were on course for a 1-2 before gearbox trouble slowed Patrese. This meant the Italian driver was passed by Nelson Piquet and Tyrrell’s Stefano Modena.

Gearbox trouble of a different kind would smite down the other Williams driver. Mansell had started to wave to the crowd at the beginning of the final lap, feeling confident of taking the win due to his huge lead. However, he had a little bit of brain fade at the hairpin and let the revs of his car go too low. This meant that the car died, and he trundled to a halt with just the back straight and the final chicane to negotiate. He was classified 6th and just to rub some salt into the wound of such a bad error, his long-time nemesis Nelson Piquet won the race – his last in Formula 1.

World Copyright - LAT Photographic
World Copyright – LAT Photographic

5. Vittorio Brambilla crashes from excitement – Austria 1975:

OK, technically this one is bending the rules just a little, but it’s too good to leave out. The 1975 Austrian Grand Prix is memorable for two reasons, of which one is not happy. The high speed Osterreichring was a fearsome beast in the 70s, and it claimed the life of Mark Donohue after the American racer crashed during practice for the event.

The race was a chaotic mess, held in heavy rain conditions. Niki Lauda had started from pole position, but struggled in the wet, while Mario Andretti spun off by himself. By Lap 15, James Hunt was leading the race for Hesketh but he had Vittorio Brambilla (nicknamed “The Monza Gorilla”) in close quarters. Brambilla managed to sneak in front of Hunt, but with conditions not clearing and more drivers spinning off, there were serious discussions about halting the race.

The decision was made on Lap 29, and the chequered flag was shown to the leader Brambilla. Not expecting this, the Italian driver lost control of his car in his excitement and crashed off into the barriers. He was unhurt, and started to celebrate his one and only win in the sport. At 37, he was the oldest man in the field.

4. Jenson wins from last – Canada 2011:

The longest race duration in F1 history, the Canadian Grand Prix of 2011 kept viewer guessing until the very end. Jenson Button started the race from 7th place, while Sebastian Vettel & Fernando Alonso held their positions off the front row as the race started on a damp track with rain picking up.

Just a few laps in, and Jenson Button’s day got off to a dramatic start as he and team-mate Hamilton collided along the main straight. Jenson managed to avoid any serious damage, while Hamilton was out on the spot after running into the pit wall. Button swapped over to intermediates, but was given a drive through penalty for speeding under the safety car that had been deployed for Hamilton’s stricken car. Shortly after, heavy rain struck the track & Jenson pitted again to swap to wet tyres.

The race was suspended for two hours due to the rain and when track action resumed, it was behind the safety car. Just a few laps after the safety car, Jenson was in again to swap back to intermediate tyres. Due to the safety car, he hadn’t fallen that far behind despite his numerous stops and he was able to race Fernando Alonso when the Ferrari driver emerged in front of him after swapping back to intermediates. The pair collided at Turn 3, Jenson was able to continue again while Fernando’s Ferrari was beached on a kerb. Another safety car, another pit stop for Jenson as he had picked up a puncture in the collision. This meant that with less than thirty laps to go, Button emerged from the pits dead last but on a fresh set of intermediate tyres.


Working his way up the field with some nifty overtaking moves, he was back in for slick tyres along with most of the others as the track dried. Astonishingly, he was up to 4th on Lap 55 and catching the leading men of Vettel, Schumacher & Webber – a job made easier by another safety car when Heidfeld crashed his Renault. On the resumption of action, Webber & Schumacher went hell for leather at it for second place. When Webber tripped up, Button struck to move into 3rd before passing Schumacher shortly after. Now with just Vettel separating him from the win, Jenson set off in hot pursuit and caught up rapidly; he set the fastest lap on the penultimate lap. Pressuring the Red Bull on the last lap, Vettel hooked a tyre onto a damp patch and slid wide at Turn 6, much to the delight of the Canadian fans. Button didn’t have to be asked twice, and drove straight from last to first over the course of the race.

3. Raikkonen’s Redemption – Suzuka 2005:

The Japanese Grand Prix of 2005 was one of those incredible sporting occasions that live on long in the memory, while other more weighty & consequential races fade away. While the Constructor’s Championship was still up for grabs by McLaren and Renault, the Driver’s title had been wrapped up by Fernando Alonso. But that didn’t stop the newly crowned champion, nor the runner up, from putting on a show for the fans.


Drivers took in turns to qualify in those days, but a heavy rain shower on Saturday meant that the order was very mixed up. Schumacher, Alonso, Raikkonen & Montoya all started from near the back – Alonso & Raikkonen from 16th & 17th respectively. Up front, Giancarlo Fisichella was holding the fort for Renault; he would start third behind Ralf Schumacher & Jenson Button.

At the start, Fisi cleared Button and inherited the lead when Ralf pitted very early on for fuel. Alonso & Raikkonen had gotten straight down to the business of cutting through the pack, although Fernando’s progress was hampered by having to let Christian Klien back through after a questionable pass. Raikkonen kept with Alonso, before Fernando passed Schumacher around the outside in an audacious move into 130R. Fernando pitted shortly after, emerging behind Schumacher & Raikkonen after their stops due to them staying out for longer. Raikkonen also managed to clear Michael by going around the outside into Turn 1 before setting off after Button & Mark Webber. While he caught them quickly, he couldn’t pass and sat there for a few laps as Fernando started to pull him back in again; the Spaniard despatching Schumacher for the second time.

Fisichella pitted from the lead and emerged behind Raikkonen, seemingly with almost a pitstop’s time advantage as the race entered the closing stages. Button & Webber would both pit from in front of Kimi, and he unleashed a series of breathtaking laps that saw him emerge from his final stop just a handful of seconds behind Fisichella. The Italian’s lead had looked insurmountable, but Raikkonen’s pace was such that he had the Renault defending into the chicane in the closing laps as the MP4/20 revelled in the Renault’s slipstream.


Exiting the chicane for the penultimate time, Kimi picked up the tow early and swooped to the outside when Fisichella went defensive down the main straight. He was able to hold the line on the outside and held on to take the win – arguably his most memorable and one of the most memorable wins ever. So intense was the adrenaline afterwards, that Ron Dennis choked up with happiness and emotion on television straight after the race.

2. Hakkinen’s Heartbreak – Catalunya 2001

Mika Hakkinen’s 2001 season was a very mixed bag. The two time Champion had been narrowly beaten to the title after an intense battle in 2000, and circumstances changed over the winter of 2000/2001. Hakkinen became a father for the first time when son Hugo was born, while McLaren’s MP4/16 wasn’t quite as competitive or as reliable as its predecessors. Neither aspect was helped by the banning of the material beryllium, an exotic alloy that Mercedes & Ilmor had used as part of the construction of its V10 engines. This meant that the engines in 2001 were no more powerful than the 2000 versions, while Ferrari had made serious gains with theirs & with their F2001 chassis.

The Australian Grand Prix showed no sign of the Schumacher/Hakkinen battle ending though, as Mika chased Michael around Albert Park; the pair in a league of their own until the halfway point. A suspension failure then threw Mika off the track and into the barriers in a high speed crash that seemed of little consequence at the time. The Finn admitted after retirement that this crash reminded him of the near fatal crash he had in 1995, and this became another trigger for what would become Mika’s swansong season being an erratic affair.

A 6th place, a retirement and a 4th place were the best Mika could muster in Malaysia, Brazil & San Marino – scant prizes considering team-mate Coulthard was tied on points with Schumacher for the title lead. Surely Spain, a track Mika had dominated at between 1998-2000, would get his title bid in motion.

It certainly started well. Michael took pole, but Mika 2nd. Just like Australia, the pair sprinted away at the front with Mika shadowing Michael all the way. Mika would eventually get the jump on Michael at the last stops after a slow stop for Ferrari, and Hakkinen opened up a lead of over 40 seconds as Michael eased home – clearly unhappy with his tyres, but happy to settle for 2nd with Coulthard languishing in 5th after stalling on the grid. Mika had finally defeated Michael in 2001.

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Until the hydraulic system failed entering Turn 1 on Lap 65, with an audible spike in revs from the screaming V10 as the clutch failed. Unable to accelerate, Mika’s car began to slow as he tried to coax the car around the last three miles. Seemingly with a reasonable amount of drive, the lead he had amassed looked as though it might yet prove his saviour – until the engine lunched itself leaving Turn 4. Somewhat hopeful white smoke turned into flames, and Mika pulled his car over in front of the baying Ferrari fans rejoicing at his demise. While he would beat Michael on two more occasions in his F1 career, this one was not his day.

1. The Brazilian Bombshell – 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix:

Sometimes, reality is more exciting than any Hollywood script, and Brazil 2008 certainly is proof of that. Lewis Hamilton & Felipe Massa’s titanic scrap for the title had reached its epic conclusion in front of Massa’s home crowd at Interlagos, so there was little doubt over whom the crowd were cheering on.

Pole position went to Felipe, while Lewis could only manage 4th behind Jarno Trulli & the other Ferrari of Raikkonen; the Finn would act as rear gunner for his team-mate. A light sprinkling of rain at the start complicated matters somewhere, but didn’t affect the championship battle – that would come later on.


If Felipe managed to win the race, Lewis had to ensure a 5th place finish or higher in order to clinch the title. This he managed easily throughout the majority of the race, driving behind Massa, Alonso & Raikkonen in a comfortable 4th place as the laps counted down. That was until a rain shower struck the circuit with ten laps to go. Not heavy enough to guarantee wet weather tyres, but slippery enough to make the teams question what to do. All the front runners dived in for intermediates, but one man decided to stay out on dry tyres. Timo Glock in the Toyota was that man, and he thus was out on track ahead of Hamilton with just minutes of racing remaining. To make Lewis’ life even more difficult, Sebastian Vettel overtook the McLaren on track to demote Hamilton to 6th place – not good enough to win the title. Had championship glory slipped through his fingers again in Brazil?

Entering the final lap, the order was Massa, Alonso, Raikkonen, Glock, Vettel & Hamilton. Glock had seemingly adjusted well to driving in the rain on dry tyres and his pace hadn’t dropped up sufficiently to allow Hamilton sneak back the 5th place. That was until Lap 71, when the intensity of the rain upped just enough for Glock to lose tyre temperature and grip. He tip-toed around the final lap over 15 seconds off the pace, and was ambushed by Vettel & Hamilton at the final corner heading back up the hill to the finish line. Felipe Massa had already crossed the line as race winner and with it, seemed to take the title as Hamilton remained mired in 6th. The celebrations started at Ferrari and the crowd went wild, only for the raucous joy to be dashed thirty seconds later when Hamilton crossed the line in 5th place.


The last corner of the last lap of the last race decided a Champion, while Massa sobbed after the most cruel loss that Formula 1 could have given him. You don’t get much more memorable than that.

About Thomas Maher

Thomas Maher is one of the founders of FormulaSpy.com. He is an FIA-accredited F1 journalist, as well as working in the Irish radio industry. Hobbies include writing, music, and polishing his beloved Mitsubishi FTO. Check him out on your social network below.

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