Any race where there’s a change of lead on the final lap is exciting. In F1 terms it doesn’t happen often and is usually the result of of the leader having late race reliability woes or, in the past, because of a high-speed track where slipstreaming battles meant that being in second place on the last lap was advantageous.
Rarer still are those races where the eventual winner hasn’t actually been in the lead at all until the lap where it really matters – the final one. Here are eight Grands Prix where just such a thing happened.
The championship-deciding race of 1959 saw Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks attempting to overhaul the small but significant points lead enjoyed by Cooper’s Jack Brabham. But when Moss retired early on and Brooks had to make an early stop after making contact with his teammate Wolfgang von Trips, the title was Brabhams to lose.
He led the entire race with Bruce McLaren in the other Cooper following close behind, but they weren’t exactly pushing and Maurice Trintignant was catching the pair of them. The reason they weren’t pushing was because Brabham had decided to run with less fuel and he was desperately trying to get to the end, but on the final lap he was running out. His car spluttered and after some confusion McLaren eventually went on ahead and managed to take his first win, just a few tenths ahead of the charging Trintignant.
As for Brabham? He stopped short of the finish line and had to push his car to the end. He was classified fourth – behind title rival Brooks, but the three points were enough to secure his first championship, and the first for a rear-engined car.
The 1967 Italian GP at a chicane-less Monza is famous for one of the greatest drives of all time. Jim Clark was leading when he suffered a puncture and dropped a lap behind, but put in a series of sensational laps to not only unlap himself, but regain the lead with eight laps to go. But on the final lap his Lotus slowed with a fuel pickup problem and John Surtees in the Lola-built Honda surged through into the lead.
Jack Brabham had briefly led earlier in the race and almost pulled off a late lunge into the Parabolica, but he ran wide on the slippery cement dust, allowing Surtees to regain the lead and just hold on to win.
The high speeds of the old Spa layout could be tough on cars, and it proved in the 1968 race as everyone who led eventually dropped out. Pole-sitter Chris Amon (who was running wings for the first time ever in a Grand Prix) duelled with Surtees for the lead, but a holed radiator put Amon out and Surtees suffered a suspension failure soon after.
That left Denny Hulme battling Jackie Stewart for the lead for a while, but when Hulme dropped out after a driveshaft failed Stewart looked set to cruise on for victory. However on the last lap his Matra ground to a halt – it had run out of fuel. Just as happened when he won his first race, this allowed Bruce McLaren to take the win in a race which had just five cars still running at the end. It would turn out to be Bruce’s last GP victory though perhaps more significantly, it was the first for the McLaren team.
What is it with Jack Brabham getting involved in last lap lead changes?! Although 44-years-old in 1970 ‘Black Jack’ was still as quick as ever, having won the season-opening race in South Africa and been running second in Spain before his engine failed. At round three in Monaco he found himself in the lead again and remained there for much of the race.
But Jochen Rindt, driving an aging Lotus 49, had made his way up to second and had closed right up on Brabham by the start of the last lap. Jack was still ahead as they approached the final corner, but despite being far enough ahead Brabham elected to take a defensive line, locked up on the dusty part of the track and slid into the hay bales, allowing Rindt to snatch a dramatic victory.
Mario Andretti and Jody Scheckter contested the early laps of the 1978 South African GP at Kyalami, but for much of the race it was Riccardo Patrese who led for Arrows, a team in just its second race. He was dominated when his engine failed with 15 laps to go it, leaving the Tyrrell of Patrick Depailler in the lead. However his car wasn’t running as well as it should have been and Ronnie Peterson in the Lotus was catching him.
At this point in his career Depailler was a little bit of a Nick Heidfeld – he had 13 podiums and seven second places, but no victory. Peterson caught him on the final lap and the Frenchman did everything he could to hold him off as the two went side by side through several corners, but Peterson eventually got ahead and won by half a second whilst Depailler secured his eighth second-place finish. He wouldn’t have to wait too long for that first win though, as he won the Monaco Grand Prix two races later.
Nigel Mansell was dominating the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix. Having taken the lead from pole-sitter Patrese on the opening lap he proceeded to lead every lap and even set fastest lap along the way. Happy with his crushing performance and with a massive lead over second-placed Nelson Piquet he started to slow down wave to the crowd as he completed his final lap.
As he rounded the hairpin with just a couple of corners to go, his Williams ground to a halt. He’d been so busy with his premature celebrations that the hydraulic pressure dropped too low and he couldn’t change gear, and the car stalled. Almost a minute later Piquet passed the stricken Williams and he went on to win. Never one to mince his words, Piquet didn’t care that it was a lucky win and said he “almost came” when he passed the broken-down Williams. Oh Nelson.
The title-deciding race at Jerez 1997 was just a crazy event. From the first three cars setting identical times in qualifying to that collision between Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve it has to go down as one of the most memorable finales of all time.
Often forgotten is the fact that the race had a bizarre finish too. Villeneuve’s car was hobbled from being rammed by Schumacher and the two McLarens were catching him. On the final lap with just a few corners to go he let Hakkinen past to win his maiden Grand Prix and allowed Coulthard through at the final turn to make it a McLaren 1-2. Gerhard Berger almost got in on the act as well as he tried to get on the podium in his final race, and at the end just 4.5 seconds covered the entire top six.
Years later it transpired that Williams had agreed to let McLaren win if they helped them beat Ferrari. The whole thing was a bit of a farce but with Schumacher’s antics drawing all the headlines, nobody really cared.
Jenson Button put in one of the great drives of recent times with a stonking drive in a wet Canadian Grand Prix back in 2011. In a race that featured a two-hour rain delay and six safety car periods, Button managed to collide with two drivers – teammate Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – and also had to serve a penalty for speeding behind the safety car. As well as his penalty he also visited the pits on five other occasions and with 30 of the 70 laps to go in the race he was 21st and last.
However by this point the track was starting to dry out, and Button always was a bit special in such conditions. He surged through the field, pitting for intermediate tyres and then slicks at just the right time – a couple of safety cars to bunch the field up helped, too. Then, with five laps to go, he was in second and taking chunks out of the lead Sebastian Vettel had enjoyed for pretty much the entire race.
On the last lap the gap was just a second and although Vettel had upped his pace it was shaping up to be a showdown into the final chicane. But at turn six Vettel succumbed the the pressure of the McLaren bearing down on him: he wandered off of the narrow dry line and ran wide, allowing Button through to win a remarkable race.
As well as these eight races, there have been four other Grands Prix where the winner has only led the final lap. In the 1964 Belgian Grand Prix Jim Clark won when long-time leader Dan Gurney and then Graham Hill dropped out late on. John Watson fended off Mario Andretti for much of the 1977 French Grand Prix, only to be denied when his Brabham-Alfa Romeo coughed on the last lap as it ran low on fuel. Jacques Villeneuve pinched the win from an ailing Damon Hill at the Hungaroring in 1997, and Giancarlo Fisichella only led one lap when he won the 2003 Brazilian GP, though that was a result of a timely red flag.
Last lap lead changes are rare as it is in F1 – it’s only happened 27 times in almost 1000 races – and just 12 of them have seen the winner lead for only one lap. With mandatory pit stops and such reliable cars these days, it could be a long time before it happens for a 13th time.