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Top 10: The closest finishes in Formula 1 history

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Top 10: The closest finishes in Formula 1 history
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Apr 13, 2020, 1:57 PM

From drag races to the finish to controversial team orders, Formula 1 has produced many close finishes throughout the years. These are the 10 closest finishes in F1 history.

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10. 1967 Italian GP - John Surtees vs Jack Brabham (0.2 seconds)

10. 1967 Italian GP - John Surtees vs Jack Brabham (0.2 seconds)
1/10

Photo by: Motorsport Images

In the days before wings and downforce, and the dirty air that kept cars away from each other, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza resembled a cycling race. Cars would try to break away from the peloton, using each other’s draft to stay away. The 1967 edition was no exception and it was hailed as one of the most exciting races of that era. A large number of retirements - Monza was notoriously hard on engines - broke up a lot of the packs.

As it happened, this race wouldn’t have been as famous for its close finish as for the exploits of Jim Clark. Clark led the race until he lost a lap with a puncture. The Lotus driver fought his way back into the race and appeared in the lead again with eight laps to go. Clark looked set for a sensational comeback win, only to be slowed down by a faulty fuel pump on the last lap. That allowed John Surtees and Jack Brabham past, Surtees beating the Australian by 0.2s. It would prove to be the second and last Honda works victory until Jenson Button’s maiden win in the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix.

9. 2002 Austrian GP - Michael Schumacher vs Rubens Barrichello (0.182 seconds)

9. 2002 Austrian GP - Michael Schumacher vs Rubens Barrichello (0.182 seconds)
2/10

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Ninth on the list is a close finish that came to pass under very different circumstances. The 2002 season was perhaps Ferrari's most crushing display of dominance in the Schumacher-Todt-Brawn era. With McLaren's MP4-17 proving to be unreliable, Ferrari's main opposition in the early stages of the season came from BMW Williams. Still, Michael Schumacher had won four out of the first five races of the season when the paddock arrived in Austria. Teammate Rubens Barrichello took pole and led virtually the entire race until being asked to relinquish his position and hand Schumacher the lead and the win. Barrichello initially argued, but ultimately yielded to the team's pressure. He did hand Schumacher the win, but did so ostensibly so there could be no doubt about what had transpired. He slowed down coming out of the final corner, with Schumacher just edging ahead by a mere 0.182 seconds.

Amid booing from the crowd, the podium ceremony was suitably awkward. Schumacher broke protocol by insisting Barrichello take the top step on the podium and then handed him the winner's trophy. Schumacher would go on to take his fifth title with twice the amount of points of Barrichello, making the whole Austria farce rather unnecessary. Ferrari were ultimately handed a fine for the podium ceremony, but not for the swap. Later that year the FIA decided to ban team order from the 2003 season onwards. A rule that proved difficult to enforce.

8. 2000 Canadian GP - Michael Schumacher vs Rubens Barrichello (0.174 seconds)

8. 2000 Canadian GP - Michael Schumacher vs Rubens Barrichello (0.174 seconds)
3/10

Photo by: Sutton Images

Next on the list is another close finish between Schumacher and Barrichello. The finish was also a result of Ferrari team orders, albeit in much less controversial circumstances. In a classic dry-wet race on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Schumacher started from pole and retained his lead after two rounds of pitstops, the latter to bolt on wet weather tyres. After an innocent off-track excursion in Turn One, Schumacher retained a comfortable lead on Barrichello. As the rain intensified the Brazilian kept making inroads on the German. In the closing stages Barrichello had closed the gap and seemed quicker than his teammate, but Ferrari had instructed him to hold station. Schumacher and Barrichello came across the line in formation, separated by just 0.174s.

7. 1954 French GP - Juan Manuel Fangio vs Karl Kling (0.1 seconds)

7. 1954 French GP - Juan Manuel Fangio vs Karl Kling (0.1 seconds)
4/10

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The 1954 French Grand Prix in Reims was another race decided by team orders in the early days of the world championship. The grand prix saw the delayed debut of the much anticipated Mercedes W196, which featured a straight-8 fuel-injection engine and a streamlined body, suitable for the high-speed track.

The W196 proved an instant hit, with Juan Manual Fangio taking pole by a full second over Mercedes teammate Karl Kling. A gruelling race of attrition followed, in which the third Silver Arrow of Hans Herrmann retired with engine problems. Only six cars made it to the finish. After Herrmann's retirement Mercedes didn’t want to run any risks with its new car and instructed Kling to stay behind Fangio. The difference at the line was just one tenth of a second.

6. 1961 French GP - Giancarlo Baghetti vs Dan Gurney (0.1 seconds)

6. 1961 French GP - Giancarlo Baghetti vs Dan Gurney (0.1 seconds)
5/10

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The 1961 edition of the French Grand Prix at Reims was also a two-horse race, but fortunately there were no team orders involved this time. Ferrari were expected to dominate the weekend after a strong showing in earlier races. Championship leader Phil Hill led the way early on, but spun out of contention.

In the end it was his fellow Ferrari teammate Giancarlo Baghetti who defended the Italian brand’s chances. The Italian shone on his debut and won a drag race to the finish against the Porsche of Dan Gurney. Jim Clark finished a minute behind the pair in his Lotus.

5. 1969 Italian GP - Jackie Stewart vs Jochen Rindt (0.08 seconds)

5. 1969 Italian GP - Jackie Stewart vs Jochen Rindt (0.08 seconds)
6/10

Photo by: Sutton Images

The 1969 Italian Grand Prix was another classic festival of slipstreaming around the cathedral of speed. While technically not the closest finish of all time, hence its position on this list, the 1969 edition is certainly remembered for its ultra-close 1-2-3-4 finish.

On the last lap of the race a pack of four cars stormed towards the notorious Parabolica for the last time. Jackie Stewart, who was on course to win his first world championship, tried to fend off Jochen Rindt, Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Bruce McLaren. Beltoise lunged down the inside heading into the final right-hander, briefly taking the lead. However, Stewart took a tighter line and managed to get a better exit on to the main straight. Stewart got back past his Matra teammate, while Jochen Rindt used the tow to challenge Stewart for the win. Stewart held off Rindt by a mere 0.08s, followed by Beltoise at 0.17s and McLaren at 0.19s.

4. 1982 Austrian GP - Elio de Angelis vs Keke Rosberg (0.05)

4. 1982 Austrian GP - Elio de Angelis vs Keke Rosberg (0.05)
7/10

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The 1982 Austrian Grand Prix wasn’t really supposed to make this list. The race on the Osterreichring made history as the first race in which (some) cars made a planned pitstop for fuel and tyres. The Brabham BMW’s of Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese qualified on the front row and pulled away with tanks that were only half full. After their novel pitstops however, both Brabhams retired with mechanical issues. That left Renault’s Alain Prost comfortably out in front until he too had to park his car with just five laps to go.

Prost's retirement suddenly gave Lotus driver Elio de Angelis and Williams man Keke Rosberg a chance to take their maiden grand prix win. The pair were nose to tail going into the final corner, but leader De Angelis went wide and gave Rosberg a chance to pull alongside. De Angelis still held on by 0.05 seconds.

3. 1986 Spanish GP - Ayrton Senna vs Nigel Mansell (0.014 seconds)

3. 1986 Spanish GP - Ayrton Senna vs Nigel Mansell (0.014 seconds)
8/10

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The first ever grand prix on the newly constructed Circuito de Jerez produced a humdinger of a race. Ayrton Senna converted his pole into an early lead the Lotus. Nigel Mansell passed Williams teammate Nelson Piquet en started hounding the Brazilian around the twisty Spanish track. Mansell managed to pass Senna, who then returned the favour with an aggressive move. That caused Mansell to also lose a position to Alain Prost in the McLaren, which prompted him to pit for new tyres.

On fresh rubber Mansell quickly passed Prost and charged ahead. He closed the gap to Senna, who desperately tried to block Mansell and stay out in front on worn tyres. Coming out of the final corner, Mansell picked up a tow and pulled out alongside the Brazilian. Senna hung on by a mere 0.014 seconds, producing one of the iconic finishes in Formula 1. Afterwards Mansell joked both he and Senna should each be given 7.5 points.

2. 2002 United States GP - Rubens Barrichello vs Michael Schumacher (0.011 seconds)

2. 2002 United States GP - Rubens Barrichello vs Michael Schumacher (0.011 seconds)
9/10

Photo by: Sutton Images

By the time F1 visited Indianapolis in September 2002, Michael Schumacher had already secured his fifth world championship. The Austrian Grand Prix, in which Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello was instructed to let Schumacher past for the win, was far from forgotten. With the title now secured, Barrichello was now allowed to fight Schumacher. Schumacher led the way from pole ahead of Barrichello and was set to take his eleventh season victory until he lifted his foot off the throttle coming onto the main straight. Barrichello, unsure what his team-mate was doing, initially backed off as well, but ultimately snuck ahead and won by just 0.011s.

Schumacher seemingly wanted to stage a dead heat finish, but afterwards changed his tune and suggested the result was a payback for Barrichello’s team orders in Austria. The event was not a good look for F1 in front of its American audience. Either way, as Barrichello said afterwards, "a win is a win".

1. 1971 Italian GP - Peter Gethin vs Ronnie Peterson (0.01 seconds)

1. 1971 Italian GP - Peter Gethin vs Ronnie Peterson (0.01 seconds)
10/10

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Monza continued to live up to its name as a circuit which produced high-speed thrills and dogfights. Following its top-10 close finishes in 1967 and 1969 it was the 1971 edition of the Italian Grand Prix that would go on to make history as Formula 1’s closest ever finish. The race was a repeat of 1969 with a lead pack of four cars battling it out for the win.

In his BRM Peter Gethin came out of the Parabolica in the lead, hounded by Ronnie Peterson in the March, Tyrrell’s Francois Cevert and Mike Hailwood in the Surtees. Peterson pulled alongside, but Gethin just managed to hang on and win by 0.01s. Cevert took the final podium spot ahead of Hailwood. The race would also go down as F1’s fastest ever grand prix with an average speed of 242.615 km/h, a record that stood for 32 years until the 2003 Italian Grand Prix.

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Series Formula 1
Author Filip Cleeren