Editorial: Fantastic Formula One

Whatever problems F1 may face off the track, a scintillating Grand Prix like the one at Japan this Sunday is a sure-fire way to put things right. So how did the F1Fanatic editor rate it alongside the other memorable races he’s seen?

Hungarian Grand Prix 1989
Podium: Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Thierry Boutsen

This was probably Nigel Mansell’s greatest ever win. During practice he found his nimble yet fragile Ferrari struggling for grip on qualifying tyres, and instead committed himself to perfecting the balance for the race. He duly qualified 12th on a circuit notorious for being difficult to overtake on.

Riccardo Patrese took pole for Williams and lead, fending off Ayrton Senna at every turn. Meanwhile Mansell stealthily made his way up the field, passing four cars on the opening lap, profitting from others’ tyre changes, and darting past Alain Prost in a smart move.

When Patrese retired Senna looked set to sprint off into the distance, but he couldn’t shake Mansell. Then, when the two happened across a slowing Stefan Johansson, Mansell unleashed an extraordinarily opportunistic overtaking move to steal the win. Masterful.

Monaco Grand Prix, 1996
Podium: Olivier Panis, David Coulthard, Johnny Herbert

A race of extraordinary incident and fortune. On a treacherous surface, Damon Hill led while, on the very first lap, Michael Schumacher astonishingly swiped the Portiers barrier and became an instant retirement.

Hill was fated not to win as his Williams-Renault suffered a rare failure. So did next leader Jean Alesi’s Benetton. Heinz-Harald Frentzen showed conspicuous promise, but spoiled his race in an incident with Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari.

In all, fourteen drivers crashed or spun in the difficult conditions. Olivier Panis rose through the wreckage to claim what would be the final win for Ligier. David Coulthard and Johnny Herbert chased him to the flag. But behind them Frentzen stopped in the pits and was classified fourth, and Mika Salo, Mika Hakkinen and Eddie Irvine wiped themselves out at Portier with five laps to go. A crazy race.

Belgian Grand Prix 2000
Podium: Mika Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher

At the height of the 2000 championship battle a resurgent Hakkinen had clawed back a 24-point deficit to Schumacher to lead him by two points. At the mighty Spa-Francorchamps, Hakkinen took pole with Schumacher fourth, rookie Jenson Button a sensational third. But this would be all about the sport’s two biggest drivers at the time.

The race started on a wet track but within six laps they were changing to dry tyres. Schumacher rose ahead of Button and Jarno Trulli to take up second behind Hakkinen, when the Finn inexplicably spun at Stavelot, gifting Schumacher the lead. That order remained throughout the pit stops but as the surface dried Hakkinen began to slowly reduce Schumacher advantage, until the two were just a second apart with five laps to go.

On the 200mph run to Les Combes Hakkinen darted right and Schumacher swung vionlently across, edging the McLaren towards the grass. Hakkinen backed off and regrouped. The next time through he launched the McLaren through the Eau Rouge sweep and held on even closer to the Ferrari, as they bore down on Ricardo Zonta’s BAR-Honda. As Zonta held station in the middle of the track, the championship protagonists blasted past on either side and Hakkinen edged ahead into Les Combes.

On the podium, Schumacher wore a thunderous look. But he hit back by winning each of the remaining races, and with it, his third World Championship.

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