Top ten… Ways to finish an F1 race

Flame-belching Button crawls to the flag at Melbourne in 2006

Flame-belching Button crawls to the flag at Melbourne in 2006

As we saw yesterday Christian Fittipaldi really raised the bar when it comes to crossing the finishing line in style.

But drivers who want to make it home with a little flair have plenty of options. Here’s ten of the more unusual ways to finish an F1 race featuring memorable moments from Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Nigel Mansell and more.

Pushing for victory

Jack Brabham, 1959 United States Grand Prix

Jack Brabham’s hopes of winning the world championship in the last race of 1959 at Sebring got an early boost when rivals Tony Brooks and Stirling Moss hit trouble in the opening laps.

Brooks’ Ferrari was struck by that of team mate Wolfgang von Trips on the first lap, forcing a pit stop for repairs. And Moss went out on lap five with gearbox failure.

Nearing the end of the race Brabham looked secure. But on the last lap his car spluttered to a halt, out of fuel. Brabham climbed out of the car and pushed it to the line, two minutes behind Brooks’ third-placed car. Fortunately for Brabham, he still had enough of a lead to win the championship by four points.

Pushing for sixth place, then falling over

Nigel Mansell, 1984 Dallas Grand Prix

Nigel Mansell’s similar efforts in the same country 25 years later were more theatrical and less successful. He’d led the first half of the inaugural USA Dallas Grand Prix in ferocious heat, but a pit stop for fresh tyres relegated him to fifth in the closing stages.

On the last lap the gearbox on his Lotus 95T finally succumbed to the strain of the point-and squirt street course and died. The car rolled to a halt within sight of the finishing line.

Like Brabham, Mansell got out and pushed but – most unlike Brabham – he collapsed to the floor in exhaustion in the pounding Dallas heat.

Piercarlo Ghinzani’s Osella came around to steal fifth place off him, but fortunately for Mansell there was no-one left on the same lap, so he was credited with a point for sixth.

In a pile-up

Carlos Pace, Jody Scheckter and 11 others, 1975 British Grand Prix

A downpour of the sort you might expect to hit Sepang fell on Silverstone in the late stages of the 1975 British Grand Prix.

While a handful of drivers, like winner Emerson Fittipaldi, made it to the pits for wet weather tyres, most of them didn’t. Many were caught out by deep water at Club corner, and as the red flags came out only a handful of the 19 cars which had been running returned to the start/finish straight.

In all 13 of the classified finishers crashed in the downpour, including the occupants of second, third, fourth and fifth places: Pace, Scheckter, James Hunt and Mark Donohue.

In flames

Jenson Button, 2006 Australian Grand Prix

Fisichella's eyebrows grew back eventually

Fisichella's eyebrows grew back eventually

Jenson Button might have been grateful for such a downpour in the closing stages of the 2006 Australian Grand Prix.

His Honda engine grenaded itself as he came around the final corner, spewing flames in the face of the chasing Giancarlo Fisichella.

While Button struggled to control a car that was skidding on its own oil, the team urged him to pull; up short of the line so they would avoid an engine change penalty at the next round. This he did, falling from fifth to finish out of the points.

Thanks to Ripping Silk who sent in the fantastic shot of Button’s engine exploding.

Read more: 2006 Australian Grand Prix Review

In the pits, taking a penalty

Michael Schumacher, 1998 British Grand Prix

This ridiculous incident did a lot to further the view that the FIA gave Schumacher an easy time. How on earth could a driver be allowed to serve a stop-go penalty after having already crossed the line to win the race?

Schumacher was handed the penalty for passing a car under yellow flags during the drenched race. But because it was served near to the end of the race Ferrari gambled they would get away with taking it on the last lap – after Schumacher had crossed the finishing line in the pits.

At Silverstone on that day I was part of the drenched crowd at Copse corner where quite a few people were convinced second-placed man Mika Hakkinen had won.

The rules have since been changed so that drivers who incur penalties late in the race get time delays – as Lewis Hamilton did at Spa in 2008.


Michele Alboreto and Nelson Piquet, 1984 European Grand Prix

In 1984 championship drivers had to cope with a ban on refuelling – just as they will this year.

But 26 years ago they faced the added problem of having to manage the unpredictably thirsty fuel consumption of 1.5-litre turbos using engine management technology that was pretty crude compared to what we have today. Cars juddering to a halt a lap or two short of the chequered flag became a common sight.

That very problem struck both Nelson Piquet and Michele Alboreto as the pair were battling for second place in the dying stages of the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

Piquet suffered first, allowing Alboreto to blast by on the run towards the chicane. But Alboreto’s Ferrari stuttered as they came out of the last corner, and Piquet’s desperate shimmying succeeded in getting another trickle of fuel out of the tank. His Brabham lurched forward and took him back ahead of Alboreto – but unfortunately the finishing line was already behind them.

The pair pulled up at the pit exit, shrugged at each other, and began their walk to the podium.


Stefan Johansson, 1987 German Grand Prix

It looked like McLaren had the German Grand Prix in the bag. Alain Prost was leading comfortably until, just four laps from the end, a broken alternator drive belt robbed him of victory. Nelson Piquet inherited the lead but at least Prost’s number two Stefan Johansson was on hand to salvage second place.

He made it – just. Heading into the stadium on the final lap his right-front tyre disintegrated, leaving him to nurse his three-wheeled wagon through the most twisty part of the Hockenheim track. Fortunately Ayrton Senna’s third-placed Lotus was a lap down, allowing Johansson to take his time.

On a stretcher

Fernando Alonso, 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

Alonso crashed in the rain at Brazil

Alonso crashed in the rain at Brazil

The Brazilian Grand Prix podium in 2003 was an odd affair. There were only two people on it, and it later turned out they were standing in the wrong places (the stewards later decided second-place finisher Giancarlo Fisichella had actually won and not Kimi Raikkonen).

Fernando Alonso should have been the third man on the podium but he was on a stretcher heading towards the circuit’s medical centre after a huge crash which brought an early halt to the race – and created the confusion over who had won it.

The chain of events began with Mark Webber crashing, littering the main straight with debris. The yellow flags came out but Alonso failed to back off sufficiently, hit a stray tyre and smashed into a tyre wall. Throwing so much wreckage across the track the race had to be stopped.

Fortunately Alonso escaped without serious injury. He clearly didn’t plan to bring the race to an early end and, in doing so, guarantee himself a podium finish. But I bet someone, someday, will try crashing on purpose to stop a race.

Doing a somersault (while still in the car)

Chrstian Fittipaldi, 1993 Italian Grand Prix

We talked about this one yesterday – Fittipaldi was lucky just to survive it, never mind actually make it across the line.

Read more: Incredible amateur video of Christian Fittipaldi?s 1993 Monza somersault

Neck and neck

Peter Gethin, Ronnie Peterson and others, 1971 Italian Grand Prix

There have been some great side-by-side finishes to F1 races in the past: like Ayrton Senna holding back Nigel Mansell at Jerez in 1986, or Elio de Angelis and Keke Rosberg crossing the line side-by-side at the Osterreichring in 1982.

But this vintage race trumps them all. Peter Gethin’s BRM scampered across the line at Monza with Ronnie Peterson alongside him and another three cars within six tenths of a second:

1. Peter Gethin, BRM
2. Ronnie Peterson, March-Ford +0.01s
3. Francois Cevert, Tyrrell-Ford +0.09s
4. Mike Hailwood, Surtees-Ford +0.18s
5. Howden Ganley, BRM +0.61s

Knowing that Monza races were usually decided in the final sprint to the chequered flag, Gethin shrewdly set up his car to get the perfect run from the Parabolica to the finish line. Here’s how he did it:

Read more: The greatest wins: Gethin

Over to you

Can you extend the top ten? Got a great F1 finish I’ve overlooked? Or do you know of a dramatic finish to a race in a different series? Share your favourites in the comments.

Got an idea for a top ten? Why not write a guest post. Find more information here.

F1 top tens

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77 comments on Top ten… Ways to finish an F1 race

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  1. Barrichello/Schumacher on Indianapolis 2002. Barrichello was not going to win the race, only they want to be the most closest finish on F1. But: FAIL

    • I don’t think it was a fail, remember Austria 2002. It was an excuse.

    • Well, they might have managed the closest finish in F1 history. Schumi finished 0.011 seconds behind Barrichello. The other candidate is the 1971 Italian GP mentioned by Keith – in those days times were measured only to the nearest hundredth of a second, not the nearest thousandth. So by modern standards Gethin could have finished anywhere between 0.005 and 0.014 seconds ahead of Peterson. We’ll never know.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th January 2010, 12:50

      I think a stupid stunt like that is best forgotten.

      • JBolton said on 19th January 2010, 13:17

        In the fallout after Indy someone used “modern video technology” to measure the distance between Gethin and Peterson and it came out as 0.014s, so Schumacher and Barrichello do indeed have the closest finish.
        But the record books will always show them as having the second closest finish.

  2. Eric M. said on 19th January 2010, 6:22

    Great article!

    If we’re going to talk about finishing races in style, we can’t forget Vittorio Brambilla crashing after crossing the line to get a surprise win in Austria:

  3. Prisoner Monkeys said on 19th January 2010, 7:18

    Great article, Keith.

    But for me, the best way to cross the line would be backwards. While on fire. And upside down. Possibly missing a few wheels, and the odd wing, too. Kind of like Charlie Sheen’s landing at the end of Hot Shots! … in fact, that’s what I’m going to call it: the Charlie Sheen.

  4. The amateur footage of Fittipaldi’s crash-somersault-finish is good, but on the official stuff it’s way more impressive:

  5. SuperSwede said on 19th January 2010, 7:48

    I think the finish of the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix must be considered. At least it has to be one of the most confusing finishes of all time, with Riccardo Patrese winning after spinning off at the Old Station Hairpin (Loews) on the second to last lap. I think we had four or five different leaders on the last two laps! One of the few that actually had a clue of what was going on was BBC:s commentator Murray Walker. That’s a true classic!

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 19th January 2010, 7:59

      I think you’re kinf of missing the point of the article. It’s not the best finishes to races, but the best and most unusual ways someone has finished a race.

      • SuperSwede said on 19th January 2010, 8:07

        It’s quite unusual that the winner doesn’t know he’s won!

        • Chalky said on 19th January 2010, 9:22

          Bruce McLaren never knew he won his first race as a constructor \ driver at the 1968 Belgium GP.

          Jackie Stewart stopped for fuel while leading right near the end of the race and Bruce who was running 2nd didn’t see him, so he had no idea he had won by the time he got back to the pits.

          • SuperSwede said on 19th January 2010, 9:52

            That’s interesting! I didn’t know that.

            I think that it was more interesting when the driver didn’t have the possibility to communicate with his pit crew. The only means of communication was the pit-board. In those days the driver had to work out the race strategy during the race and on his own. And you only went in to the pits when you had a puncture or a mechanical problem.

            I think that the rule changes that are discussed today with obligatory pit stops is rubbish. Keep it simple!

    • Icthyes said on 19th January 2010, 11:03

      I was going to post that one, I’ll always remember James Hunt’s commentary:

      “We seem to be in the ridiculous situation where we’re standing by the finish line, waiting for a winner to come by, and we don’t seem to be getting one!”

  6. Man that’s for sure one reason I miss those hondas. They blew so nice (and often) :).

    • They certainly did ! I was at the fence right in front of JB when he let go there & I tell you my eyebrows were singed & my face the colour of a lobster ! Boy that was hot, Fisi must have felt like a pig on a spit behind him.

      But my all time fave Honda engine blow has to be Sato at Monaco, I think in 2004. And funnily enough, it was poor Fisi who bore the brunt of that one as well !

  7. mp4-25 said on 19th January 2010, 7:58

    mika hakkinen 2001 barcelona??

  8. Robert Doornbos 2005 Chinese Grand Prix

  9. DanThorn said on 19th January 2010, 8:36

    Great article, Keith! And that picture of Button exploding is magnificent.

    • It was also, IMHO, a rather daft decision as Button finished 7th at Imola the next race, thus getting 2 points after throwing away 4…

  10. sw6569 said on 19th January 2010, 8:39

    found a video of the alboreto and piquet fuel incident. Very bizarre – watch it while you can!

  11. Calum said on 19th January 2010, 8:49

    I think that the best way to finish an f1 race would haveto be first to finish!!!

  12. F1Yankee said on 19th January 2010, 8:54

    flavio bailing out early in hungary, 2009.

  13. Robert McKay said on 19th January 2010, 9:48

    Not an F1 race but I still laugh at the Monaco F3000 race where Bjorn Wirdheim slowed down right before the finishing line (thinking he’d already crossed it, or just showboating, not sure which) and allowed Kiesa to steal the win…


    If I’m playing a computer game and leading the race by miles, I deliberately spin it on the grass and back it across the line in reverse, in a defiant victory sort of way.

    Kudos to any F1 driver who successfully pulls this one off.

    • SuperSwede said on 19th January 2010, 9:56

      I still can’t forgive him for that!

      It must be one of the most stupid mistakes made by a driver of that level. I mean, how hard can it be? Race til you see the chequered flag!

      • Simon said on 19th January 2010, 12:38

        … or Mansell in the ’91 Canadian GP. Although the official cause of his premature end to the race on the final lap was cough..spluter..hand-over-mouth…errrm…’electrical fault’

        The unofficial view is that he switched something off or allowed the revs to get too low whilst waving to the crowd. Has this ever been sorted out – surely someone at Williams has spilled the beans by now?

        Still, I like Mansell a lot for his entertainment value on the track. One of the legends.

  14. Icthyes said on 19th January 2010, 11:08

    Great article, although with the Schumacher incident, wasn’t what clinched the fact that the stewards hadn’t correctly followed their own procedures (namely, the time window) for issuing penalties, which is why it came so late and enabled Ferrari to gamble, and why the penalty was withdrawn after?

    As an anti-candidate for the article, I’d suggest Felipe Massa in the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. The poor kid thought he was going to be world champion when he crossed the line :-(

  15. Ned Flanders said on 19th January 2010, 12:01

    @Robert McKay- I always do that too, but I can tell you it’s annoying when you ‘do a Wirdheim’ any spin a lap early!

    @Penelope Pitstop- Great find! You can always trust NASCAR to come up with the most outrageous way of finishing a race.

    @Keith Collantine- Excellent article!

    2006 Chinese GP was pretty good- Sato held Heidfeld up at the penultimate corner, Barrichello hit Heidfeld, Button and de la Rosa passed them both for 4th and 5th, Barrichello finished 6th without a front wing with Heidfeld 7th on three wheels!

    But the best thing about this was that Heidfeld wrongly blamed Sakon Yamamoto for causing the whole mess:

    • Penelope Pitstop said on 19th January 2010, 15:51

      Quite right about NASCAR! Here are a few other spectacular finishes, all from the 2009 season:

      Carl Edwards at the spring Talladega race:

      Kyle Busch at Daytona on July 4 (it’s hard to convince people that NASCAR fans don’t watch it for the crashes when you listen to the crowd’s reaction!):

      Mark Martin at the autumn Talladega race:

      • Ned Flanders said on 19th January 2010, 19:44

        Wow… is that normal in NASCAR? I’d seen th Carl Edwards one before, that was incredible. The car could quite easily have cleared the safety fence and ended up in the crowd… doesn’t really bear thinking about

        • Penelope Pitstop said on 19th January 2010, 23:11

          Well, Dayton and Talladega are famous for having huge wrecks, but the ones last season were just insane. And yes, the Edwards one could have been MUCH worse. Thankfully, the only serious injury was a teenage girl whose jaw was broken when she was hit by a lighting fixture or a speaker that came off of the fence.

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