Best F1 Finishes

Expertise comes with hard practice. Having worn my sofa watching hours of Formula One racing, I consider myself an expert at the enjoyment of a good finish. But what makes for goodness at the finish line?

The thirty-two best Formula One finishes are categorized by time and thrill value and span the seven decades since F1 began. We’ve grouped them by margin – smallest and largest – unexpected dramatic finishes and underdog wins. Some champions feature in multiple categories.

Having lined up the finishers, let’s see how they make it over the finish line.

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Most Dramatic Finishes

Some of the best finishes come from phoenixes who rise from the ashes of the back ranks. Here we look at eight wins from drivers who pulled off impossible bac-to-front finishes.

Mansell, 1971

RaceBritish Grand Prix
DateJuly 12, 1987
WinnerNigel MansellWilliams-Honda
Runner-UpNelson PiquetWilliams-Honda
Margin+1.918

Nelson Piquet started at pole position but was immediately outedged by McClaren’s Alain Prost, who took an early lead. A resurgent Piquet recaptured the lead, followed in short order by teammate Mansell, with the leading changing hands.

In spite of both drivers being scheduled to run without a tire change, Mansell opted for a pitstop on the thirty-fifth lap. This cost him twenty-nine seconds, and Piquet retained the lead. With two rounds left, Mansell put the car in overdrive and took the final lead, stalling immediately after crossing the finish with engine trouble.

Coultard, 2003

RaceAustralian Grand Prix
DateMarch 9, 2003
WinnerDavid CoulthardMcClaren-Mercedes
Runner-UpJuan Pablo MontoyaWilliams-BWM
Margin+8.675

Choppy weather shaped the drama in this race. There had been rain, and most drivers fitted their tires accordingly. As the race unfolded, the track dried quickly, changing the tire traction.

By halfay Montoya led. Schumacher spun off-track after a tire collision, and Montoya oversped into a corner, veering off course and losing his lead. He powered through the remaining eight laps but couldn’t close on Coultard, who bagged his final win.

Fisichella, 2003

RaceBrazilian Grand Prix
DateApril 6, 2003
WinnerGiancarlo FisichellaJordan-Ford
Runner-UpKimi RaikkonenMcClaren-Mercedes
Margin+0.945

A crazy race, dominated by a slew of accidents, a premature end, technical error, and a title that switched hands. Twice.

After accidents induced pileups that forced an early end to the race, a decision was taken to award the win to Fisichella. This was reversed after it was deemed that he fell one lap short of Raikkonen, who centered the podium.

But a technical appeal revealed errors in the timing devices, Fisichella was again deemed the winner.

Alonso, 2008

RaceJapanese Grand Prix
DateOctober 12, 2008
WinnerFernando AlonsoRenault
Runner-UpRobert KubicaBMW Sauber
Margin+5.283

Alonso bagged this with a brutal performance that took his Renault to the brink – and forced it to perform from there. Betting on changes that the team had made to his car since Singapore – the previous Grand Prix, also won by Alonso – he took the gamble to effect a short stint, changing tires in a second pitstop on lap thirty-eight.

To compensate, he maintained high velocity in the closing laps, whizzing around the course at a record-setting pace to win with a comfortable five-second margin.

Mansell, 1994

RaceAustralian Grand Prix
DateNovember 13, 1994
WinnerNigel MansellWilliams-Renault
Runner-UpGerhard BergerFerrari
Margin+2.511

Mired in controversy, this race would decide the 1994 championship between Schumacher (Benetton Ford) and Hill (Williams Renault), separated by a single point. They qualified in that order, preserving it for thirty-six laps after overtaking Mansell in pole position.

At that point, things went awry for Schumacher, who crashed into a barrier, recovering quickly while Hill overtook. Schumacher flew across the front from the left, after which Hill overtook again. This time Schumacher made a sweeping crash that ended in retirement for both. Retaining his one-point lead, Schumacher was crowned.

Senna, 1988

RaceJapanese Grand Prix
DateOctober 30, 1988
WinnerAyrton SennaMcClaren Honda
Runner-UpAlain ProstMcClaren Honda
Margin+13.363

This race dramatically showcased the famous rivalry of the McClaren stars. The two started poles apart as a starting stall put Senna in fourteenth place. He tore through off his late start, catching Prost after the latter was slowed by stalled cars.

They put on a dogfight, which slowed when they lapped into a three-car bottleneck on lap 27. Senna was the first to break through, using the gap to cement his thirteen-second win.

Button, 2011

RaceCanadian Grand Prix
DateJune 12, 2011
WinnerJenson ButtonMcLaren Mercedes
Runner-UpSebastian VettelRed Bull Renault
Margin+2.709

In this event, Button fought a series of epic setbacks to prevail. He endured two crashes, a stop/go penalty, rain, race suspension, and a puncture to power into second place.

In the last lap, he nosed within a second behind Vettel, who had led most of the way from pole position. Heading to his inevitable win, Vettel veered off-course in the last lap. Finally, an overtaking Button saw the lead, which he sealed with a margin somewhat under three seconds.

Perez, 2020

RaceSakhir Grand Prix
DateDecember 6, 2020
WinnerSergio PerezRacing Point
Runner-UpEsteban OconRenault
Margin+10.518

From the second position, Mercedes’ Russell made a strong start in this race. The drama erupted on lap sixty-one, where Russell was illegally dismissed with the front tires of a crashing Jack Aitken. Compounding the mix-up was an oversight by Mercedes that saw them send Aitken out of the pit with the same worn tires he’d entered.

Perez exploited the space and slipped into a lead. Russel – on fresh tires – joined the four-car lead and soon chased Perez. The latter kept the pressure on and won.

Best Nailbiter Finishes

Predictability can be a game killer. But some contests are so frustratingly close they’re only intelligible after the finish line cameras have spoken. We look at the top eight.

Fangio Kling, 1954

RaceFrench Grand Prix
DateJuly 4, 1954
WinnerJuan Manuel FangioMercedes-Benz
Runner-UpKarl KlingMercedes-Benz
Margin+0.1

“The Miracle of Reims” saw Mercedes-Benz’s Formula One debut end dramatically. Dreams of a repeat of the triple victory at the 1914 French Grand Prix crashed and burned with team member Hans Hermann’s engine.

Not wanting to risk the remaining cars, the team ordered Kling to tack second. He very narrowly obeyed. The two Benzes led the field with a hair between them, right to the end.

Surtees Brabham, 1967

RaceItalian Grand Prix
DateSeptember 10, 1967
WinnerJohn SurteesHonda
Runner-UpJack BrabhamBrabham-Repco
Margin+0.2

It wasn’t meant to end this way. Lotus-Ford’s Jim Clarke led the race and fought back strongly after a puncture took him out with eight rounds left. He’d reestablished his lead with one round left when his fuel pump gave.

Surtees and Brabham snuck in, with the dice rolling Honda’s way. The constructor’s last win for forty years.

Stewart Rindt, 1969

RaceItalian Grand Prix
DateSeptember 7, 1967
WinnerJackie StewartMatra-Ford
Runner-UpJochen RindtLotus-Ford
Margin+0.08

This is what cameras are built for. A finish of this magnitude could fool the transponders of the time. Jackie Stewart’s lead was threatened in the last round by no fewer than three trailing cars.

Nerves of steel helped Stewart clinch a super-tight line exiting to the main straight. So tight was the overall finish that the fourth car came in one second later.

Schumacher Barrichello, 2002

RaceAustrian Grand Prix
DateMay 12, 2002
WinnerMichael SchumacherFerrari
Runner-UpRubens BarrichelloFerrari
Margin+0.182

Team order was the loser in this race. Barrichello took pole position and dominated the race from the start. Cruising to the finish, the crowd had little doubt as to the outcome when the call came from Team Ferrari.

Barrichello was ordered to allow his teammate, running second, to take the lead. He resisted at first, then rounding the last corner slowed suddenly, allowing Schumacher to pip him by a nose.

Barrichello Schumacher, 2002

RaceUnited States Grand Prix
rDateSeptember 29, 2002
WinnerRubens BarrichelloFerrari
Runner-UpMichael SchumacherFerrari
Margin+0.011

Four months later, and an ocean away, Barichello found revenge on his teammate. Schumacher showed his mettle by leading the race from the start. Barichello stuck in but couldn’t nudge ahead.

In the exit straight, the champion held back, and a wary Barrichello clarified what would have been a dead heat finish. Schumacher spun it as a concession for Austria. Either way, it made the grade as a historic photo finish.

Gethin Peterson, 1971

RaceItalian Grand Prix
DateSeptember 5, 1971
WinnerPeter GethinBRM
Runner-UpRonnie PetersonMarch-Ford
Margin+0.01

This race would set two records – fastest speed (151.6 mph) and narrowest margin. The race was a four-way affair from the start, featuring the eventual winners and the team from Tyrell.

Gethin, having taken the pole, saw his lead shrink and dug deep to outedge number two. The speed record that day would remain unbroken for thirty-two years.

De Angelis Rosberg, 1982

RaceAustrian Grand Prix
DateAugust 15, 1982
WinnerElio de AngelisLotus-Ford
Runner-UpKeke RosbergWilliams-Ford
Margin+0.05

A day of experimentation led to a race that spun out of control. Riccardo Patrese and Nelson Piquet started with half-full tanks in the first race featuring planned pitstops. This didn’t end well, with mechanical failure causing their retirement.

Stepping into the gap, Rosberg and de Angelis angled for their maiden wins. De Angelis led by a car’s length but mangled the final turn, allowing Rosberg to step up. The mistake wasn’t enough, and de Angelis held on.

Senna Mansell, 1986

RaceSpanish Grand Prix
DateApril 13, 1986
WinnerAyrton SennaLotus-Renault
Runner-UpNigel MansellWilliams-Honda
Margin+0.014

A baptism of fire for the Circuito de Jerez hosting its first Grand Prix. Nelson Piquet had a dog in the fight, but teammate Mansell passed him, and a two-dog race ensued. What started as a neck-in-neck fight with changing lead devolved into a bet over tires.

A fading Mansell slipped into third went to the pits for a tire change. New wheels gave him the edge, and he surged alongside Senna. The leader hung on desperately, shredding the last of his worn rubber to finish a hair ahead.


Best High-Margin Finishes

Giving your nails a rest, there are some finishes where the winner delivers the track racing result of a knockout punch. We take a look at the eight highest-margin wins.

Fangio Ascari, 1950

RaceMonaco Grand Prix
DateMay 21, 1950
WinnerJuan Manuel FangioAlfa Romeo
Runner-UpAlberto AscariFerrari
Margin+1 lap

This finish was determined by a tumultuous start. Second-placed teammate Farina skidded on a wet section of the track, causing a pileup. This allowed Fangio to exploit his pole position – which had isolated him from the bottleneck, to open a wide lead.

On the first lap, the skid had left an obstacle that Fangio had the greatest latitude to evade. He preserved his lead and finished a lap clear of Ascari.

Ascari Taruffi, 1952

RaceBritish Grand Prix
DateJuly 19, 1952
WinnerAlberto AscariFerrari
Runner-UpPiero TaruffiFerrari
Margin+1 lap

Ascari dominated this race as he had done the entire season, in the year of his maiden World Championship. Having tied in the qualifier, he started second behind teammate Farina on pole.

Ascari seized the lead from the start and held on, solidifying until the end. Farina slipped far back, and team Ferrari stamped its dominance on the race by surging to the second spot, albeit a whole lap behind.

Fangio Hawthorne, 1954

RaceItalian Grand Prix
DateSeptember 1954
WinnerJuan Manuel FangioMercedes
Runner-UpMike HawthorneFerrari
Margin+1 lap

Fangio had squeaked into pole position with a 0.2-second qualifying margin. That was not the end of the thrills. Over eighty laps, the lead changed hands between four drivers: Mercedes’s Karl Kling, Maserati’s Sterling Moss, Ferrari’s Alberto Ascari, and the eventual winner who clinched the lead on lap 68, expanding to an emphatic win.

This was a redundant win, as Fangio has already secured the World Championship for the second time.

Gurney Maggs, 1962

RaceFrench Grand Prix
DateJuly 8, 1962
WinnerDan GurneyPorsche
Runner-UpTony MaggsCooper-Climax
Margin+1 lap

Midway through a dire year  – having scored not a single point – Gurney qualified with a 1.7 seconds margin securing a sixth-place start.

Gurney improved his position steadily from the start and was able to find the front after throttle troubles took out race leader Graham Hill in lap 41. The American kept up the pressure and changed his fortunes with a stunning one-lap win.

Hulme Hill, 1967

RaceMonaco Grand Prix
DateMay 7, 1967
WinnerDenny HulmeBrabham-Repco
Runner-UpGraham HillLotus-BRM
Margin+1 lap

Sadly this was also one of the worst finishes. The race was thrown in disarray when in lap 82, Lorenzo Bandini’s Ferrari crashed and burned – the flames fed and fanned by hay bales and the rotors of a low-flying tv helicopter.

On lap 15, Hulme found the lead, having started fourth. Through the melee, he grew his lead, finishing a little over three minutes ahead of Hill.

Stewart McLaren, 1969

RaceSpanish Grand Prix
DateMay 4, 1969
WinnerJackie StewartMatra-Ford
Runner-UpBruce McClarenMcClaren-Ford
Margin+2 laps

McClaren did well to find second place, starting from the thirteenth position out of fourteen. But Stewart, starting fourth, did much better.

The opening lap was unkind, and Stewart fell back a further two places. But Montjuic is a long track, and number six switched on the surge. He found second place on lap 56, and when Chris Amon’s engine seized the man from Matra sealed an effective four-minute win.

De Angelis Boutsen, 1985

RaceSan Marino Grand Prix
DateMay 5, 1985
WinnerElio Di AngelisLotus-Renault
Runner-UpThierry BoutsenArrows-BMW
Margin+1 lap

A controversial race saw five drivers, including pole driver Ayrton Senna and onetime leader Stefan Johansson, crash out on a fuel shortage. A bunch of cars dropped out due to engine trouble.

McClaren’s Alain Prost stormed through the chequered flag but was disqualified when a post-race inspection showed his car was underweight. This led to De Angelis’s stunning 1lap victory – curious for the fact that he’d never been in the lead.

Hill Panis, 1995

RaceAustralian Grand Prix
DateNovember 12, 1995
WinnerDamon HillWilliams-Renault
Runner-UpOlivier PanisLigier-Mugen-Honda
Margin+2 laps

This race unfolded in 81 laps over an improvised circuit through the streets of Adelaide. Perhaps because of the unusual terrain and the fact that it was the year’s last race, with Schumacher already having won the season, there was a high retirement rate.

The subtraction of competition led to only eight cars remaining. In this pool, Hill emerged with a clear lead which he expanded to two laps.

Best Upset Finishes

Everyone loves an underdog. Even the occasional hound-hater must admire the top eight surprise performances. Not all are outright wins, but they disrupt our expectations anyway.

Baghetti, 1961

RaceFrench Grand Prix
DateJuly 2, 1961
WinnerGiancarlo BaghettiFerrari
Runner-UpDan GurneyPorsche
Margin+0.1

Unknown Baghetti emerged from nowhere to be the first only driver to win on his debut Grand Prix (ignoring, for a moment, the winner of the very first Grand Prix). The fancied drivers of the season fell away through a combination of engine trouble and unlucky decision.

It was nose-to-nose in the last lap, but the Ferrari’s superior power proved decisive in the final stretch, nosing ahead by a tenth of a second. Baghetti would never see a World Championship podium again.

Capelli, 1991

RaceFrench Grand Prix
DateJuly 8, 1991
WinnerAlain ProstFerrari
Runner-UpIvan CapelliLeyton House-Judd
Margin+8.626

In this race, a down-on-his-luck Italian driver wedged himself between the popular Prost-Senna rivalry. Capelli’s dire year might have continued to run its course if not for inspired reengineering of the Leyton House CG901.

The redesign shot Capelli to the front of a two-dog fight with teammate Gugelmin – the latter succumbing to engine failure on the fifty-seventh lap. This left Capelli surging to a dream win, only to choke back with a series of misfires three laps from the end. Prost pulled ahead at the last.

Panis, 1996

RaceMonaco Grand Prix
DateMay 19, 1996
WinnerOlivier PanisLigier-Mugen-Honda
Runner-UpDavid CoulthardMcClaren-Mercedes
Margin+4.828

Arguably this race was a disaster, with wet weather leading to a raft of crashes, collisions, and engine failure. It set unusual records – with the podium finishers being the only drivers to reach the end.

Panis secured his finish with a perfectly timed pitstop to switch tires for the wet terrain. It was his first and only Grand Prix win and the last for team Ligier.

Hill, 1997

RaceHungarian Grand Prix
DateAugust 10, 1997
WinnerJacques VilleneuveWilliams-Renault
Runner-UpDamon HillArrows-Yamaha
Margin+9.079

Following a lousy season, Hill’s betting odds were 250/1. Fortune smiled on him the weekend, and by the time of the race, he fought his way to an eleventh lap lead. He blew open his lead to thirty-five seconds.

Flying to the end, the Arrows car showed its trade-off of speed for reliability. With three laps left hydraulic pump failure left his car stuck in third gear, throttling intermittently. He held the lead into the last lap when Villeneuve pipped him to the chequered flag.

Hill, 1998

RaceBelgian Grand Prix
DateAugust 30, 1998
WinnerDamon HillJordan-Mugen-Honda
Runner-UpRalf SchumacherJordan-Mugen-Honda
Margin+0.932

Another gift from the rain gods. A first lap pileup saw seven cars retiring in the first lap. And then a big collision. Five more collisions – including pole driver Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher- and engine failure would winnow the field, placing Hill in the lead at lap twenty-five.

Number two, Coultard suffered delays that left him five laps behind. Ralf Schumacher nosed to the front at the end, but a slow puncture stopped him from sealing the deal.

Vettel, 2008

RaceItalian Grand Prix
DateSeptember 14, 2008
WinnerSebastian VettelToro-Rosso-Ferrari
Runner-UpHeikki KovalainenMcLaren-Mercedes
Margin+12.512

In 2008, twenty-one-year-old Vettel was young and unfancied. But then it rained at Monza. Vettel scored his first surprise, becoming the youngest ever driver to snatch pole position.

On race day, the track was wet, and Vettel showed a superior ability to maneuver on the rainy road. He held pole position, pitting on lap eighteen. Continued rain saw other drivers scramble for intermediate tires, but Vettel stayed true, crossing the line at the fifty-third lap.

Gasly 2020

RaceItalian Grand Prix
DateSeptember 6, 2020
WinnerPierre GaslyAlpha-Tauri-Honda
Runner-UpCarlos Sainz JrMclaren-Renault
Margin+0.415

Italy has produced more than its fair share of beauties. In this case, the upset owed a lot to a surprising oversight by favorite Hamilton. And accident. Hamilton incurred a penalty for pulling into a closed pit. Later Gasly wisely chose to exploit a red light for a tire change.

The result was a finish in which Hamilton had blown his lead through the penalty, and Gasly – with fresh tires – was poised to outrace the leading pack. Stroll slid out of contention, and Gasly staved off a surge from Sainz.

Maldonado, 2012

RaceSpanish Grand Prix
DateMay 13, 2012
WinnerPastor MaldonadoWilliams-Renault
Runner-UpFernando AlonsoFerrari
Margin+3.195

Maldonado beat 100/1 odds to take this one – the only podium appearance in a career of the ninety-five race starts. His chances were upped when race favorite Hamilton was punished for a technical infraction, handing Maldonado the pole position – from which he sped consistently.

Alonso gave chase but suffered terminal problems when his rear grip failed, following impact on mounting the kerb. Maldonado opened a three-second gap and clinched.


Conclusion

However you prefer your excitement, there’s a bunch of F1 finishes to choose from. The pace of technological change hasn’t made the race any more predictable than at its heady start. Judging by its history, the F1 finish thrill machine will keep on churning.


References