What, in your opinion, was the greatest single race drive in F1 history, meaning not the performance of a driver over their whole careers, or a whole season, but just one single race?
Here is a list of what I believe to be the 25 greatest single drives in Formula 1 history. Honourable mentions to Jochen Rindt in Monaco 1970, Jean Pierre-Beltoise in Monaco 1972, Jackie Stewart in Monza 1973, Michael Schumacher in Sepang 1999, Adrian Sutil in Monaco 2008, Lewis Hamilton in Silverstone 2008, Pastor Maldonado in Catalunya 2012, Sebastian Vettel in Interlagos 2012, Max Verstappen in Interlagos 2016.
6-25 (in chronological order):
Juan Manuel Fangio, 1955 Argentinean GP. One of the strangest F1 races of all time came in the opening round of the 1955 season, and this can be demonstrated by the results which have Giuseppe Farina and Maurice Trintignant finishing both second and third in the race, also sharing the second placed car with Jose Froilan Gonzalez and the third with Umberto Maglioli. This was because of the extreme heat that made it impossible for most drivers to cope for the entire race that lasted over three hours. Along with Roberto Mieres, Fangio was the only driver able to complete the full race distance, despite suffering burns to his leg on the exhaust during the race, and won by over a minute.
Jim Clark, 1965 British GP. The first Jim Clark drive that makes the list came as a result of nursing a significant issue, in Silverstone 1965 as Clark pulled out a big lead from pole in the first part of the race, helped by issues to Graham Hill’s car. However, Clark then started losing oil pressure in the final ten laps, and had to turn the engine off in the corners to save oil, and so lost heaps of time to Hill. Clark just held on to win the race, but although it is his drive that makes my list of greatest ever, Graham Hill’s own drive to second place, missing out by just three seconds despite brake problems, is also worthy of a mention.
James Hunt, 1975 Dutch GP. Driving for the independent Hesketh team on an initially wet track at Zandvoort, Hunt qualified third and then took the lead from the polesitter and championship leader, Niki Lauda, with an earlier switch to dry tyres. He pulled away while Lauda was stuck behind Jean-Pierre Jarier, but Lauda closed back in after Jarier spun and spent around 20 laps right on the tail of the Hesketh, but unable to get by as Hunt recorded his first and best Grand Prix victory.
John Watson, 1983 United States GP West. The win from the lowliest grid position came in Long Beach, as Watson won from 22nd on the grid, while his teammate Niki Lauda finished second from 23rd. Although he was helped by his Michelin tyres holding on far better than the Goodyear tyres used by the rest, the McLarens still had to make their way to the front, and Watson won by almost 30 seconds over Lauda and over a minute ahead of Arnoux in third. This was also the race of Keke Rosberg’s famous 360 degree spin without losing any time, although he retired from the race following contact with Patrick Tambay and Jean-Pierre Jarier.
Ayrton Senna, 1984 Monaco GP. Racing for Toleman in his first season, Senna started 13th for the wet Monaco GP but gradually fought his way forward, passing former champions Niki Lauda and Keke Rosberg on his way to second behind Alain Prost, after Nigel Mansell had crashed out of the lead. Senna was closing at a vast rate and looking set for his first Grand Prix victory until the race was declared too wet and was stopped, with half-points awarded. Stefan Bellof initially finished third for Tyrrell from the back of the grid before the team were later disqualified from the entire season, in what was a similarly impressive drive.
Ayrton Senna, 1985 Portuguese GP. Another wet weather drive on the list, as these to tend to be the most spectacular in Formula 1, and Senna’s first win was perhaps his best, in only his second season in Formula 1, Senna took pole position at Estoril and pulled away making no mistakes in the wet conditions and winning by over a minute.
Jean Alesi, 1990 United States GP. He started from fourth on the grid in a Tyrrell, very much a midfield car by 1990 and only his ninth Grand Prix, but took the lead with a great start and pulled away from the rest, bar Ayrton Senna’s McLaren that chased him all the way. Just before half-distance, Senna managed to pass Alesi for the lead, but Alesi immediately repassed him. Not long after, Senna managed to get back through and won, but Alesi stayed close behind and took second place.
Ivan Capelli, 1990 French GP. Another great almost-win for an underdog of F1 came at Paul Ricard in 1990 as Capelli, in a Leyton House, started seventh but made his way up to the lead as the only driver on a no-stop strategy, and held that lead for over half the race, before engine problems in the final laps allowed Alain Prost through to win, although Capelli held on for a great second place.
Ayrton Senna, 1993 European GP. The only race at Donington Park saw one of the greatest opening laps of all time by one driver as Ayrton Senna went from fifth to first in the wet, including a great pass on Karl Wendlinger around the outside at the Craner Curves. He then led the race almost from start to finish despite changeable conditions throughout the race causing multiple switches between wets and slicks, and Senna made four pitstops on his way to a win by over a minute, despite the Williams being a far superior car.
Michael Schumacher, 1994 Spanish GP. After a dominant pole position, Michael Schumacher led the first part of the race before a gearbox problem left him stuck in fifth gear just after a third of the race had been completed. He then drove a remarkable race from then on to stay close to eventual winner Damon Hill’s pace and finished second, only 24 seconds away, despite incredibly having raced for over 40 laps in fifth gear, including a pitstop.
Damon Hill, 1997 Hungarian GP. After being sacked by Williams following his championship victory, Hill switched to Arrows and after a fairly anonymous first half of the season, Hill took third on the grid for the Hungarian GP. After taking second from Villeneuve at the start, he then fought his way past Schumacher for the lead on lap 11 and pulled away, leading by 35 seconds in an Arrows, entirely on merit and lapping his teammate, before a hydraulics failure slowed him considerably and Jacques Villeneuve took the lead on the final lap, with Hill finishing second, much to the disappointment of Murray Walker.
Jarno Trulli, 1997 Austrian GP. Only three races later was another great almost-win for an underdog, this time rookie Jarno Trulli driving for Prost. From third on the grid, he took the lead when Mika Hakkinen retired and somehow found himself pulling away, with the Stewarts of Barrichello and Magnussen behind. Trulli led for 37 laps before losing the lead to Villeneuve, but still ran second with just 13 laps remaining when he retired with an engine failure. Trulli finally took his first win seven years later.
Giancarlo Fisichella, 2003 Brazilian GP. Dubbed by Autosport as the worst car ever to win a Grand Prix was the Jordan raced by Fisichella in 2003, finishing ninth in the constructors’ championship. From eighth on the grid, Fisichella benefitted from a fuel issue for Barrichello and Coulthard pitting just before a red flag came out after major crashes for Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso on the pit straight, ending the race 17 laps early. Initially, the win was awarded to Raikkonen, but Jordan correctly protested, saying the race had been counted back to the wrong lap, and a week later Fisichella was instead given the race victory.
Kimi Raikkonen, 2005 Japanese GP. A wet qualifying during the era of ‘one at a time’ qualifying left Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen 16th and 17th on the grid, but in the race both carved through the pack. Raikkonen made a good pass on Schumacher initially, then went long in order to make a late stop and come out in second place, before hunting down Giancarlo Fisichella and passing him on the final lap to win one of the best races of all time.
Sebastian Vettel, 2008 Italian GP. One of the greatest underdog victories of all time came when Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel won at Monza in 2008. Although the title contenders had poor qualifying sessions, unlike in Japan 2005 this was not down to the format so Vettel’s pole was entirely on merit, and then he won the race by over 12 seconds from Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren, and in wet conditions.
Giancarlo Fisichella, 2009 Belgian GP. It seems very odd to have more Fisichella drives on the list than those of Prost, Stewart of Hamilton, but it reinforces the idea of Fisichella as ‘a very good driver of poor cars and a poor driver of very good cars.’ In Spa 2009, Fisichella put a Force India that had never before scored a point on pole position, then lost the lead on the safety car restart due to the KERS on Raikkonen’s Ferrari, before shadowing Raikkonen all the way and taking second place. Sutil’s drive in Monza a week later proves that the car was very good, but Fisichella’s second place was still worthy of a place on the list.
Jenson Button, 2011 Canadian GP. This was not the greatest drive of all time as Button did make a lot of mistakes early in the race and, as Pedro de la Rosa put it, every time he was involved in an incident it was slightly more his fault, but not by enough to penalise him. However, it is my personal favourite drive in F1 history. Button ran Hamilton into the pit wall while running sixth, received a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane and beached Alonso into the gravel, picking up a puncture and running 21st and last after 37 of the 70 laps. From then on, Button carved through the pack in mixed conditions (after a two-hour red flag), making a great pass on Webber with great car control on slick tyres in the wet part of the track, and then caught leader Vettel, who had been unchallenged all race, on the final lap. Vettel put a wheel on the damp part of the track and slid wide, allowing Button through for victory.
Fernando Alonso, 2012 Malaysian GP. This race is more famous for Sergio Perez’s incredible drive to second, but it was the winner, Alonso, who really excelled in Sepang. In an wet race, Alonso and Perez found themselves in the lead just after the red flag after timing their pitstops perfectly and then, despite having cars that both had previously seemed like midfield cars, pulled away in the lead. Perez was slightly faster and closed gradually on Alonso before the stop for dries, where Ferrari were quicker and Alonso pulled out a lead of seven seconds again. Perez then closed him down once more before going wide when within a second. However, while Perez stole the headlines, Alonso had not put a wheel wrong in the lead of the race in the slower Ferrari, and won the race.
Nico Rosberg, 2014 Canadian GP. After Mercedes dominant start to the season in which they led every lap in the first six rounds, it went wrong in Canada as both cars suffered engine problems leading to a severe loss of power, while 30 seconds ahead. Hamilton’s problems were more serious and he retired, but Rosberg held on in the lead, and eventually a gaggle of cars made up of Perez, Ricciardo, Vettel and Massa caught him. However, Perez was on a one-stop strategy so was nursing old tyres, so was unable to get too close and Rosberg was able to stay just out of DRS range at the detection point, lose almost a second on the straights at Montreal, then pull that second out in the rest of the lap time and time again and retain the lead. Eventually, Ricciardo passed Perez and then Rosberg, but Nico still finished second in the finest drive of his career.
Sergio Perez, 2020 Sakhir GP. The only driver to win a race in which they ran last after lap one was Perez on the outer loop at Sakhir, and in only the third-best car. After being hit by Leclerc on lap one, in an incident that also eliminated Verstappen, Perez came through, passing car after car and with only one stop from then on found himself third. Then a safety car closed the pack up, and Mercedes messed up their pitstop, leaving Bottas in fourth with old tyres and substitute Russell fifth, and Perez now led having stayed out. Sergio Perez then quickly pulled away from Ocon, while Russell carved his way through to second, and was closing on Perez before a puncture sent him back to the pits, and Perez won comfortably, becoming the driver with the longest ever wait before a first win.
The top five:
5. Lewis Hamilton, 2021 Brazilian GP. The most recent legendary drive came from the most successful driver of all time, and while it may be harsh not to include Silverstone 2008 here, it was at Interlagos that Hamilton delivered his greatest drive. Having taken a dominant pole position, Hamilton was then disqualified as the DRS flap in his rear wing opened too far. From the back of the sprint, he moved forward and finished fifth, passing 15 cars in a 1/3 length race. Then he was put back another five places for a new gearbox to start the actual race tenth, before again carving through and passing Verstappen late on to take a sensational victory. He was helped by the new engine, but it was still one of the greatest drives of all time.
4. Jackie Stewart, 1968 German GP. One of the greatest ambassadors to safety in F1 history was Jackie Stewart, whose greatest drive came on one of the most dangerous tracks, the Nordscheife, in appallingly wet conditions in 1968, when the danger of Formula 1 was at its very highest. Despite reportedly having to be almost forced to drive by Ken Tyrrell, and with a wrist injury, he moved to the lead from sixth on the grid by the end of the first lap and pulled away to win by four minutes.
3. Michael Schumacher, 1996 Spanish GP. Two years after his last legendary drive at Catalunya, Schumacher put in another one in the wet conditions in 1996. After a terrible start from third to the lower end of the top ten, Michael Schumacher fought his way gradually through the pack and took the lead from Jacques Villeneuve on lap 12. From then on, Schumacher, in a Ferrari that had been no match for Williams in the dry, pulled away from Villeneuve at an astonishing four seconds a lap, helped by his two-stop strategy and the wet setup. He eventually won by over 45 seconds.
2. Juan Manuel Fangio, 1957 German GP. The first truly legendary drive came on the Nordschleife as Fangio took his final victory in style and earned the nickname, ‘El Maestro.’ Having taken pole by almost three seconds, he pulled out a huge lead of 30 seconds in the first twelve laps. He then pitted but a disaster as the left rear wheel nut slipped below the car and took some time to find left him 50 seconds off the lead with ten laps to go. In the last ten laps, Fangio chased after the leading Lancia Ferraris of Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn, catching them at an incredible rate and repeatedly setting lap records on the way, before passing both on the penultimate lap to win. Fangio later said, ‘I have never driven that quickly before in my life and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do it again.’
1. Jim Clark, 1963 Belgian GP. This race took place on the old Spa-Francorchamps, where the startline was between La Source and Eau Rouge. Jim Clark, from eighth on the grid, immediately made an incredible start to take the lead before the first corner (although the cars were four-wide on the grid and also much closer to the row in front than in today’s F1). He then immediately pulled away from the chasing pack, led by Graham Hill who retired when around 30 seconds behind. Jim Clark later revealed he had a gearbox problem as well, which caused him to have to drive left-handed while holding the gear in place, and eventually stopped using fifth gear altogether. As well as this, the rain that had been relatively light to begin with was getting heavier and heavier until the track was almost flooded in the closing laps, yet Clark held on to win, despite all this adversity, by five minutes. In my opinion, this was the greatest drive in Formula 1 history. It had it all.