From Stirling Moss to Jenson Button: seven epic races over seven decades | Giles Richards

From Stirling Moss to Jenson Button: seven epic races over seven decades | Giles Richards

1958 Argentina Grand Prix, Buenos Aires

With his Vanwall not ready for the opening round of the season, Stirling Moss drove a Cooper T43 for Mike Walker’s privateer team. Ranged against him were the favourites, the Ferraris of Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn and the Maserati of Juan Manuel Fangio, who had claimed pole. Moss started from seventh but hit trouble when his car became stuck in second gear.

Just when he was considering retirement the problem righted itself and having conserved his tyres he considered making it to the end of the 313km without a pit stop. The team manager, Alf Francis, pretended to count him down to a stop and when the other teams went into the pits, Moss led and stayed out. He exhibited brilliant control and skill to hang on to a slender lead to the flag, his rear tyres worn to the canvas, finishing 2.7sec in front of Luigi Musso’s Ferrari.

Fangio’s win at the Nürburgring in 1957 was magnificent but Argentina delivered drama and tension on an almost operatic scale as Moss once more outperformed his machinery.

1969 British Grand Prix, Silverstone

Jackie Stewart’s victory at the Nürburgring in 1968 was perhaps his greatest individual drive but the fight with Jochen Rindt at Silverstone was his greatest battle.

Stewart was looking for his fifth win of the year in his Tyrrell Matra but his great friend and rival in the Lotus 49 was determined he would have to earn it. The pair swiftly entered a race of their own, trading fastest laps and the lead countless times. It was hard but chivalrous competition as they often signalled their intention to the other while making their moves.

The duel lasted for 62 of 84 laps and was set for a thrilling finish when Stewart spotted a rear endplate was cutting into Rindt’s tyre. Fearing for his friend he signalled the danger to Rindt, who was forced into the pits. It was racing at its purest and most sportsmanlike and Stewart went on to take the title for the first time.

1971 Italian Grand Prix, Monza

The race that boasts F1’s closest finish was the last before the high-speed blast through the Parco di Monza changed forever with the addition of chicanes.

Peter Gethin had started 11th in the BRM but with in effect only five corners and cars slipstreaming one another with abandon, the grid was meaningless. As they hurtled round for 55 laps the lead changed hands 26 times as recorded on crossing the line and countless more times during the laps. Both Ferraris had retired early but so gripping was the spectacle that the crowd had stayed.

No one held a definitive advantage, eight drivers held the lead, none for more than five consecutive laps and it all came down to the drag out of Parabolica – the final corner of the final lap.

Gethin went up the inside, careering through the fast right-hander, the others went wider and the Briton over-revved in every gear to take the flag by 0.01sec, from Ronnie Peterson. The top five flew over the line almost as one, all within 0.61.

Peter Gethin is all smiles after his victory in the 1971 Italian Grand Prix at Monza

1984 Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo

Alain Prost’s championship decider against Nigel Mansell at Adelaide in 1986 was one of the most memorable finales but for drama and controversy, Monaco in 1984 had it all. After a start delayed by heavy rain, when the race finally began one of F1’s greatest talents gave notice of his arrival.

Mansell took the lead from Prost, who had started on pole. However, behind them Ayrton Senna – in the uncompetitive Toleman and in his first F1 race in Monte Carlo – had started from 13th and was carving through the field.

Mansell crashed out on lap 16, leaving Prost in front, but Senna had passed Niki Lauda for second by lap 19. He was seemingly on a different plane to the others and catching Prost by four seconds a lap.

Stefan Bellof, who had qualified 20th, was also putting in the drive of his life, coming up to third in the Tyrrell, although the car was later disqualified.

The rain continued and Prost was signalling that the race should be stopped. To the consternation of many it was on lap 32 and the Frenchman held the win. Senna had been driving with a suspension problem that probably would have eliminated him but the Brazilian had made his mark.

1993 European Grand Prix, Donington Park

Ayrton Senna always rated his first F1 win at Estoril in 1985 as the more satisfying achievement in the Lotus but this was a compelling masterclass. Now in the McLaren MP4/8, Senna had started from fourth on the grid behind the Williams of Alain Prost and Damon Hill as well as Michael Schumacher’s Benetton.

The race opened in the treacherous wet and poor visibility. Dropping to fifth off the start, Senna then found a touch on the slippery surface his rivals could only wonder at. By the end of the lap he had passed Karl Wendlinger, Schumacher, Hill and then Prost to take the lead.

Yet there was more to come. As the track dried and conditions changed lap by lap, Senna lost time after a cross-threaded wheel nut in a pit stop cost him 20 seconds and the lead to Prost.

When the rain returned and cars began careering off, Senna twice took the chance on his control remaining on slicks, retaking the lead and the win. He ultimately took four stops to Prost’s seven and lapped the entire field bar Hill, who was a minute back.

Jenson Button after winning the Canadian Grand Prix in 2011

2005 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka

Lewis Hamilton’s title-winner at Interlagos in 2008 was the most dramatic finale of the decade but for sheer race-long spectacle Suzuka had it all. Deteriorating conditions in qualifying meant the quickest cars going out last all took a hit. Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari started 14th, Fernando Alonso in the title-winning Renault was 16th and Kimi Räikkönen started 17th for McLaren. Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota was on pole but the big winner was Alonso’s Renault teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella, in third.

The Italian soon led but the big three quickly began coming back and Fisichella had underestimated how quickly. Alonso pulled off the move of the year going past Schumacher round the outside of 130R at a time when the corner still represented one of the sternest tests in F1, clocked at 206mph as he made the move.

Fisichella, however, was napping. On the penultimate lap Räikkönen caught him, dived past at turn one on the final lap and won the race. Gripping stuff indeed.

2011 Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal

Rated by Jenson Button as one of his best, it was the grandest and most unlikely victory of his career. Interrupted by rain, the race took four hours to complete and Button survived a puncture, a collision with his McLaren teammate, Lewis Hamilton, and a drive-through penalty.

He had started from seventh but swiftly found himself back in 15th after being punished for speeding under the safety car. The race was then stopped for two hours because of the rain and when it was restarted a puncture forced Button to the back of the field. Safety-car interventions helped but still he was masterful in climbing from 21st to second in the space of 24 laps.

With six laps to go and 3.1sec behind, he set off after Sebastian Vettel and on the final lap pressured the German into an error, taking the lead and a monumental victory.