Last Lap Lead Changes!

Losing the lead of a Grand Prix on the last lap can be demoralising and heartbreaking for a driver, whereas winning the race can have the complete opposite effect.  Some of the last-lap lead chances over the past 25 years have been amazing and thrilling, yet some have been less so, while others have been controversial.  Let’s take a look at the last ten last lap lead changes, starting in 1991 and ending up in 2011.

1991 Japanese Grand Prix (Suzuka) – Gerhard Berger

Having sewn up the World Champion when Nigel Mansell span off early in the race, Ayrton Senna was dominating the Japanese Grand Prix of 1991, leading an ill-sounding engine McLaren of teammate Gerhard Berger going into the last lap.  However Senna slowed down and let Berger catch him into the final chicane, and then through going around the final bend, effectively thanking him for his support throughout the season.

Berger 1

1997 Hungarian Grand Prix (Hungaroring) – Jacques Villeneuve

This one was heart-breaking, and cost Arrows the best chance it ever had of a race win.  Damon Hill was leading by over half a minute when his gearbox hydraulics went awry, and the lead diminished to the point that Jacques Villeneuve overtook him on the final lap after turn three.  Hill held onto second for his best result of the season but deserved the win.

1997 European Grand Prix (Jerez) – Mika Hakkinen

Michael Schumacher’s attempt to take Jacques Villeneuve off to win the championship backfired on the Ferrari driver, and Villeneuve continued on in a damaged car until the end.  Talks on the pit wall between Williams and McLaren lead to Mika Hakkinen taking his first grand prix victory, Villeneuve not standing in his way.  Villeneuve was champion, but Hakkinen had got the monkey off his back at long last.

Formula One World Championship

2001 Spanish Grand Prix (Circuit de Catalunya) – Michael Schumacher

Another race involving Mika Hakkinen, but this time for all the wrong reasons.  Whilst comfortably leading in Spain, Hakkinen’s Mercedes engine decided enough was enough, and on the final lap he ended up parked at the side of the road with Michael Schumacher inheriting the win in his Ferrari.  A real shame for the Finn who had dominated the race up to then.

2002 Austrian Grand Prix (A1 Ring) – Michael Schumacher

Team orders.  That’s all that needs to be said.  The booing of the crowd can still be heard to this day.  Rubens Barrichello was having one of his days that he had from time to time that saw him ahead of Michael Schumacher, yet his Ferrari team decided during the sixth round of the season to switch the drivers on the final lap.  Barrichello did this out of the final corner, causing the crowds to boo the podium ceremony.

Austria 1

2002 United States Grand Prix (Indianapolis) – Rubens Barrichello

Same season, same drivers, just the other way around.  Having already sewn up the championship long before reaching Indianapolis, Schumacher was leading his teammate comfortably going into the final corner.  He slowed dramatically, and allowed Barrichello through for the win by the smallest margin ever recorded in an F1 race.  The crowd were once again not pleased by the Ferrari teams antics.

2003 Brazilian Grand Prix (Interlagos) – Giancarlo Fisichella

In a race full of surprise and incidents, Mark Webber and then Fernando Alonso crashed hugely on the main straight on wet tyres on a drying track.  Kimi Raikkonen was leading until Giancarlo Fisichella in the Jordan overtook him just before the red flag flew.  Chaos ensued, and Raikkonen was initialled declared the winner before Jordan proved it should have been Fisichella, and the Italian was handed his maiden grand prix win a few days after the event.

Fisichella

2005 European Grand Prix (Nurburgring) – Fernando Alonso

In the season where you had to make a single set of tyres last the whole race, Kimi Raikkonen flat-spotted his right front tyre early on in the race.  He kept going, and the vibration from the tyre got bigger and bigger, before approaching turn one on the final lap, his suspension broke, putting Raikkonen into a spin and out of the race.  Fernando Alonso in his Renault won the race, after pushing the Finnish driver in the McLaren harder than he would have wanted to go with such a poorly tyre.

2005 Japanese Grand Prix (Suzuka) – Kimi Raikkonen

What a race this was.  Bad weather in qualifying put the front runners of the 2005 season towards the back of the pack, and Kimi Raikkonen drove the race of his life to chase down long time race leader Giancarlo Fisichella and pass the Renault driver spectacularly on the run down to the first corner.  Fernando Alonso picked up third after passing Michael Schumacher around the outside of the 130R corner!

Raikkonen 1

2011 Canadian Grand Prix (Montreal) – Jenson Button

Another epic race, where Jenson Button basically came from dead last, with 6 trips through the pits, to win after pressuring Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel into a mistake on a drying track on the last lap in Canada.  We all know Jenson is good in changeable conditions, but no one was to deny him on this day an amazing victory in Montreal.

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