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F1: Five classic races

Formula 1 has produced some unrivalled sporting moments in its 74 years on the planet and hopes are high for plenty more exciting races entering the 2024 season. 

Ahead of the start of the new season, let's look back at some classic races, starting with the closest finish in F1 history.

What2024 Formula 1
WhereAcross the world
WhenSaturday, 2nd March - Sunday, 8th December
How to watchSky Sports and Channel 4

1971 Italian Grand Prix

Down-to-the-wire fights for first in F1 have become a rarity, with the average winning margin in the 2022 season being 8.697 seconds. But it's always a thrill when you do get two cars battling for the chequered flag, let alone three, four or even five. 

But those watching the 1971 Italian Grand Prix were treated to arguably the best finish to a race in Formula 1 history with five drivers - Peter Gethin, Ronnie Peterson, Francois Cevert, Mike Hailwood and Howden Ganley - covered by just 0.61 seconds at the conclusion of the Monza masterpiece.

All five were in with a chance coming into the final bend, only for leading pair Peterson and Cevert to brake late and leave themselves vulnerable as Gethin snuck through for the win. 

Gethin took the victory by just one-hundredth of a second, the smallest margin of victory in F1 history in a race which also saw the highest-ever speed in an F1 race at the time of 150 miles per hour.

1986 Australian Grand Prix

The 1980s were home to some classic duels and title deciders between a remarkable generation of drivers. On this occasion, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet for Williams and Alain Prost for McLaren had taken their three-way battle for the championship down to the final race in Adelaide. 

Mansell, chasing a maiden Drivers' crown, qualified on pole but got off to a poor start as Prost and Piquet passed him on the first lap. He recovered to move into third, good enough for the title, only for his left rear tyre to spectacularly explode with 19 laps to go and force his retirement.

That left Piquet, the race leader, on course for the title. But, with Williams fearful the Brazilian could suffer the same fate as Mansell, he was brought in for a pit stop that dropped him 15 seconds behind Prost. In an epic conclusion to the season, Piquet, on fresh tyres, chased down Prost but couldn't overhaul the Frenchman as he claimed the win and retained his title.

1988 Japanese Grand Prix

There's a case to be made for including both the 1988 and 1989 races at Suzuka on this list, given they decided the fate of the title and featured storied chapters in the Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost rivalry.

Prost would have the last laugh in '89 but it was Senna, producing one of his most iconic drives, that had taken his maiden F1 title the year before. 

The Brazilian great needed a win to secure the championship and gave himself the best possible chance when qualifying on pole. But when the race started, his McLaren didn't move, forcing him to push start the car and dropping him to 16th.

Senna set about chasing down Prost and as the race unfolded, the three-time world champion would work his way through the field to eventually fill the Frenchman's rearview mirrors. After several laps of jostling, Senna got around Prost with his 15th and best passing manoeuvre of the race, completing an epic comeback to secure the title.

2011 Canadian Grand Prix

The longest race in Formula 1 history at just over four hours was always likely to be a dramatic affair given the soaking wet conditions that day in Montreal. But what race fans hadn't accounted for is how remarkable a story Jenson Button would tell en route to taking the chequered flag. 

In a race packed full of incident, Button was able to overcome a multitude of issues to come out on top. The British driver first had a coming together with his McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton, resulting in Hamilton's retirement and a drive through penalty for Button that relegated him to last place.

Button would also clash with Fernando Alonso and make a grand total of six pitstops as he bounced up and down the field. It wasn't until after a two-hour delay due to rain that Button began his charge, moving from last to second, and reducing race leader Sebastian Vettel's advantage to less than a second heading into the final lap. 

When the German ran wide at the start of the lap, Button took his chance to snatch the most unlikely and dramatic of wins.

2012 Brazilian Grand Prix

Interlagos has played host to some classic races over the years and could have a list all of its own. The 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, which saw Hamilton snatch the title on the final corner, could have made the cut, but, like Felipe Massa against Hamilton that day, it is pipped to the line by the 2012 edition. 

Alonso and Vettel were vying for the title with the Spaniard needing to outscore the German by 13 points. Vettel's first lap spin in damp conditions handed Alonso the advantage, with the Red Bull driver falling to the back of the field. 

Sporting a damaged sidepod, Vettel gambled on the weather, making the move to intermediate tyres first before charging through the field. He was soon back in a championship-winning position, but with the conditions constantly changing, bringing with it more pit stops and tactical decisions, he would fall out of the points again.

Alonso would eventually climb to second, behind race winner Button, profiting from a coming together between Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg, but it still wasn't enough to claim the title as Vettel battled gamely to move up into sixth, good enough to see him take the title by three points.

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