This year’s Formula One has produced some pretty close racing. It’s like the old days – well, almost… Here we present six past overtaking moves that really took the breath away.
The Circuit de Catalunya produces some rip-roaring racing – unfortunately most of it is in MotoGP, LMS or World Series. Formula One races in Barcelona tend to be a little bit… well, dull. It’s partially due to everyone knowing the circuit so well. In winter testing they pound around the track day after day. It doesn’t hold any set-up surprises, so generally everyone qualifies where they’re supposed to. Then there’s the profile: while other circuits have fast corners and sudden stops, Barcelona is mostly a series of interconnected medium-speed turns that don’t provide F1 cars with many real overtaking opportunities. Basically the order at the end of the first lap tends to be the order at the chequered flag.
Of course, this year might be different. The new rules have so far provided ridiculous amounts of overtaking. The Spanish Grand Prix will provide the acid test: if people stay awake through this one, then we’ll know for certain the new rules work.
Of course, Barcelona wasn’t always like this. When men were men and cars were simple, it played host to possibly one of the best wheel-to-wheel overtaking scraps of all time. In homage to this, we bring you the best straight-line overtaking moves of all time.
Mansell vs Senna, 1991 Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona
Nigel Mansell versus Ayrton Senna was the story of 1991, though it wasn’t often that the pair were racing this close on-track. Mansell’s Williams had all the speed in the world, but its early season form was unreliable. Senna in his McLaren pulled out a sizeable lead at the start of the year and never looked like being caught. The Spanish Grand Prix was the final European race of the year, and as the teams went to the new Circuit de Catalunya, Mansell still had a slim chance of taking the title. He won on the day, thanks to this move – but it was still going to be Senna’s year.
Rindt vs Ickx, 1970 German Grand Prix, Hockenheim
Back before it was utterly emasculated by Hermann Tilke, Hockenheim was an overtaking paradise, with two enormous straights cutting through the forest. Back in the days of slipstreaming, those straights guaranteed a lot of overtaking, and nowhere was it better demonstrated than Hockenheim’s first hosting of the German Grand Prix, with Jochen Rindt in the Lotus beating Ferrari’s Jacky Ickx by less than a second after a race in which the pair swapped position dozens of times. “We did the race absolutely together, non-stop,” recalls Jacky. People still talk about it today. In motor racing, if you win without a battle, you win without glory. That was a hell of a battle: smart; elegant. Hockenheim at the time had the long straights – with the slipstreaming we knew we were going to be overtaken, and we’d give signs: pass me on the left, or pass me on the right. We knew it would come down to the last three laps. He won but I’m not disappointed because it was a great race and he was better on the day.” Tragedy would soon strike, as Rindt was killed in practice for the Italian GP just two races later, but still became the 1970 World Champion posthumously, the only time in F1 history such an event has occurred.
Häkkinen vs Schumacher, 2000 Belgian Grand Prix, Spa
Michael Schumacher owned Spa in the 1990s, winning the race four times, having another win chalked off for a technical infringement and yet another victory snatched from his grasp in a minor contretemps which finished in the pitlane with his hands around David Coulthard’s throat. However, in 2000 Mika Häkkinen seemed to have the legs on him. Mika led before a half-spin on a drying track let Schumacher through. The McLaren man wasn’t finished and caught the Ferrari with four laps remaining. Flying up Kemmel, Häkkinen pulled out of the slipstream and set himself up for a pass into Les Combes. Schumacher held him off with a move that was… ‘robust’, moving across in front maybe a little more than was strictly fair; certainly a little more than was safe. Mika yielded, but had another go on the next lap. The difference was the lumbering BAR of Ricardo Zonta in the middle of the track. Schumacher went left, Häkkinen held his breath and his nerve and went right. Somehow he came out in front. “It was a pretty amazing view,” said Zonta afterwards, as Mika went to have a few words of his own with Michael.
Barrichello vs Schumacher, 2010 Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring
More recent history shows Schumacher hasn’t quite lost that competitive urge, as demonstrated by this heart-stopping move last year in his Mercedes in Hungary that nearly had Rubens Barrichello eating concrete at 300kph in his Williams. There’s a bit of previous in this one as Michael and Rubens rarely see eye-to-eye. Rubinho was upset afterwards, suggesting that Schumi was a dinosaur and F1 could well do without him; Michael said Rubens whined too much. Eventually there was a tacit apology by text message from one former Ferrari team-mate to another and a polite acceptance of same, but we guess they won’t be exchanging Christmas cards any time soon.
Prost vs Senna, 1988 Portuguese Grand Prix, Estoril
It’s interesting to see how opinions change. When Schumacher had his push at Barrichello in 2010, the world greeted it with howls of disgust; when Ayrton Senna did the same to McLaren team-mate Alain Prost in 1988, that was just good racing. Or, as James Hunt called it on BBC commentary, “Formula 3 style racing”. Presumably James thought all F3 drivers were bloodthirsty lunatics… (Watch the action below with German commentary or hear the 1988 Portuguese Grand Prix accompanied by the dulcet tones of the 1976 World Champion with Murray Walker.)
Arnoux vs Villeneuve, 1979 French Grand Prix, Dijon
Spare a thought for Jean-Pierre Jabouille – a French driver taking his first F1 victory, in a French car at the French Grand Prix. Under virtually any other circumstances it would be regarded as one of the greatest racing feats of all time, but most people – including some who were there – tend to forget the winner and remember the titanic battle for second. You can’t write about overtaking without mentioning the duel in Dijon between Jabouille’s Renault team-mate René Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve in the Ferrari (pictured, top). Hammer and tongs doesn’t do it justice… If the new tyres, KERS and the DRS can get modern F1 anywhere close to this level of combative racing, then the future looks very rosy indeed – but somehow we still can’t see it happening in Barcelona.