Winning with just 1 lap in the lead: Verstappen and the others


 To win a GP you don’t have to stay in the lead for long. Sometimes just a few yards are enough. All the Formula 1 drivers who managed to do it


One lap, just one lap, in fact, not even the entire lap, was all Max Verstappen needed to take the Abu Dhabi GP and win the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship. 

To win, it takes consistent performance from start to finish, without faltering in the slightest. Exactly like the Brembo braking systems used in Formula 1, capable of ensuring consistent high performance from the first to the last lap.


The Dutch driver started from pole position with medium tires, compared to Lewis Hamilton’s hard tires, but the latter had a better start, getting to the first turn first. The Englishman stayed in the lead for 14 laps and then pitted for a tire change, imitating the move made by Verstappen, who was looking for the undercut. 

This left the lead to Sergio Perez, who had not yet pitted, to help his teammate. The Mexican stayed there fore 6 laps. In spite of strong resistance, on the 21st lap, Checo was passed by Hamilton who, from that moment, managed to hold onto the lead with a precious gap of a few seconds. However, his dream of being crowned 8-time world champion was shattered when the safety car came out. Verstappen pitted for a tire change, so when the safety car pulled off at the end of the penultimate lap, it was a walk in the park to pass his rival, penalized by tires by then worn down after 43 laps of racing. 

But Max is not the first driver to win a Grand Prix race by taking the lead only on the final lap. In fact, in Formula 1 history, his is the 13th case of a driver who was never the leader throughout the race, but became so under the checkered flag. ​




Bruce McLaren: 1959 American GP​

In Sebring, in 1959, the New Zealander who would later give his name to the famous team, qualified in the middle of the pack with the 10th time, 8.6 seconds behind Stirling Moss. However, he got off to an outstanding start in the race and after 6 laps he was already second behind teammate Jack Brabham. He played squire to his knight for the entire GP, but on the airport straight, two turns from the end, Brabham ran out of fuel. Bruce McLaren won, beating out Maurice Trintignant.​


Jim Clark: 1964 Belgian GP​ 

Even more incredible was the finale on June 14th, 1964 at Spa-Francorchamps. With one lap to go, Graham Hill was in the lead with Bruce McLaren 2nd, Dan Gurney 3rd, and Clark 4th. But in mid lap, Damon’s father was stopped short by his fuel pump. Bruce McLaren moved into the lead, but before La Source, his alternator belt broke. Being on a downhill slope, he continued under inertia, but Clark beat him by 3 seconds.​



John Surtees: 1967 Italian GP​ 

In Monza in 1967, six riders took turns in the lead. At the start it was Dan Gurney, then passed by Jim Clark, who was in turn passed by Denny Hulme. Clark and Hulme swapped positions multiple times. On the 16th lap, Jack Brabham moved into the lead and then it was Hulme’s turn again and then Graham Hill’s. The back-and-forth continued until Clark moved back into the lead on the 61st lap. It seemed like he had it in the bag but on the final lap, he ran out of fuel. Surtees won.​



Bruce McLaren: 1968 Belgian GP​

Also at Spa-Francorchamps, in 1968, there were frequent changes in the lead. At the start, Chris Amon was fastest with his Ferrari, but on the 2nd lap, Surtees passed him with his Honda. On the 11th lap, Hulme took the lead with his McLaren but on the following lap, he found himself behind Jackie Stewart with the Matra who, with the exception of the 15th lap, led all the way to the 27th and penultimate. He had an advantage of half a minute, but his tank ran dry. Hulme was grateful.​ ​



Jochen Rindt: 1970 Monaco GP​ 

On the streets of the Principality, passing is always difficult. In 1970, Jochen Rindt started from the fourth row and began his comeback only from the 12th lap, aided in part by the troubles of those ahead of him. From the 61st lap, the only driver ahead of him was Jack Brabham, whom he caught up with one lap from the end. In his attempts to defend the position, on the last turn, the Australian went inside, but ended up wide, running into the guardrail. Incredulous, the Austrian passed and won.​




Mario Andretti: 1977 French GP​ 

In Digione, in 1977, the American of Italian origins started well from pole position but was passed immediately by James Hunt, John Watson and Jacques Laffite. Andretti passed the hometown hero on the 2nd lap and the 1976 champ on the 17th. Getting past the Brit turned out to be more difficult, but 875 yards from the finish line, the Alfa Romeo engine in his Brabham sputtered to a stop. Out of fuel, he finished the race in neutral, but behind Andretti.​


Ronnie Peterson: 1978 South African GP​ 

Like Clark, Rindt, and Andretti, the Swede also took a last-minute win at the wheel of a Lotus. The day before – March 4th, 1978 – Niki Lauda had taken what was to be his final pole position, whereas Peterson was only 11th, although he actually started 12th due to a mix-up on the grid. Incredibly, however, none of the first 9 drivers finished in the points. On the final lap, Peterson exploited Patrick Depailler’s empty fuel tank for a surprise win.





Nelson Piquet: 1991 Canadian GP​ 

1991 was Nelson Piquet’s farewell Formula 1 season and Benetton gave him his 23rd and final win. In Montreal, he started from the eighth spot on the grid, but after 26 laps he was in a podium position. Only the two Williams cars were ahead of him, but Riccardo Patrese had gearbox issues. Nigel Mansell remained, in the lead from the start, but on the final lap, he let the rpm of his Ford engine drop too low and his single-seater died​.



Jacques Villeneuve: 1997 Hungarian GP​ 

After winning the title with a Williams, in 1997 Damon Hill moved to Arrows, earning the 3rd spot on the grid on the Hungaroring. He took the lead after 14 laps and then again on the 30th. He got through a pitstop undamaged maintaining a 34-second advantage over former teammate Villeneuve on the 73rd lap, but his accelerator and gearbox began to give him trouble. In one lap he lost 9 seconds, 21 on the next, and on the final lap Villeneuve passed him.​



Mika Hakkinen: 1997 European GP​

The final race of 1997 was held in Jerez and it was here that the championship crown would be decided. Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve were in the running. With both pitstops used up, the German was in the lead but the Williams driver closed the gap and on the 47th lap he made his attack at Dry Sac. Schumi struck his rival, but his Ferrari stopped. The Canadian continued with a damaged car and Hakkinen passed him on the final lap.​​



​Giancarlo Fisichella: 2003 Brazilian GP​ 

One of the most incredible races of all time was held in 2003 in Interlagos. Due to heavy rain, the safety car remained at the front from the start until moving aside on the 9th lap and David Coulthard took the lead, only to be passed by the other McLaren. Raikkonen and the Scotsman alternated the number-one spot, but then pitted. On the 54th lap, Fisichella moved into the lead shortly after Mark Webber’s crash. The red flag came out, declaring the Roman winner.​​



Jenson Button: 2011 Canadian GP​ 

Four hours and four minutes of racing, partly due to the safety car entering on 6 different occasions, both records in Formula 1 history, and the race was stopped after 24 laps due to heavy rain that made it impossible to drive. Sebastian Vettel stayed in the lead for 68 of the first 69 laps (with Felipe Massa ahead for the other one), but on the final lap, on turn 6, he went wide on the wet track, leaving the door open for Button to get past.​ ​​