5 must watch F1 Grands Prix during the winter break

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The off-season is the perfect time to relive the emotions a great race, or to catch up with famous, historical rounds. In case you don’t know where to start from, here are five standout races handpicked by the PitDebrief team worthy of a rewatch

2020 Italian Grand Prix – Ryan McGahey
Pierre Gasly, Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll celebrate on the podium following the 2020 Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix
Photo Credits: Red Bull Content Pool

A modern classic and absolute much watch for any Formula 1 fan. Penalties, red flags, shock podiums and a race to the flag, the action packed 2020 Italian Grand Prix had it all. While Monza, the temple of speed, has had more than its fair share of entertaining, chaotic and exciting Grands Prix through its 100+ year history, this race stands above many recent Formula 1 runnings.

Despite the all too common sight at the time of drivers struggling to overtake, plagued by dirty air, the race began to turn up the heat on lap 20. A safety car triggered by Kevin Magnussen’s Haas set off a chain of events eventually leading to one of the most shocking finishes of the turbo hybrid era.

Caught out by a penalty for a red flag infringement, Lewis Hamilton dropped down the order at the restart on lap 28 following a red flag period. This key moment set the stage for the intense battle which would play out for the remainder of the Grand Prix.

A period of frantic fighting for position over the next few laps, and with Hamilton having dropped out of contention for the win, saw Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri closely pursued by the McLaren of Carlos Sainz. With both drivers eager to prove their skills and take their first Grand Prix victory the fight was on.

Throughout the final ten laps, Carlos Sainz charged towards Gasly, cutting down a 3 second gap to virtually nothing, and putting pressure on the Frenchman. The two eventually took the chequered flag separated by less than half a second, with Pierre Gasly managing to hold on and claim his first victory in Formula 1.

“I want this win, Tom”

Aside from the intense racing action, the visceral displays of emotion heard over the radio from Carlos Sainz as he stalked Pierre Gasly in the closing stages of the race adds fuel to the excitement and anticipation as the laps count down.

Finally the vindication and raw emotion of Pierre Gasly as he took to the Monza podium, hearing the French National anthem for the first time in Formula 1 in 24 years, and all just over a year post-demotion. From being dropped by Red Bull to taking a home soil victory for AlphaTauri.

All of these minor details, mixed with the on track action, make the 2020 Italian Grand Prix not only a must see, but a jewel in the crown of Formula 1’s turbo hybrid era.

Canada 2011- Jonah Presser

Photo Credits: McLaren Racing

It was an extremely rainy day in Montreal in 2011. Everything seemed normal for a Canadian Grand Prix, it was the only weekend in June when it rained, the drivers were ready to go, and Sebastian Vettel was lining up on pole. Everything seemed okay, until the green flag went through. After that, it was absolute chaos.

After an attempt to start the race on time, the race begun behind a safety car for 5 laps. Once the safety car went in, action begun. As soon as Vettel crossed the start/finish line, Fernando Alonso tried to move into first place unsuccessfully and Red Bull’s Mark Webber was sent spinning after a collision with Lewis Hamilton, who at that point was driving for McLaren. On the first racing turn, we got an idea of what crazy race we were in for.

A few laps later, Hamilton tried to pass Jenson Button, his teammate, and due to the wet conditions, Button collided with Hamilton and shoved him into the wall, which forced Hamilton to retire from the race and Button making the first of a record six pitstops in the race, and then received a drivethrough penalty.

Then, the rain got worse. The safety car came out, and a red flag was issued. After 40 more minutes, racing resumed with the usual Vettel in first, but a surprise appearance joined the top 3: Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese driver rarely finished in the points, and hadn’t achieved a podium yet. For an uncompetitive car to be in the podium places was a miracle. In the first turn after the restart, Kobayashi jumped Felipe Massa, and claimed second place.

Three laps later, we saw Fernando Alonso collide with none other than Jenson Button spin out and end up in the grass at turn 6, forcing another safety car. From there, Button had a puncture, and fell all the way to 21st and last. Then, Michael Schumacher passed both Kobayashi and Massa, putting him in second place. Once Kobayashi fell down the order, he was then hit by Renault’s Nick Heidfeld, and the damage ended Heidfeld’s race, forcing him into the runoff and ending his race.

Meanwhile, Button was slowly making his way up the order, passing backmarker after backmarker to regain a podium place. He made up places by passing Mark Webber and putting him in 3rd behind Schumacher and Vettel, who was having a comfortable race in first. After passing Schumacher, Button then continued to make up ground and push Sebastian Vettel to the limit. It all came down to the last lap. Once he was halfway through the lap, Vettel did something no one thought he could do. He slipped, went wide and got Button to win the race, after a marathon 4-hour 4-minute race, which became the longest race in F1 history.

If you want the most insane race, with the most collisions, a cliffhanger and a satisfying end, this race is the one for you. Every lap was filled with excitement, and there were many surprises as the race unfolded.

Brazil 2008 – Luke-John Buckle
Lewis Hamilton driving his McLaren in the dry in Brazil

Photo Credits: McLaren

The 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix presented the chance for Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa to clinch their first world championship.

For Hamilton, it was the chance to put to rest the ghosts of 2007 and losing the title in his rookie season; for Massa, it became an opportunity to etch himself into Ferrari folklore in front of his home crowd.

A top-five finish for Hamilton was enough to win the title by virtue of his seven-point lead over Massa heading into the title decider.

The Brazilian led the field from the pole position, with Hamilton in fourth. The track dried, and the race leader, Massa, pitted for dry tyres 10 laps into the race, maintaining his advantage.

Hamilton followed a lap later, a move that proved to be too late. The McLaren driver fell back to P7.

Up front, Massa led comfortably as rain began to hit with just six laps remaining.

The Briton pitted on Lap 67 as Vettel shadowed his every move. Massa boxed for intermediates a lap later.

Timo Glock stayed out on the dry tyres, dropping Hamilton down to fifth on a day of pure drama.

Vettel tried every trick in the book to get past and slipped through with two laps to go as nerves jangled up and down the pit lane.

The rain intensified as Glock, still on the dry tyres, struggled for grip. The Toyota driver in fourth place was passed by Vettel and critically Hamilton, handing the 23-year-old the all-important fifth place he needed on the last turn of the last lap.

Massa put together a superb 71-lap race and took a well-deserved victory, but Brazil’s first world champion for 17 years was not to be.

Hamilton scored an emphatic away victory amongst the hostility of Interlagos, taking his first world title.

Singapore 2019 – David Coath

Photo Credits: David Coath

Next on the list is the 12th edition of the Singapore Grand Prix. This saw Charles Leclerc start on pole and high in confidence after back to back F1 victories. The back row is where Leclerc would have been if this was a reverse grid format and teammate Sebastian Vettel had hit the headlines the previous day after calling any discussion over reverse grids as ‘bull****’.

Pole-sitter Leclerc was deprived a third consecutive victory of the season as nothing quite went to plan for his side if the gararge following a questionable strategy yet again by Scuderia Ferrari. However, it did result in a first victory of 2019 for Vettel. This victory would prove to be a significant one for the 4-time F1 Drivers’ World Champion. It would probe to be the German’s final victory in the pinnacle of motorsport and for that reason has to be on anyone’s watch list.

In the Grand Prix, Leclerc had a smooth getaway maintaining the lead and with it the ability to set the pace. Meanwhile, Vettel was all over the back of Lewis Hamilton looking for second place as the German knew he was in a quicker car. Despite the pressure, Hamilton continued being in between a Scuderia Ferrari sandwich.

Having coped with Vettel’s pressure, Hamilton was eating away at Leclerc’s lead whilst staying inside DRS range (of which three zones were available for the first time in Singapore) due to a gap of 0.925s as 15 laps out of 61 were completed. This was the turning point as Leclerc was then told to push the pace and sure enough, two laps later, a 1.3 second gap had been opened up…so much for DRS range – for now.

To avoid it becoming a two horse race, the race then turned on its head as Vettel headed down pit lane whilst Hamilton stayed out on track hoping to have enough life in his tyres. Meanwhile, having come into the pits later, Leclerc had lost position on his teammate and now the leader was Vettel! Leclerc was less than impressed by the undercut.

As half race distance approached, the race leader was still Vettel with Leclerc having to deal with a ‘temporarily non pitting Lance Stroll’ creating a barrier. Once this goal was achieved and having lost time, Leclerc then had Daniel Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly preventing him from retaking the lead from his teammate. 34 laps completed and a 5.563 second gap created by Vettel.

Drama soon followed after a coming together between George Russell and Romain Grosjean ‘Why should we be surprised?’ was the team radio of the Brit. Out came a Safety Car obliterating Vettel’s 5 second lead. Around this time, a confused Leclerc was told ‘It was the best thing we could do…you are doing a superb job.’ The response from the pole-sitter being: “To be completely honest with you, I don’t understand the undercut but, yes, we will discuss it after the race.” With Leclerc on the back of his teammate’s gearbox, the Safety Car headed to the pits and we now had a congested field for a 20 lap race.

Then – another safety car due to Sergio Perez’ mechanical issue retirement. With the Safety Car back on track and the 2 hour mark ticking down, a frustrated Charles Leclerc was told ‘We need to bring the car home…manage the p.u.” his response “Yeah, I won’t do anything stupid, it’s not my goal, I want us to finish 1-2, I just think it’s not fair. I won’t be stupid, I promise.” Such remarks on this day surely earned even more fans for the young 21-year-old Ferrari man.

Leclerc was not behaving in a stupid manner but the incident between Daniil Kvyat and Kimi Räikkönen 12 laps from the end was not the smartest. The Russian driver was too aggressive lunging into Turn 1 and wiped out the Alfa Romeo’s suspension and with it came a third safety car to clear the abandoned vehicle. By the time the track was clear 10 laps remained – as did only 20 minutes. Throughout the remaining laps, Vettel would not be stopped as he ‘went purple’ getting consecutive fastest lap times and with it victory was his.

Formula One certainly lost something when Sebastian Vettel left the sport but we will always have his race memories. Singapore 2019 is one always worth watching again – especially as we wait for the 2024 F1 season to arrive.

2006 Hungarian GP – Nicolas Lopes

Photo Credits: Getty Images

Another Jenson Button win on this list – he seems to only win classics, and his very first victory was no different.

With engines that could barely do two full race weekends during that season, the teams had to cope with a rule that meant grid penalties were handed out if a change was made before the completion of two events, with Button one of two drivers to fall foul of that particular rule at the Hungarian GP, receiving a 10-place grid drop.

Other important penalties were handed out to championship contenders Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, both starting at the back of the grid after time penalties in qualifying – something we don’t see anymore.

He would go on to qualify fourth, less than four tenths back from pole-sitter Kimi Raikkonen, which meant he would start Sunday’s race from a lowly 14th spot, which would prove difficult if the race was dry, and even trickier in the wet conditions as it turned out.

Most drivers started on intermediate tyres for what would be the first wet Hungarian GP since its inception in 1986. The two championship protagonists quickly made their way through the midfield, but the ever-changing conditions caught out seven-time champion Schumacher, who made a clumsy mistake and hit Giancarlo Fisichella’s Renault, losing his front wing and going nearly a lap down.

Meanwhile, Jenson Button was making quick progress through the field, until a safety car for Kimi Raikkonen’s stricken McLaren after colliding with Liuzzi’s Toro Rosso meant the Briton could stay out and jump to second place whilst his rivals pitted.

Button closely challenged Alonso at the restart, but had to pit to refuel his Honda. But soon after luck would come his way, as a failed pit stop meant a loose wheel nut on the Renault which caused the Spaniard to crash out of contention.

That opened the door for the Button’s first ever win in Formula 1 in what was a dramatic race at the Hungaroring, and one well worth tuning in to watch during the off-season.