Formula One has never been a sport to shy away from danger. Unlike NASCAR and the much-vaunted Indy Racing League, a great many of its stars down the years have been as much at home on a sodden and dampened track as they have challenging the curves flat-out. The ‘Golden Age’ of F1, the turbo-fuelled, fat slicked era of the 1980s, gave us many of these great performances, with drivers since accused of many things, including not being brave enough to tackle the elements without the help of the ubiquitous Safety Car. So here they are to put paid to that myth, the five best of the numerous wet-weather victories from 1990 to 2013!
5. Belgium 1998 – Damon Hill – Jordan
It wasn’t just the name of the victor, nor the flamboyant celebrations of the Team Principal whose yellow cars bore the legend ‘Jordan’. This was a race of magnificence right from the now-infamous first corner. When David Coulthard was the slightest of touches too heavy with his right foot his McLaren speared across the exit of the La Source hairpin, invisible to those following in the gloom. What happened was inevitable, as bodywork and shards of carbon fibre went flying into the mist and the horrified shrieking of the crowd and commentators indicated their belief that at least one of the thirteen drivers involved would not be walking back to the pits. Remarkably, and to the delight of the watching ranks, all escaped unscathed, although three failed to make the resulting restart. When the race got going for its second attempt at tackling the Ardennes forest it was no less compelling; Hill vaulted into the lead while Championship rivals Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher went into combat. It didn’t last long, as the McLaren man tangled with Johnny Herbert and put both himself and the Englishman out of the Grand Prix. As Schumacher took full advantage to overhaul Hill, the race looked like settling into a more familiar pattern. Enter David Coulthard once more! Trailing at the back of the field after an early collision with Alex Wurz, the Scotsman eased off the power to allow race-leader Schumacher by. The German never saw the rear wing of his adversary in the dark, and promptly launched himself into the back of the McLaren, ripping the front right wheel of the Ferrari and starting a war of words that would last until 2003 when Coulthard admitted being partly to blame for the incident. By this late stage of the race the atrocious conditions had accounted for all but six of the field, and Hill promptly reminded his boss Eddie Jordan that he was going to take the win at all costs; including, it seemed, removing his own team-mate Ralf Schumacher, who was closing in on the Briton in 2nd place, from the circuit. The resulting radio call angered the German but ensured a Jordan 1-2 was the team’s entry into the history books as Grand Prix winners.
4. Brazil 2003 – Giancarlo Fisichella – Jordan
Jordan only ever won four races in its fifteen-year F1 incarnation, and 75% of them were on wet tyres. The fourth and final triumph occurred in circumstances just as bizarre and chaotic as the first. Interlagos 2003 was more akin to an Olympic triathlon than one of the world’s fastest motor races, with the drivers struggling against rapidly varying conditions and wildly unpredictable cars that aquaplaned to destruction on more than one occasion. Schumacher, Button and Webber just three of the big names to fall victim to the pitfalls of the Interlagos track, the former two at the downhill turn three which reaped a grim harvest of unwary individuals among its raging rapids. David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen looked to be in complete control for McLaren and on course for their third victory of the season after success in Australia and Malaysia once Rubens Barrichello had succumbed to his usual home race glitches, but it all unwound with a lap to go. Firstly, Coulthard chose to pit on lap 53, handing the lead to Raikkonen. The Finn continued, only to make a slight mistake that allowed the Jordan of Fisichella, fuelled to the brim earlier in the race, to slip by for the lead. In the same instant, Webber, who had survived his earlier brush with disaster, lost control of his Jaguar and crashed at the top of the Interlagos hill, leaving debris strewn across the track. Two laps later, Raikkonen had re-passed Fisichella when Fernando Alonso, seemingly oblivious to the waved yellow flags, arrived at the scene of Webber’s crash. Travelling at full speed, his Renault crunched into a stray tyre from the Jaguar and buried itself deep into the barriers. With this final carnage the race was red-flagged to a stop, and Raikkonen and Fisichella made their way to the pitlane. The Jordan man was convinced he’d finally won his first F1 race and duly celebrated with his mechanics, while his car quietly combusted in the background. Imagine his dismay when the FIA declared Raikkonen the victor and placed them on the podium in that order; Alonso, who was classified 3rd despite having crashed, wasn’t on the rostrum as he was laid flat and dazed in the back of an ambulance receiving medical attention. Two weeks later, the FIA realise they had made an error when the back-dated the laps charts and requested Raikkonen to swap his trophy with Fisichella. A crazy race, effectively lasting 14 days, finally ended in a fashion rather befitting its berserk nature.
3. Japan 1994 – Damon Hill – Williams
1994 was a bleak year for Williams in many ways; the failure to wrest the title from the grasp of Michael Schumacher, the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola and the demands of the Italian media that Frank Williams and his closest associates should stand trial, somehow to blame for the great Brazilian’s death. In the midst of what has become known as F1’s darkest season, Damon Hill salvaged a heroic victory from the jaws of defeat in the gloomy peaks and troughs of Japan’s Suzuka circuit. When the red flag fell it looked like the afternoon was going to be another uninhibited run to the flag for Benetton and the German star, until race directors took the now unfashionable option to attempt to run the full lap quota under an aggregate timing system. Hill promptly responded to the seemingly impregnable might of Schumacher by passing the World Champion-elect and eking out a lead. The Benetton driver’s six second lead on aggregate time was quickly erased as the Londoner cut into his advantage, crossing the line just over nine seconds clear of Schumacher and thus making himself the winner by an average of three very vital seconds. Had Hill not been hit by Schumacher in Adelaide, critics would point to this as the race that won him the title.
2. Europe 1993 – Ayrton Senna – McLaren
He is the undisputed epitome of a racing driver, especially when it comes to wet-weather mastery; and there were no wet victories among Ayrton Senna’s repertoire more impressive than that he salvaged on the bleakest of days at Donington in April 1993. His first lap charge from a botched start back into the lead past both Damon Hill and nemesis Alain Prost is well documented, as are the four pitstops he made en-route to glory. More impressive was his unrivalled lapping of the entire field save Hill. It may have been the only modern-era F1 race at Donington Park, but the ghosts of Nuvolari, Seaman and Kling were merely complemented by the cementing of another racing legend.
1. Canada 2011 – Jenson Button – McLaren
In many ways, the Canadian Grand Prix of 2011 was a total disaster for Jenson Button and McLaren; not only had the Brit inadvertently collided with team-mate Lewis Hamilton, forcing his younger compatriot out of the race, but he also survived a run in with Fernando Alonso that left him high and dry in last place. The 2009 World Champion hadn’t won a race since the previous April and looked further than ever away from replicating that feat. Yet when he pitted for the sixth and final time for a set of dry tyres rather than the intermediates he had opted for the lap before, he instantly set the timing screens alight. Mark Webber, Michael Schumacher and others quickly followed suit but none could replicate the fearsome turn of pace exhibited by the McLaren man who was now carving through the struggling field. Rapidly despatching the errant Webber and fired-up Schumacher, Button turned his attentions on race leader and reigning World Champion Vettel. Try as he might, the German could not respond to the scorching progress of the silver arrow and with just a single lap left Button was tucked under the rear wing of the Red Bull, lining him up for a last-ditch attempt at passing on the back straight. It never came to that, Vettel cracking under the pressure and dropping his RB7 under braking for the otherwise-straightforward turn four. Button was through for his 10th and, arguably, greatest victory of his career, with the slowest average winning speed in F1 history (46.5mph) and the longest race time ever recorded (4h, 4m and 39s) thanks to the two hour stoppage. Vettel had led every lap bar one; it was enough for Jenson Button to enter the record books.