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5 best overtakes in Formula One

Anuradha Santhanam

2015 saw a new kid on the block, Max Verstappen, quickly establish himself as the new overtaking specialist in the sport. His pure aggression, quick speed and sharp lines are reminiscent of some Formula One champions of old - among them the best names in the sport - Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna among them, both of whom were known, among other things, for exactly that.Here, we look at 5 of the greatest overtakes in the sport, each one featuring a world champion:

#5 Sebastian Vettel on Fernando Alonso, Italian Grand Prix

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Long enough ago that Sebastian Vettel was then only a one-time world champion, the young Red Bull driver had already shown his mettle and an aggression another German driver had been known for.

The two had also been top on the championship standings for that year, with Vettel holding a gaping maw of a lead over the then-Ferrari driver, who was in third behind Vettel’s own teammate Mark Webber.

The scene was set at one of F1’s historically revered circuits, and one of its highest-speed tracks – Monza.

An utterly dominant Vettel, who had led proceedings from the beginning of Free Practice, continued his run well into qualifying, finishing on pole. Despite a strategic push by Ferrari to have both their drivers finish up the grid in the qualifying session, they failed, with Alonso, the reigning champion at the race for Ferrari, qualifying in 4th and his teammate Felipe Massa in 7th.

Despite this, Alonso managed a quick march and an early lead, but he wouldn’t be able to hold on to it for long. An eventual 4-car collision, one that resulted from Vitantonio Liuzzi of HRT spinning out and taking out Heikki Kovalainen, and eventually Nico Rosberg and Vitaly Petrov as a result of the first crash, saw safety cars brought out and racing suspendedwith drivers moving across track in formation.

Vettel used the situation to his advantage with a gutsy move on Alonso at a track known for its speed and corners, much like Spa, and seized his lead right back.

The young German chased Alonso into the iconic Parabolica, dogging him closely enough that he appeared to be inches from the Spaniard’s exhaust. At Parabolica, Vettel took the outside line and seized the lead from Alonso, then proceeding to widen that gap

With Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton locked in an intense battle further down the grid, Jenson Button, in 5th, took a march over both of them to then chase Alonso – and in the final 10 laps of the race did so, with Alonso eventually finishing in third.

It was Vettel’s aggressive driving, though, that would eventually give him top spot with a staggering 9.5 second lead over Button’s McLaren in P2.

#4 Fernando Alonso on Michael Schumacher, Japanese Grand Prix

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130R. To a non-Formula One fan, that may sound like a consignment number, gibberish or strange digits thrown together arbitrarily. In fact, 130R is one of the most notoriously difficult turns on the Formula One calendar.

Until it was redesigned, it was also considered one of the most dangerous. As the name suggests, it’s a turn with a 130m radius, and is often compared to the treacherous Blanchimont at Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Toyota’s Allan McNish crashed spectacularly at Suzuka in 2002, and was sent through the barriers during qualifying for that year’s Japanese Grand Prix. Thankfully, McNish walked away from the crash, although he was in serious shock at the time.

The following year saw a fatality at the track, although that was not in Formula One but MotoGP. The track had been redesigned to make 130R a double apex – and thereby less dangerous, and the year-opening Japanese MotoGP was on schedule.

At the new Casio Triangle, a result of the redesign of 130R, Japanese MotoGP rider Daijiro Kato, who lost control of his bike at the sharp turn and with his bike weaving at high speed, was rendered comatose, passing away in hospital two weeks later.

The 2005 Japanese Grand Prix saw Toyota driver Ralf Schumacher on pole, with his iconic brother Michael qualifying in 14th, and eventual 2005 World Champion Fernando Alonso qualifying in 16th ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Every ‘big name’ was far down the grid at this race.

Alonso decided to take reigning World Champion Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari on at 130R, having put pressure on him with Kimi Raikkonen, who had qualified behind him in 17th.

In a gutsy move, the Spaniard revved at a place no other driver likely would – one of F1’s sharpest corners, with no straight in close sight – and it paid off.

From beginning at the back of the grid and behind the 7-time champion, Alonso managed to pull off a podium finish at that race, in third behind an equally shocking winner – Kimi Raikkonen, and Alonso’s own teammate Giancarlo Fisichella, who had been expected to win that race.

#3 Nelson Piquet takes Ayrton Senna, Hungarian Grand Prix

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This was an all-Brazilian affair, involving Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet – who by 1986 had won two of his three championships, with Senna not having won any of his own three just yet.

The younger Brazilian had only made his Formula One debut two years prior, with Piquet publicly known to never have liked Senna very much. Piquet had in fact said he did not think Senna would have been able to win a race in the modern era, and famously barred F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone from allowing Senna to join him at Brabham.

He also described him in the media as a ‘glorified Sao Paulo taxi driver’, and has made several other unsavoury remarks about Senna in the media, even in the years following his passing.

At the 1986 Hungarian Grand Prix, the first ever race held at a then brand-new Hungaroring, Senna had driven very well to begin the race from pole. Piquet, starting in second, had been struggling to catch up his compatriot, gunning the car as he manoeuvred every turn trying to catch Senna.

Briton Nigel Mansell had driven very well in qualifying, and indeed, during the race, but the entire Grand Prix was simply to be a two-man show between the Brazilians. Piquet dogged Senna relentlessly for much of the race, and managed to take a lead in the first 20 laps – a lead which Senna regained once his older counterpart pitted.

But with Senna’s car faltering with 75% of the race now complete, Piquet seized the opportunity and took advantage. Grabbing the outside line on Senna, who tried to drive him wide, he pushed ahead of the younger driver, who still, till the end, gunned to close the gap Piquet had to him.

Eventually, after an exhilarating contest between the pair, it was finally Piquet who, having just set the fastest lap of the race, would win 8 seconds ahead of Senna. But in the process, the pair gave viewers a chance to watch what is considered one of the greatest races in Formula One history.

#2 Ayrton Senna vs FOUR DRIVERS, European Grand Prix

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1993 – Ayrton Senna – the now-defunct European Grand Prix, rain and a bevy of World Champions – a Formula for an exciting race if there ever was one.

Senna was another master of the overtake – and is considered, by many, the best Formula One driver of all time, ahead of Schumacher, Prost, Fangio and many others. He had some great rivalries with Nigel Mansell and Senna’s own teammate for a time, F1 legend and four-time World Champion Alain Prost.

This race was regarded as one of Senna’s greatestvictories, and looking back on it, it’s not hard to see why.

The top 3 at the end of qualifying – were all World Championship winners – not all of them yet, though, with Prost on pole, his Williams teammate Damon Hill in second, and then-Benetton driver Michael Schumacher in fourth. McLaren driver Senna had not been able to shine as well as the others, with Donnington Park a new Grand Prix venue for all of them at that point.

And the weather proved the most confusing factor in the entire race. From wet to dry to wet to dry again, drivers and crews were left confused on what tyres to use, what pit strategy to adopt, and how to race.

Senna was not discouraged by not being in the front row. From P4, Senna pushed hard on the opening lap – despite dropping to fifth after a block from Schumacher.

Prost had already established himself as a good handler of wet-weather, but the Brazilian put paid to each of the drivers in turn. Starting from P4 and dropping to P5 behind the German, Senna simply pushed pedal to metal and went flat-out, collecting positions as if they were trophies. After getting the inside line on Schumacher, Senna picked up Sauber’s Karl Wendlinger, and raced even faster going on a rainy, downhill, dangerous track.

With possibly the highest exit speeds on a curving track with minimal visibility, Senna now went after Damon Hill and nearly caught the back of him as a result.

Just before the end of the first lap, Senna took what was probably his favourite conquest – catching Alain Prost, and keeping that lead until the end of the race.

With several pitting to change between wet and dry tyres, Senna chose to trust his instinct and stayed on dry tyres despite a short period of rain, with other drivers all pitting for wets.

Despite mechanical problems earlier in the race which lost him 20 seconds on the clock, Senna outlasted every one of the other drivers. His own tyre strategy also helped him hold onto the lead from the first lap until the last.

Senna also set another strange record during that race – being the only driver to have ever set a fastest lap driving in the pit lane.

#1 Mika Hakkinen gets Michael Schumacher, Belgian Grand Prix

He’s considered the greatest in Formula One – and rated by many as the best at overtaking, in large part due to his pure aggression – which not many drivers have displayed to that level since.

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One of the best overtakes in Formula One does involve Michael Schumacher; but this time, it wasn’t him doing the overtaking, but another luminary of the sport.

The Flying Finn, Mika Hakkinen, and Michael Schumacher had an extensively documented rivalry, and one of the sport’s most enduring friendships. The two had a mutual respect that shone through both of their long, immensely successful careers, with Hakkinen famously consoling – and protecting – an emotional Schumacher when he broke down after equalling Ayrton Senna’s record.

But it was Hakkinen who pulled off the best maneuever against Schumacher, one that could easily be considered among the best overtakes of all time in the sport.

Driving at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2000, at the circuit known for its speed, sharp turns and extreme danger – the circuit de Spa-Francorchamps – the Finn and the German were flat-out racing.

Hakkinen was the reigning double World Champion, driving for the now recently-beleaguered McLaren. Both drivers were already two-time Champions at that point, and no strangers to Spa or the notoriously difficult Eau Rouge. Hakkinen had finished second only the previous year, with Schumacher replaced at that race by Mika Salo due to an ankle injury.

In 2000, Schumacher had been faster than Hakkinen in practice with reigning race winner David Coulthard the fastest – but Hakkinen came back during qualifying, with the 107% rule (where drivers have to remain within 107% of the fastest lap to qualify) in place. Qualifying had been dry – but there was wet weather on the cards, which worried the Finn.

He had reason to be concerned, too, as he ended up spinning out of control near Stavelot, handing Schumacher the lead. The tenacious Hakkinen still managed after pitting to close much of the gap to the speedy Red Baron, and with only four laps to go in the race, pushed his car at Les Combes, with both having lapped BAR’s Ricardo Zonta.

In the days before DRS, when F1 cars were not as powerful as they are today, Hakkinen pushed his slightly damaged car to its maximum, taking themore difficult outside line against Schumacher and holding on to it for the remainder of the race.

Edited by Staff Editor

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