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Closest Top 3 Finish In F1

The 1971 Italian Grand Prix, held at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza circuit, went down in history as featuring the closest finish ever in Formula One – a record that still stands to this day. Pole-sitter Chris Amon took his Matra to a stunning pole position, beating Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari by 0.42 seconds, which was a minimal margin comapared to the other races in F1’s 20 years of history. But this was only a prelude to the closest F1 finish in history.

What followed was a frantic, wheel-to-wheel dice for the lead, with the top five cars covered by just 0.61 seconds at the chequered flag. Regazzoni’s early lead soon evaporated, with the likes of Ronnie Peterson, Jackie Stewart, Jo Siffert and François Cevert all spending time at the front. However, late in the race, it was the less-fancied Peter Gethin who found himself leading the pack, and as they approached the Parabolica corner for the final time, Gethin clung on to take the most dramatic of victories.

Gethin beat Peterson by 0.01 seconds, with Cevert a further 0.08 seconds behind in 3rd. Mike Hailwood and Howden Ganley completed the top five covered by that tiny margin of just over half a second. The 1971 Italian Grand Prix featured a record 25 lead changes among 8 different drivers, and still boasts records for the closest 1st-3rd (0.09 seconds), 1st-4th (0.18 seconds) finishes in F1 history and 1st-5th (0.61 seconds). With an average speed of 242.615 km/h (150.754 mph), the 1971 Italian Grand Prix set the record of F1’s fastest race for the next 32 years.

The Early Laps of the 1971 Italian Grand Prix

The 1971 Formula One season marked the final outing for the ultra-fast, chicane-less Monza layout. With its long straights and sweeping corners, slipstreaming always played a key role at Monza to help drivers outdrag each other down the straights. The V12-engined cars were expected to excel, with Ferrari, BRM and Matra looking particularly strong.

Matra returned after missing the previous race, with Chris Amon taking pole position by beating Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari by 0.42 seconds. However, Clay Regazzoni stunned everyone by rocketing from 8th to 1st at the start to lead the early laps ahead of the BRMs of Jo Siffert and Howden Ganley. World Champion Jackie Stewart started 7th in his underpowered V8 Tyrrell, but quickly moved up to battle for the lead.

An incredible fight for top honors took place in the early stages of the 1971 Italian Grand Prix. Regazzoni lost the lead on Lap 4 to Ronnie Peterson’s March. Peterson, Stewart, François Cevert, and Mike Hailwood on his F1 return all enjoyed spells in front, changing positions almost every lap.

The Dash to the Finish

By two-thirds distance, Chris Amon finally hit the front, building a sizeable lead after overcoming early tyre issues. Victory for the popular New Zealander looked assured, only for first his visor tear-off, and then his entire visor, to fly off on consecutive laps!

This bizarre mishap, combined with fuel pickup problems, cost Amon yet another chance for an elusive maiden Grand Prix win. Instead, the lead group boiled down to Peterson, Cevert, Hailwood and the BRM pair of Gethin and Ganley – none of whom had ever won in Formula 1!

Hailwood hit the front with five laps left but was powerless to resist Gethin, who sensationally swept past the Surtees going into Parabolica. Gethin just held on from Peterson and Cevert, taking the chequered flag a mere 0.01 seconds ahead of the March, with Cevert another 0.08 seconds further back.

Hailwood and Ganley crossed the line 4th and 5th, just half a second covering that leading group. Gethin’s improbable and popular victory capped off a race that saw multiple records set that still stand today. The 0.01 second winning margin between Gethin and Peterson remains the closest finish in F1 history. The race speed record of 242.615 km/h lasted for 32 years, only bettered at Monza in 2003, and the lead changed 25 times in the span of 55 laps. Only the 1964 Italian Grand Prix had more changes. Ronnie Peterson was the only one to lead for 10 or more laps, but nobody managed to retain the lead for more than 5 consecutive laps.

More Records and Statistics

Here are some more records and interesting statistics that underline what an extraordinary Grand Prix the 1971 Italian race turned out to be:

  • The 8 different leaders (Regazzoni, Peterson, Stewart, Cevert, Hailwood, Siffert, Amon, Gethin) is an F1 record for a single race
  • The 25 lead changes also ranks among the highest on record
  • The top 5 finishers racked up the closest 1st-3rd (0.09 secs) and 1st-4th (0.18 secs) margins ever
  • The race average speed of 242.615 km/h (150.754 mph) was F1’s fastest until 2003
  • It marked Mike Hailwood’s impressive comeback after a 6-year absence

Joining the Hall Of Fame of F1 races

The 1971 Italian Grand Prix has rightfully gone down in history as perhaps one of Formula One’s most thrilling and closely-fought races of all time. The speeds generated without chicanes were frighteningly high by today’s standards, yet the drivers put on an unforgettable show for the passionate Monza crowd.

Peter Gethin’s breakthrough victory proved to be the highlight his short career, but at least the victory went down in history. For Chris Amon, it marked yet another agonizing missed opportunity. Ronnie Peterson and François Cevert would both be later Grand Prix winners, while Mike Hailwood could at least retire safe in the knowledge that his F1 comeback had exceeded all expectations.

Above all, the 1971 Italian race showcased everything that makes Formula One great – breakneck speeds, constantly changing fortunes, contrasting emotions, and a finish so unbelievably close that it has never been surpassed in over 50 years of F1 history.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the closest top 3 finish in Formula 1?

The closest finish for Top 3 took place at the 1971 Italian Grand Prix, where top 3 drivers finished within 0.09 seconds of each other.

Who Won The 1971 Italian Grand Prix?

The 1971 Italian Grand Prix was won by Peter Gredhin in BRM, followed by Ronnie Peterson in March and François Cevert in Tyrrell.

How Many Lead Changes were in 1971 Italian Grand Prix?

The 1971 Italian Grand Prix saw 25 lead changes during the 55 laps. Ronnie Peterson was the only driver to lead for more than 10 laps, but nobody held on to the lead for more than 5 consecutive laps

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