In the 1960s and ’70s Monza was the scene of some of the closest finishes in Formula One history. In 1967 John Surtees pipped Jack Brabham to victory by 0.2 seconds; two years later Jackie Stewart won by 0.08 seconds from Jochen Rindt, with Jean-Pierre Beltoise 0.17s behind the winner and Bruce McLaren a further 0.02 back; and in 1974 the great Swede Ronnie Peterson beat Emerson Fitipaldi by 0.8s.
But closer than all these- closer, in fact, than any other finish in F1 history- was the 1971 event. This was won by Peter Gethin, whose BRM crossed the line 0.01 seconds ahead of Peterson’s March. It was, and still is, the closest finish to a competitive grand prix.*
Chris Amon and Jackie Ickx were the men to beat in qualifying, grabbing first and second on the grid respectively. Peterson meanwhile could only manage 6th, and Gethin had to make do with 11th spot.
At the start it was the Ferrari of Clay Regazzoni who stole the limelight, the Swiss getting a stellar getaway to leap from 8th to 1st by the time the cars hit turn one. Behind him the action was intense, as the cars slip-streamed to and fro on Monza’s fast sweeps.
Regazzoni’s lead lasted 3 laps, at which point Peterson passed the Ferrari. He held the position for a further 4 laps before succumbing to Jackie Stewart, before Regazzoni once again thrilled the Tifosi but returning the Ferrari to P1. The leading trio were not alone: Ickx, Gethin, Cevert, Siffert, and Ganley all maintained a watching brief as the lead was exchanged.
But by lap 17 three contenders had succumbed to engine failures: Ickx and Stewart had retired on the 15th tour, before early race star Regazzoni pulled out in the second Ferrari two laps later. But whilst this trio called it a day two more drivers had joined the leading pack, with Mike Hailwood and Jackie Oliver reeling in the front-runners. They joined Gethin, Peterson, Cevert, Ganley, and Amon in contesting the lead.
As the race progressed Siffert dropped back with an overheating engine, whilst the loss of his visor ended Amon’s shot at victory. Oliver also faded, leaving a quintet of cars contesting the win- and they would fight to the end.
As cars headed to the Parabolica for the final time Cevert led, but Peterson slip-streamed the Frenchman and pulled out to pass him as the they approached the braking zone. Peterson made his way past, as did Gethin, who dived up the inside and then challenged the Swede around the corner. The BRM driver had the inside line, and was able to eke ahead of Peterson as the cars headed for the flag. Gethin held on to win- just- crossing the line 0.01s ahead of Ronnie. Behind them followed Cevert, Hailwood and Ganley, the top five covered by just 0.61s.
It was an incredible finish, more Indycar than F1, and remains of one most memorable conclusions to a grand prix in the sports history. What would you give to see a finish that tight on Sunday?
*there have been races dubbed as ‘the closest ever’ – some were non-championship grands prix and due to timing differences between the early years and modern F1 it’s impossible to do a direct comparison – races used to be timed to a tenth of a second rather than now where it’s thousandths of a second.