Last lap dramas are nothing new to formula one. In 1959 Sir Jack Brabham arrived at the final race of the season (the US Grand Prix) with a 5.5 point lead over Sir Stirling Moss (motor racing was an elitist sport in those days!) and a further 2.5 points ahead of Tony Brooks. The race was initially lead by Moss, until mechanical failure after six laps forced him to retire. As the field was depleted thanks to other retirements there was a hard fought battle between the two Cooper team mates, Brabham and Bruce McLaren. Brooks could still win the title (but only if he won the race), but he was way back in the field after a first lap collision with his Ferrari team mate von Trips necessitated a pitstop to check for damage.
All was well until the final lap when Brabham ran out of fuel while in the lead, some 3-400 yards from the finish line. As McLaren went past for the win followed by Maurice Trintagent and Brooks, Brabham pushed the car over the line to take fourth place. Due to the points system in place at the time, Brabham’s 3 points for fourth place were dropped, as only the best five results counted.
Twenty five years later in Dallas, Nigel Mansell also tried to push his car over the line. Mansell had had his first ever pole position in F1, and had lead the first 35 laps of the race. On the 36th lap Keke Rosberg passed him, and as more drivers overtook the struggling Lotus Mansell pitted for fresh tyres. On the last lap Mansell was running in sixth place when the gearbox failed and he lost all power to the wheels. He coasted around the lap and unstrapped the seatbelts until on the finishing straight the car stopped, he got out and tried to push the car home. Unfortunately due to exhaustion from the race and the heat of the July day in Texas, he didn’t make it and collapsed before crossing the line. He was still classified sixth.
In 1986 at the German Grand Prix, Alain Prost was running in fourth place when he started the last lap of the race. His McLaren team mate Keke Rosberg was in third place, but he ran out of fuel early in the lap. Prost made it all the way to the finishing straight before running out of fuel, instead of retiring he got out and started pushing, he was passed by both Nigel Mansell and Rene Arnoux, before giving up as it was too far to the finishing line. The seventh placed car was a lap behind, so Prost ended up classified sixth with Rosberg fifth (he completed the previous lap ahead of Prost, and only complete laps count in the finishing results).
It wasn’t just the McLarens that were marginal on fuel. The race winner Neslon Piquet ran low on the last lap and had to swerve from side to side to pick up the final dregs in the tank, and only got to the finish by turning down the boost. Second placed man Ayrton Senna also had to weave from side to side down the pit straight to get to the finish.
So in 2014, with most teams worried about reliability and fuel consumption are we likely to see these scenes repeated? Well, I don’t think anyone will be running out of fuel, the telemetry on the cars is much better now, so the teams and drivers know how much they have got left in the tank far more accurately than they did when these incidents occurred. Teams will simply ask drivers to slow down earlier in the race to ensure they reach the finish line. Also the 100kg limit is for fuel used during the race, there is no actual limit for fuel carried in the race, so we won’t necessarily see cars weaving from side to side as drivers try to pick up the last few drops of fuel. I expect they will all carry more than 100kg at the start of the race, if only to ensure there is sufficient for a fuel sample at the end after they have used their permitted maximum.
While reliability is sure to be a factor particularly in the early races, this is just as likely to strike on any lap of the race as the last lap, so I don’t think we will see drivers getting out and pushing any more. Also I seem to recall the regulations were amended after Mansell’s collapse to discourage drivers from attempting such feats, and this may have been behind Prost’s decision to stop before he reached the finish line.