The year was 1971. Formula 1 rolled into Monza for the 9th of the 11 races that season. It would leave Monza having set the record for fastest Formula 1 race, with an average speed over 150 mph (240 kph). That record would stand for an astounding 33 years!
Monza, the Temple of Speed, was primed for a fast race. Although cars had been getting faster and faster, the track was still largely a collection of straightaways. The chicanes wouldn’t be installed to slow down the cars until after the 1971 race.
The race started with the cars strung out in a long line as they drafted off each other around and around the track. There were several notable retirements from the race. The reliability of the cars in 1971 left much to be desired, comparable to 2017 Renault and Honda engines.
As the race neared its final ten laps, there was a pack of five cars off the front. They slipstreamed off of each other and repeatedly exchanged the lead. At the high speeds they were traveling, the advantage of the draft was immense, but once they got into the lead and had to break the air themselves, they fell back with the other four.
In this leading pack were the BRM teammates, Geithen and Ganley, Peterson of March-Ford, Cevert of Tyrrell-Ford, and Hailwood of Suretees-Ford. The race would be decided on the final lap.
It was well known that in this slipstreaming race, you did not want to be leading on the final lap at the Curve di Lesmo because you would be passed on the back straights. As the drivers jockeyed for position, the Swedish Peterson held the lead heading into the final turn, the long 180 degree right hand Curva Parabolica. Peterson was guarding against an overtake on the outside from Cevert. What he didn’t cover was the inside. Gethin squeezed through on the inside and used his momentum to poke his car’s nose ahead of Peterson’s on the short run to the finish line. Gethin beat Peterson over the line by 0.011 seconds, a record that still stands. Cevert was third, 0.09 seconds back, followed by Hailwood (0.18 seconds) and Ganley (0.61 seconds). Five cars, separated by less than a second!
The 1971 Italian Grand Prix went down as one of Formula 1’s most iconic races. More highlights and video of that fabulous finish are here.