With the 2020 Formula 1 season delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, let’s take a look back at the race that featured the most lead changes in the sport’s history.
Formula 1 hasn’t exactly been known for tight racing at the front of the field, nor has it been known for parity. In fact, just three teams have won any races over the course of the last seven-plus years, and not since a team other than these three teams have won has a race featured double-digit lead changes.
But believe it or not, the sport actually had some super competitive races many years ago, and that was highlighted by one race in particular at Autodromo Nazionale Monza more than five decades ago.
Three-time world champion Jackie Stewart won the 76-lap Italian Grand Prix around the 11-turn, 3.573-mile (5.750-kilometer) road course in Monza, Italy back on Sunday, September 12, 1965 by 3.3 seconds over second place Graham Hill, his teammate at Owen Racing Organization.
These two teammates were two of only four lead-lap finishers among the 23-car field, a field that had whittled down to nine drivers by the time the checkered flag flew.
But in between lap one and lap 76, the racing was far more competitive that these statistics would indicate, and it set a record that likely won’t be broken in the current era of Formula 1.
Only four drivers led the race, but they exchanged the lead an all-time record 42 times throughout the event, which lasted just over two hours. Stewart, who started in third place, led a race-high 36 laps. The only other leader among the drivers who finished the race was Hill, who led 15 laps.
Race polesitter Jimmy Clark of Team Lotus lead 21 laps after starting from the pole position. He was the final driver to retire with 13 laps remaining and was officially scored in 10th place. Fellow front row starter John Surtees of Ferrari was the race’s other leader, but he only led for four laps and retired after 34 circuits with a clutch issue.
With 42 lead changes, the race officially featured 43 different stints with a driver in the lead. Stewart led the longest stint at six laps from lap 58 to lap 63. Of these 43 stints, 24 lasted for only one lap and only seven lasted beyond two laps. The average lead stint lasted for only 1.77 laps.
Even during this era, however, Formula 1 wasn’t exactly known for races with a ton of lead changes. By comparison, no other race on the 10-race 1965 schedule featured more than five lead changes.
Monza, however, was known for its competitive action at the time. From 1963 to 1971, the nine races at the track averaged 22 lead changes.
But this 1965 edition of the race was still quite impressive, considering the Indianapolis 500 had been considered a Formula 1 race from 1950 to 1960, and this race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in Speedway, Indiana produced far more passing that the average Formula 1 race at the time — and still does today.
The 1960 Indy 500, won by Jim Rathmann, featured 30 lead changes, and the 1965 Italian Grand Prix blew that record away. Even for Indy by today’s standards, 30 lead changes is quite a few.
This was a new Indy 500 record at the time, and it took more than five decades for that record to fall. It fell in 2012 when three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti won a race that featured 34 lead changes.
This old record of 30 has been tied or bettered six times in the last seven years, but this era of racing at the Brickyard has been the most competitive in history by far, with an average of 40.13 lead changes per race over the last eight years.
Formula 1 is unlikely to see anything close to 42 lead changes in a race again, but with the new rules and regulations slated to go into effect ahead of the 2022 season (delayed from 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic), perhaps the sport is closer to its next single-race double-digit lead change total than it is to its most recent back in March of 2013.