Home Featured 25 years since the Macau Grand Prix’s closest ever finish

25 years since the Macau Grand Prix’s closest ever finish

by Formula Scout

Photos: Roger Gascoigne

An unbelievably small margin split first and second place in the 1998 Macau Grand Prix, 25 years ago today

When thinking of the iconic (rather than infamous) close finishes in sport history, does motorsport often come to mind? And who when thinking about victories decided by the tiniest of margins looks back at the 1998 Macau Grand Prix?

Formula 1’s 1971 Italian Grand Prix was won by a record 0.01 seconds, but an even smaller gap split Peter Dumbreck and Ricardo Mauricio in Macau 27 years later as they met the chequered flag with a gap of 0.003s (around 12cm) between them.

Like today, the Macau GP consisted of two races in the 1990s. However they were run as two legs of a single race meaning the final race time combined the two. Today there is a qualification race that sets the grid for the main race, and finishing a lap down in the first race does not mean you have to lap everyone in the second to be named the overall winner. But it did in 1998, and meant drivers far apart on track could in fact be ‘side-by-side’ on the race’s timing sheet.

Enrique Bernoldi won the 15-lap first leg by 2.392s over Robert Lechner, with Dumbreck 3.746s behind in third and setting a new lap record on the way. Mauricio was a further 4.305s back.

The next day they took on the next 15 laps, with Bernoldi’s leg one win putting him on pole. But the Renault power in his Promatecme-run car was not enough on Sunday to match the might (and more importantly top speed) of Japanese Formula 3 champion Dumbreck’s Toyota-powered and TOM’S-run entry and nor the Paul Stewart Racing run car of Mauricio which had Mugen power. While this year’s Macau grid had spec chassis and engines, back in 1998 there were four different car models used and five different engine suppliers.

Why couldn’t Bernoldi win when it really mattered, and what set up one of the closest finishes – but not photo finishes – in sport history? We’ll let the final podium trio (after leg two) tell you:

Mauricio going through Lisboa

1st: Peter Dumbreck

“I made quite a good start. I moved into the lead past Robert and Enrique and I thought then there was no problem but then I see this multicoloured car of Paul Stewart Racing looming in my mirrors and in my tow and trying to make a move on me.

“He went for the inside but I was guarding inside. And really I had to give him room because as the track moves out for the corner, we would have crashed I think. So, I let him have the space because I wasn’t so worried about him because I knew I was in front of him time-wise anyway, and then he put in some outstanding first few laps and just drew away from me and I just couldn’t believe what he was doing.

“I was pushing as hard as I could but within reason and not crashing. But then, you know, I really got my head down. My car came on nicely. And I was able to push hard and I was gauging the gap into some of the corners, how far behind and I could see I was catching that just gave me more power to push hard and I snuck it right at the end.

“I could see my team were giving me information on the pitboard and I can see that it was very close [on the combined time]. And also there was another person involved which was Enrique. And so the three of us time-wise were very close except on the track we were very far apart. So it was almost like a time trial. And we’re just really pushing qualifying laps every lap just flat out and I’m glad I came away the winner.”

2nd: Ricardo Mauricio

“It was very, very good race. I had a very good move at the start, a very good start. The set-up from the first race to the second race was much better. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a very good race in the first race, but the last one was pretty good. The time was very close with Peter but I feel very, very glad of the team and from the result I’m really really pleased.

“We had some aerodynamic changes and details from the first leg was not very good. I had some problems in the front-left tyres, so wasn’t very good with the set-up. So we did some aerodynamic changes was quite enough to make the time to come in the second one.

3rd: Enrique Bernoldi

“In the second race I did a not very good start but also the speed on the straight helps to don’t be on the lead on the first lap. I got good speed all the way to the circuit and to win the race but you know on the straight I couldn’t get past almost nobody. The car was really slow on the straight then if you see my car has a lot, a lot [more rear] wing than all the other cars and it was slower on the straight so the engine no good.

“[Third] is not bad as a result but it’s nothing new for me. I finished third last year. That was my first year. This year I came here to win and I almost got there. You know, I’m not disappointed.”


So what became of the three drivers after their success in Macau?

Having rounded off his dominant Japanese F3 title win with victory at Macau, Dumbreck set his sights on the step up to Formula Nippon (now known as Super Formula) for 1999. “I’d like to do a good job in FNippon and then from there move up to either Formula 1 or IndyCar,” he said after the race.

His move to SF only yielded seventh in the standings, sadly putting an end to his single-seater career only a year after his Macau triumph.

He is now perhaps best remembered for his spectacular somersault at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1999, when his Mercedes CLR took off down the Mulsanne Straight, pitching Dumbreck into the trees by the side of the track.

Mauricio moved up to Formula 3000 for 1999, initially with Super Nova before joining Dr Helmut Marko’s Red Bull-branded RSM Marko team. In 2001 he became one of the earliest members of the Red Bull Junior Team, although was dropped after two seasons.

After four win-free seasons in F3000, Mauricio dropped down a level to win the Spanish F3 title, before returning to his native Brazil where he enjoyed nine largely successful years in the country’s Stock Car series.

Like Mauricio, Bernoldi also stepped up to F3000 with RSM Marko, combining his racing with a testing contract for Sauber in F1. However, when Sauber opted for a young Kimi Raikkonen, straight out of Formula Renault, for a seat in 2001, against the wishes of Red Bull, Bernoldi was helped into Arrows for his F1 debut.

In two seasons at the top level he failed to score a point, and is largely remembered for holding up David Coulthard’s McLaren at Monaco in his rookie year. In a 2001 rookie intake of Fernando Alonso and Juan Pablo Montoya in addition to Raikkonen, it is maybe no surprise that Bernoldi failed to make a greater impression in F1.

Having been dropped by Arrows, he rounded off his career in a brought array of championships including World Series by Nissan, GTs, IndyCar and even Superleague Formula.

Final results [Leg 1+2] (30 laps)
Pos Driver Team Car Time
1 Peter Dumbreck TOM’S Dallara F398-Toyota 1h12m49.588s
2 Ricardo Mauricio Paul Stewart Racing Dallara F398-Mugen +0.003s
3 Enrique Bernoldi Promatecme Dallara F398-Renault +1.904s
4 Robert Lechner GM-DSF-F3 Team Dallara F397-Opel +11.841s
5 Darren Manning Speedsport F3 Racing Team Dallara F398-Mugen +14.847s
6 Hiroki Katoh Toda Racing Dallara F398-Mugen +21.261s
7 Andre Couto Prema Dallara F397-Opel +38.548s
8 Bas Leinders Van Amersfoort Racing Dallara F398-Opel +1m04.981s
9 Alex Yoong Alan Docking Racing Dallara F397-Mugen +1m06.597s
10 Paolo Montin Team Ghinzani Dallara F397-Fiat +1m09.455s
11 Narain Karthikeyan Carlin Dallara F397-Mugen +1m14.544s
12 Lucas Luhr MKL F3 Racing Dallara F397-Opel +1m29.466s
13 Shingo Tachi TOM’S Dallara F398-Toyota +2m07.931s
14 Daisuke Ito Skill Speed Dallara F398-Mugen +2m08.773s
15 Michele Gasarini EF Project Dallara F397-Fiat +1 lap
NC Tsugio Matsuda Nakajima Racing Dallara F398-Mugen +2 laps
Ret David Terrien Graff Racing Dallara F396-Opel +3 laps
NC Donny Crevels Prema Dallara F397-Opel +4 laps
NC Sebastien Bourdais La Filiere Martini Mk73-Opel +5 laps
Ret Luciano Burti Paul Stewart Racing Dallara F398-Mugen
Ret Tiago Monteiro Signature Dallara F396-Fiat
Ret David Saelens ASM Formule 3 Dallara F396-Renault
Ret Marcel Fassler La Filiere Martini Mk73-Opel
Ret Sebastien Dumez ASM Formule 3 Dallara F396-Renault
Ret Martin O’Connell Rowan Racing Dallara F398-Toyota
Ret Franck Montagny La Filiere Martini Mk73-Opel
Ret Christijan Albers Van Amersfoort Racing Dallara F398-Opel
Ret Kristian Kolby Fortec Motorsports Dallara F398-Mugen
Ret Andrej Pavivevic Fortec Motorsports Dallara F398-Mugen
Ret Peter Sundberg GM-DSF F3 Team Dallara F397-Opel
Fastest lap: Leg 1: Dumbreck, 2m15.727s   Leg 2: Leinders, 2m14.491s