F1 Flashback: Closest Title Finishes

The last and final race of the 2016 season will take place at the Yas Marina circuit at Abu Dhabi, as always. Since 2010, the drivers’ championship has always been in the bag by the time Formula One came to this city. Either Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton has had it all tied up beforehand, with Abu Dhabi serving as a mere formality on the calendar. 

But 2016 has been different. The two Mercedes drivers, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, are still battling. The title has not been won yet. Mercedes wrapped up the constructors’ championship for the third year in a row, but 12 points separate the two drivers. The crowd will finally get to see everything on the line in an action-packed and very exciting weekend of racing.

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On our run-up to what could be the most important race of the year, let’s take a look at some previous seasons in history that have gone down – like Ravi Shastri says – right to the wire!

2010

Perhaps the closest championship in recent memory, and the first time the new points-scoring (25 for first place, 18 for second and so on) was introduced. Sebastian Vettel won his first of four championships with Red Bull-Renault at Abu Dhabi by winning the race. But it wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Fernando Alonso, then with Ferrari, not for the first time led the standings heading into the final race by eight points over Vettel’s senior Red Bull partner Mark Webber.

2010

Vettel was 15 points behind Alonso heading into the final weekend, with little chance of overhauling the two ahead of him. Lewis Hamilton also had a slender chance, a further nine points behind Vettel. But it was a three-horse race, and all Alonso had to do was finish 5th if Vettel won, or finish second if Webber won. As it turned out, a miracle took place for the young German driver: Alonso finished 7th, and Webber 8th, with Vettel winning three of the last four races of the season and, with it, the championship by four points. Stunningly, he had never led the standings till this final race. He stole it from under the Spaniard’s nose. But three years before that, a Ferrari had stolen it similarly from under two warring McLaren noses. Once again, Alonso was a recipient.

2007

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Again, the most unlikely of the three heading into the final race at Brazil came away a first-time winner. Kimi Raikkonen, then with Ferrari, was third heading into the weekend – with rookie debutant Lewis Hamilton leading Raikkonen by seven points (a big margin in the old scoring system) and his McLaren-Mercedes partner Alonso three ahead of Raikkonen. Kimi, the Iceman, took the flag ahead of the two – with Alonso finishing only third and unfortunate Hamilton finishing 7th with a gearbox problem. Kimi won the title by a single point, 110, ahead of the two McLarens on 109. This has been the Finn’s only title till date.

2008

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Hamilton wasn’t heartbroken for long. 2007 wasn’t a flash in the pan. He came back next year stronger, and again found himself leading going into the final weekend in Brazil. Home favorite Felipe Massa had to win the race and hope for Hamilton to finish 6th or lower, being seven points behind the Brit. Massa did win in front of a capacity crowd, and had provisionally won the title too, with Hamilton starting the last lap in 6th place. Many viewers around the world had started celebrating for the Brazilian until….until….Hamilton overtook that man Timo Glock in the last lap to finish 5th. For the second year in a row, the title was decided by one point. This time, it was Hamilton in front, breaking millions of Brazilian hearts, who were sure they had their first champ after Ayrton Senna. It was not to be. It was the first of Hamilton’s three championships. He is now gunning for his fourth this weekend.

1984

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It was a McLaren season all around. Partners Alain Prost and Niki Lauda dueled with each other for most of the season, with McLaren winning the last seven races in a row. Lauda led by 3.5 points heading into the 16th and final race in Portugal. The odd margin was down to a memorable and wet Monaco Grand Prix earlier in the season, the 6th race, where the race was suspended midway and only half the winner’s points awarded to the drivers. Prost, who won, was given only 4.5 points (instead of 9 for the winner), which ended up making the difference in the end. Because Lauda, who won his third title at Portugal, finished 0.5 points ahead of his teammate by ending up second in the race. Prost won seven to Lauda’s five races, but the wily Austrian got lucky, and the Gods were with him after deserting him during the last season on this list.

1976

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Thanks to Ron Howard’s major motion picture “Rush”, based on the events and rivalry of this season between Brit driver James Hunt and Niki Lauda, we all know what happened in the most visual way possible. Lauda stormed through the first half of the season, way ahead in the championship by the 10th race in West Germany. He crashed in this race, with his car catching fire, and him suffering severe burns, almost losing his life (the priest was called to the hospital) over the next week. From here on, McLaren’s Hunt won four off the last six races, with Lauda only missing two races after Germany and bravely coming back and finishing 4th in Italy. He then gathered some more valuable points in the next two races, before heading to Japan for the final race of the season. He was still ahead by three points, and it was a rainy wet track again. This time, Lauda retired on his own account, refusing to race in hazardous conditions. Hunt had to finish third to win the title. He was fifth heading into the last two laps, but managed to overtake Clay Regazzoni’s Ferrari and Patrick Depailler because of their worn-out tires. Hunt won the championship by one point, denying Lauda his second. It was the only title Hunt would ever win.

2016 SCENARIO FOR ABU DHABI:

It’s simple! Nico Rosberg can afford to finish fourth if Lewis Hamilton wins the race – he will win the title because of more second-place finishes (because race wins will be tied too) despite tying on points. He cannot finish any lower than fourth if Hamilton wins. If he finishes in the top four, Rosberg will have won his first-ever drivers’ title.

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