Well folks, we’ve got a title fight on our hands. There are still many races to be run, yes, but there is no question that Mercedes domination of Formula One has come under heavy fire from the boys from Ferrari. We have no way of knowing if this one will come down to the wire or not, but if the first three races of the season are any indication, it just might.
The possibility of that fight has many F1 commentators and fans salivating. So, for this week’s pick six, I decided to do a combination with my normal History Lesson take a look at some of the best F1 title battles in history. That said, I decided to not include on this list the big ones that everyone remembers. I’m, of course, talking about anything involving Senna and Prost, the ’76 Hunt/Lauda battle, or the Schumacher Hakkienen duels of the late 90s.
- 1958 – Hawthorn vs Moss – 1958 was a seminal year for Formula One. It was the first year of the Constructor’s Championship and it was a continuation of the shift in the series from front engined to rear engined cars. But the real highlight of the season was the title duel between two English drivers, Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn. Moss was, and is, the greatest driver to never win a championship, so spoiler alert, he was beaten in 1958 by Hawthorn in his Ferrari. Moss, as was common at the time, actually shifted cars in the middle of the season, going from winning in a rear engined Cooper-Climax to a more traditional Vanwall. Going into the last race of the season, Moss had won three races to Hawthorn’s one. But multiple retirements allowed for Hawthorn to be in a position to clinch the championship in the final race. In that last race, held in Morocco, Moss had to win, set the fastest lap, and have Hawthorn finish in third or lower. Despite the best efforts of Moss (who did win the race and set fastest lap) and that of his teammates, who attempted to block Hawthorn in the latter stages of the races, Hawthorn went on to finish 2nd and thus won the championship from Moss by 1 point.
- 1964 – Hill vs Clark vs Surtees – When most people think of Formula One is the 1960’s, they think about the cars and the drivers that fought for the fiercely contested 1964 world championship. Jim Clark in his Lotus went against Graham Hill in a BRM and John Surtees in a Ferrari. The season kicked off with Graham Hill putting his mastery of Monaco on display for the world to see, winning the race is classic Mr. Monaco fashion. Clark then went on to win at Zandvoort, Spa, and Brands Hatch. Surtees and Ferrari suffered early on from reliability issues, which saw him retire from three of the first four races. However, as the season went on reliability improved and went on to win the 7th and 9th races of the year at the Nurburgring and Monza respectively. Hill took his second win of the year at Watkins Glen, setting up for a thrilling finale in Mexico in which any of the three drivers could theoretically win. During the race, Clark was forced into the pits with an oil leak on the last lap, effectively ending his hopes at defending his 1963 world championship. That left Hill and Surtees to battle it out. It looked as if Hill would win as Surtees was running third behind Dan Gurney and Surtees’s Ferrari teammate, Lorenzo Bandini. However, with a handful of laps to go, Bandini was ordered to let Surtees into 2nd, thus allowing him to win his first and only championship.
- 1974 – Fittipaldi vs Regazzoni – The Formula One world was thrown into upheaval at the tail end of the 1973 season, as three time world champion Jackie Stewart announced his sudden retirement, effectively leaving the door to the championship open for 1972 champion Emerson Fittipaldi. However, the Brazilian’s path to his second championship was anything but simple. At the first race of the year, in Argentina, Fittipaldi started off his season poorly after colliding with his McLaren teammate Mike Hailwood. He was forced into the pits and was resigned to 10th place. The win went, instead to Fittipaldi’s other teammate Denny Hulme. The season went along with a near record 7 drivers winning over the course of the season’s first 9 races. Although drivers such as Jody Scheckter, Niki Lauda, Ronnie Peterson, and Carlos Reutemann all claimed victories, it was Clay Regazzoni’s consistency that saw him enter into the last race of the year tied with Fittipaldi in points, despite only taking one win. The final race of the year, held at Watkins Glen, saw Fittipaldi and Regazzoni having less than ideal starting positions, back in 8th and 9th. Despite running near neck and neck for the first half of the race, Regazzoni began to struggle with tire issues and began to fall backwards. Fittipaldi on the other hand, drove a controlled race and finished fourth after several of retirements ahead of him promoted him up through the ranks. With Regazzoni finishing two laps down, Fittipaldi went on to score enough points to secure his second world championship.
- 1981 – Piquet vs Reutemann vs Laffite vs Jones – Set against the politics of Bernie Ecclestone and FOCA’s fights against FISA, the 1981 season was one that was one that was is often over looked, but bears a second glance. The season opened with Alan Jones defending his 1980 title in spectacular fashion with a win at Long Beach. From there, the season heated up with Jones’s teammate, Carlos Reutemann, taking victory in Brazil and Brabham’s Nelson Piquet taking the next two victories in Argentina and Imola. From there, Piquet’s season was sent into turmoil as he retired in the next four of five races. His retirements allowed for Ligier’s Jacques Laffite to go on run of podium that placed him in championship contention. Laffite would finally get his first win of the year at the penultimate race of the year in Canada. At that same race, Alan Jones retired, effectively eliminating him from championship contention. Going into the last race of the year, Laffite, Piquet, and Reuteman were all able to take the championship. Reutemann took pole position at the bizarre Caesar’s Palace Circuit. However, once the race started Reutemann began to fall back, leaving him open to Piquet who passed him on his way to a fifth place finish, enough for him to clinch his first championship. Defending champion Jones took the victory as a young Frenchman, Alain Prost, who had won three races earlier in the year for the Renault team, took second.
- 1986 – Mansell vs Prost vs Piquet – One of the lasting image of the 1986 season is the so called ‘Gang of Four’ picture of Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet, and Ayrton Senna. Despite Senna never really being in title contention with an underpowered Lotus, he nevertheless won two races over the course of the year in Spain and Detroit. The season also saw the first year of the FIA making turbochargers mandatory for all cars. The season did not start off well for defending world champion Alain Prost as both he and Nigel Mansell, driving for Williams, retired from the Brazilian Grand Prix. Prost came storming back, however, two races later in Imola and won again in Monaco. The season continued to see-saw back and forth as Mansell, Piquet, and Prost all took wins. The only other driver to take a victory that season, in fact, was Gerhard Berger driving for Benetton-BMW. The last race of the year, held at the Adelaide circuit in Australia, saw Mansell, Piquet, and Prost all enter with a chance at the championship. Mansell held the points advantage with 70 points, with Prost and Piquet 6 and 7 points behind him respectively. Mansell started on pole, but the first several laps saw all three title contenders (plus Senna) swapping for the lead. The three drives continued to fight a tremendous battle as the race went along until, on lap 23, Piquet spun. He recovered and pushed hard to pass Prost for 2nd place. But then disaster struck the Williams team. In one of the most famous videos in F1 history, Nigel Mansell’s tire exploded as he drove down the Duquetteville straight. His chances at winning the race and his championship hopes were dashed. Williams then, in response to the blown tire, brought Piquet into the pits, effectively gifting the lead to Prost. Piquet drove the wheels off of his car, ending roughly four seconds behind the frenchman, but it was too little too late. Prost took the victory and took his second world championship.
- 2010 – Vettel vs Webber vs Hamilton vs Alonso – While many will remember the 2010 season as the start of Red Bull’s four year domination of the sport, the truth of the matter is that the season itself was one that was contested down to the wire. Despite winning pole position and leading most of the race, Sebastian Vettel walked away from the first race of the year, Bahrian, off the podium, suffering from mechanical issues that allowed for Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa get past him. He retired again in Australia, allowing for McLaren’s Jensen Button to take the top step of the podium. Vettel regained his form in Malaysia, where he finished 1-2 with his teammate Mark Webber. Button and Webber combined to take victories over the next three circuits, setting the stage for the the now infamous Turkish Grand Prix. Webber led the race from pull, but Vettel was close on his tail. In a desperate attempt to overtake his teammate, Vettel dived down the inside of the Australian and the two collided. Tensions, which had already been reported as high within the team, were now boiling over. As the season continued the inter-Red Bull rivalry grew more and more heated, as Alonso and Hamilton added to their win count. Despite being down in the points, at the season’s summer break, Alonso seemed optomistic, stating that Ferrari needed only to finish on the podium to ensure a title. And that they did. With the exception of a costly retirement in Spa, the Spaniard won three of the last five races and finished third in the other two, setting up for one of the most exciting and mathmatically confusing finales in F1 history. Alonso, Webber, Vettel, and Hamilton were all able to take the championship in the final race of year in Abu Dhabi, although Hamilton’s chances were less than stellar (he needed to win and the other three contenders to essential not score points). As the lights went out Vettel raced away from pole and stayed there. Alonso was brought in an attempt to undercut the Red Bull driver, but ended coming out behind Renault’s Vitaly Petrov and, due to the horrible nature of the Abu Dhabi circuit, was unable to get past him. Webber too was a victim of bad pit strategy and saw him finish the race in 8th place, thus allowing for Sebastian Vettel to take his first world championship despite having never led the standings at any other point during the season.