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Formula 1

The 10 Best F1 Title-Deciding Races Ever

Was Verstappen and Hamilton's final lap shootout the best finish to an F1 season ever? (Photo: Michael Potts)

The Formula 1 world championship has seen numerous intense title battles over the years, and it’s extraordinary to note that, throughout long seasons of up to 22 races, the championship has been decided at the final race on 30 occasions.

The 2021 season marked only the second time in history that two drivers contending for the championship entered the final race tied on points – the other instance being Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni in 1974. Given all the twists and turns of an F1 season, from mechanical failures to racing incidents and regular controversies, nothing is more exhilarating than a nail-biting title decider.

Memorable Championship Deciders

A championship doesn’t need to come down to the final race to deliver high drama. Legendary names in motorsport such as Juan Manuel Fangio, James Hunt, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, and Max Verstappen have all claimed titles in dramatic circumstances. Here, we highlight the ten most thrilling title-deciding races in F1 history.

2008 Brazilian Grand Prix: Hamilton’s Last-Lap Glory

This is the one everyone remembers. Few season finales have been as thrilling as the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, where the championship was decided by an overtake on the very last corner of the last lap. The stage was set with Lewis Hamilton, in his second season, contending against the seasoned Felipe Massa. McLaren versus Ferrari. The showdown took place at Interlagos, Massa’s home track. Despite needing to score heavily and hope for Hamilton’s misfortune, Massa seemed poised for victory. Rain in the closing laps saw Hamilton struggling while Massa won, momentarily claiming the title. However, a dramatic pass on a slowing Timo Glock secured Hamilton’s first championship.

1986 Australian Grand Prix: A Three-Way Battle

The 1986 Australian Grand Prix featured an unprecedented three-way battle for the title. Ayrton Senna, while in contention, fell out of the race early. The Williams teammates, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, along with Alain Prost, were left to vie for the championship. Mansell seemed to have the title in hand until a tire blowout at 180mph ended his hopes. Piquet was then called in for a tire change, allowing Prost to clinch the title in dramatic fashion.

1989 Japanese Grand Prix: Senna vs. Prost

The 1989 Japanese Grand Prix is infamous for its lasting impact on F1 history. The McLaren teammates, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, were embroiled in a fierce rivalry. Prost, leading the championship, collided with Senna at the chicane. Prost retired, believing he had won the title, but Senna continued after a push-start. Although he crossed the finish line first, Senna was disqualified for bypassing the chicane, and Prost was crowned champion amid a storm of controversy.

2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Vettel’s Unlikely Victory

Sebastian Vettel’s 2010 championship win in Abu Dhabi was unexpected. Fernando Alonso led the championship, and Vettel needed an extraordinary result to win. Although Vettel led from the start, Alonso, and Mark Webber found themselves stuck behind Vitaly Petrov, unable to pass. This allowed Vettel to take the victory and the title while Alonso finished a frustrating seventh.

1976 Japanese Grand Prix: Hunt’s Rain-Soaked Triumph

The 1976 Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji was held in treacherous conditions. Niki Lauda retired early due to the dangerous weather, while James Hunt led for much of the race. As the track dried, Hunt’s tires began to falter, causing him to lose positions. He managed to claw back to third in the final laps, securing the title by a narrow margin.

1997 European Grand Prix: Villeneuve vs. Schumacher

The 1997 European Grand Prix saw Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher qualify with identical times. Schumacher led for much of the race, but Villeneuve executed a decisive overtake. Schumacher collided with Villeneuve in a desperate attempt to maintain his lead, ultimately retiring from the race. Villeneuve limped home in third to clinch the title, while Schumacher was later disqualified from the championship standings for his actions.

2007 Brazilian Grand Prix: Räikkönen’s Remarkable Comeback

Lewis Hamilton’s rookie season ended in heartbreak at the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix. Leading the championship, he encountered a series of misfortunes, including a gearbox issue, that dropped him down the order. Kimi Räikkönen seized the opportunity, winning the race and the championship as Hamilton’s recovery to seventh place proved insufficient.

2012 Brazilian Grand Prix: Vettel’s Resilient Drive

In the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel needed to finish third or higher to secure the title. After a first-lap collision left him at the back of the field, Vettel fought through changing weather conditions and a chaotic race to finish sixth, enough to beat Fernando Alonso to the championship by a narrow margin.

1964 Mexican Grand Prix: Surtees’ Last-Gasp Victory

The 1964 Mexican Grand Prix was a three-way showdown involving John Surtees, Graham Hill, and Jim Clark. Clark led the race but suffered a mechanical failure on the final lap. Surtees’ Ferrari team orchestrated a last-lap position swap, allowing Surtees to finish second and win the championship by a single point over Hill.

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Verstappen’s Controversial Win

The 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered for its dramatic and controversial conclusion. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen entered the race tied in the championship. A late-race safety car bunched up the field, and a controversial decision by race control allowed Verstappen, on fresher tires, to pass Hamilton on the final lap, securing his first title and sparking ongoing debates.

These moments encapsulate the excitement and unpredictability that make Formula 1 one of the most thrilling sports in the world.

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Chief Motorsport & Formula 1 Correspondent

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