In the second of a two-part series, I look back on 10 of the best battles for the F1 world championship.
This post deals with the seasons 1989 to 2010:
1989 – Alain Prost vs Ayrton Senna
The Senna/Prost conflict got into full swing in 1989 by the second race, with Senna breaking a pre-race agreement between the two, and tearing away to win the race.
This ultimately ended in a season of tense racing and heated exchanges between the two, and more than a little mental warfare going on behind the scenes. Prost was disgusted at Senna’s tactics trhoughout the year, that he quickly announced his transfer from McLaren, and threw away his winner’s trophy at Monza.
Several engine failures for Ayrton had scuppered most of his chances for the title, but battled away to close the gap to 16 points with 2 races to go. Then Suzuka happened.
After taking pole position by an unbelievable 1.7 seconds, Ayrton’s lead was erased at the start, as Prost sliced past his teammate. It took Senna over 45 laps to reel in the Frenchman, but nevertheless he tried a move at the final chicane. Alain saw it coming though, and swerved into the side of Senna, taking both cars out on the spot.
It appeared as if Prost’s move hadn’t worked – Senna was given a push start, and rejoined the race. However, immediately afterwards, he was controversially disqualifed by the FIA for cutting the chicane after the crash, despite being stationary for over 30 seconds.
Both the crash and the FIA ruling remain one of the sport’s most hotly debated topics to this very day.
1994 – Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill
Michael Schumacher burst onto F1’s scene with a passion and determination that has rarely ever been surpassed in sporting history. However, his sheer drive to win pushed him towards some more-than-questionable manouvers.
1994 saw Benneton initially blast away from the rest of the field, with new tech changes allowing Schumacher to win the first 4 races in a row. In fact, from the first 7 races, Schumacher had won all but 1 of those events – and finished 2nd in that one.
What nearly destroyed his title ambitions was a mixture of his questionable tactics and his team’s pursual of victory. The Benneton team was accused of illegaly modifying their cars’ fuel filters, but avoided race bans for the matter. However, their car proved to be too low to the ground in Spa, and Schumacher’s win was rescinded.
Another one of Michael’s wins was taken away when he refused to serve a stop/go penalty and black flag at Silverstone. These bizarre actions allowed Damon Hill to capitalise, taking 3 wins in Michael’s absence, and closing the gap to just a single point by the final race in Adelaide. What happened next is still hugely controversial to this day.
Schumacher led the first half of the race comfortably, until a clip with the wall allowed Damon to get alongside entering the Flinders corner. The Benneton driver turned in sharply, smashing into the side of Hill, and then careered into the barriers. Despite retiring from the race, the damage was done – terminal wishbone damage ruled Hill our of the race and title hunt.
Despite being one of the most unsporting moves ever seen in F1, there was no penalty, and Schumacher was delighted with his first ever championship. But he tried the same stunt three years later…
2000 – Michael Schumacher vs Mika Hakkinen
While the last two title battles mentioned had sour endings, the 2000 season saw one of Formula 1’s most beautiful and memorable championship conclusions.
Two mechanical failures in the first two races severely hampered Mika Hakkinen’s third title attempts, but a successful mid-season campaign had put him within 6 points ahead of Schumacher with 4 races to go. Spa saw the best demonstration of Mika’s abilities, with one of F1’s most memorable overtakes – overtaking both Schumacher and Ricardo Zonta into Les Combes.
However, with three races to go, a catastrophic engine failure while chasing the Ferrari threw a spanner in the works. The title was Schumacher’s to lose.
In Suzuka, light drizzle across the afternoon created a tense and exciting race, and it was Michael who pipped Mika that day, to take one of the most emotional victory celebrations ever seen in F1. They had gone 21 years without a driver’s championship, but Ferrari were now back on top.
2008 – Felipe Massa vs Lewis Hamilton
2008 was wildly unpredictable in the first half of the season, as shown after Silverstone where Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica were all separated by 2 points.
The second half of the season saw Massa emerge as Hamilton’s challenger, although both drivers were rather inconsistent throughout the year. As well as a terrible start to the year, Felipe had by far the worst race of his career in Britain, spinning 6 times en route to 13th. Hamilton, meanwhile, had bizarre crashes in Bahrain and Canada, and a needless incident in Japan.
However, the dust soon settled, and the duo found themselves separated by 7 points entering the final race in Brazil. Nobody could have guessed how close the title battle would go.
Massa completely dominated the race, and cruised to victory. Hamilton, needing 5th to win, found himself passed by Sebastian Vettel with only 2 laps to go, and fell to 6th. Cue the most intense 2 laps of F1 history – in the changing conditions, Lewis slashed 6 seconds off the lead of the slowing Timo Glock, and overtook him on the final corner of the final lap.
Ferrari, having started celebrating when Massa crossed the line, were completely devastated. It was undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable moments in F1 history.
2010 – Lewis Hamilton vs Jenson Button vs Mark Webber vs Sebastian Vettel vs Fernando Alonso
An astonishing 6 different drivers led the 2010 world championship, and 4 of them were still in contention by the final race. A late comeback by Sebastian Vettel provided a dramatic twist to one of the best title fights ever.
Early reliability issues hampered Red Bull, allowing McLaren and Fernando Alonso to get the jump on the clearly faster team. A mid-season surge from Alonso saw him lead the championship from Korea, despite being nearly 50 points behind only 7 races beforehand.
Added to this was a fascinating inter-team rivalry at Red Bull, where suspected driver favouritism angered Mark Webber. A clash between him and Vettel in Turkey was dismissed as a racing incident, but it fractured the team all year long.
Jenson Button quietly dropped out of the title hunt in Brazil, leaving Hamilton, Webber, Alonso and Vettel to tussle it out in Abu Dhabi. Despite being the top two in the championship, both Alonso and Webber struggled, getting stuck in 7th and 8th for the entire race.
Before the race, Ferrari had written off Sebastian’s chances of title success, instead focusing on tactically restraining Webber. Having completely overlooked the younger Red Bull driver, Vettel romped to victory to snatch one of the most unlikeliest title wins in recent times.