My favourite F1 showdown memories

Hamilton launches his doomed attack on the Ferraris at Interlagos last year

Hamilton launches his doomed attack on the Ferraris at Interlagos last year

There’s nothing like a championship-deciding, last-race-of-the-season nail-biter.

This year we have the added piquancy of one of the title contenders racing on home ground – something I’ve never seen in almost 20 years of watching Grands Prix.

Here are some of the most memorable title deciders for me – what’s yours?

2003 Japanese Grand Prix – Michael Schumacher vs Kimi Raikkonen

This was memorable for being simply bizarre. No way should Kimi Raikkonen have been in with a shout of the title but a stirring drive in the rain at Indianapolis kept him in the hunt.

The cards were hugely stacked in Schumacher’s favour as he held a nine-point advantage going into the final race. But a damp qualifying session left him 14th on the grid, and from there he almost contrived to throw the title away.

First he lost his front wing, then brother Ralf came millimetre-close to taking him out. All the while Raikkonen was running second behind Rubens Barrichello and up until the dying laps a problem for the Brazilian might have swung things to Raikkonen. It didn’t of course, but seeing the new champion roll in eighth was a most peculiar way to decide the title.

2003 F1 season history

2000 Japanese Grand Prix – Michael Schumacher versus Mika Hakkinen

OK, not the last race of the season, but still a classic.

This was one to savour. Schumacher and Hakkinen were at peak form in 2000, and a few months before the title-deciding race at Japan I’d been at Spa to witness their amazing duel first-hand. Ferrari’s historical baggage – then 21 years without a driver’s title – made it even more special.

As Journeyer wrote a few weeks ago, Suzuka has been the scene of some tremendous championship encounters. In truth, this was not its finest. The tension was incredible, but the final move that decided the title – a shuffle in the pits – left me a bit cold.

No, I was never a great fan of Michael Schumacher. But you’d need a heart of ice to not warm to the shouts of joy when he finally broke the Scuderia’s losing streak.

2000 F1 season history

2007 Brazilian Grand Prix – Kimi Raikkonen vs Lewis Hamilton vs Fernando Alonso

The tension was off the scale last year. The bitterness between McLaren and Ferrari over spygate was only surpassed by the open hostility between McLaren duo Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Alonso even had an FIA observer in his garage after he’d complained he didn’t trust McLaren enough to give him a shot at beating Hamilton.

When Hamilton fumbled the first lap and fell to eighth it was looking a bit Suzuka ’03 again. Still the required fifth place that would make him champion seemed well within his grasp.

But a gearbox problem for the McLaren on lap eight changed the complexion of the race entirely: Hamilton plunged down the field to 18th, and suddenly Raikkonen, third going into the race, was poised to seize the title. Hamilton charged through the field but, his plight worsened by a strategic error, only made it to the lower reaches of the points.

Even then the increasingly fraught battle between Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld left you wondering if they were about to crash into each other and make Hamilton champion. It never happened, and Raikkonen pulled off a stunning turnaround to claim the title having trailed Hamilton by 17 points two races earlier.

Then came the nonsense over the Williams and BMW fuel temperatures which is best overlooked…

Brazilian GP 2007 review: Raikkonen champion by a point

1997 European Grand Prix – Michael Schumacher vs Jacques Villeneuve

For my money still the most extraordinary title decider I’ve ever seen. It was a pure, no-holds-barred contest between two title rivals every lap of the way – until that fateful collision.

Schumacher led at the start, Villeneuve in the Williams giving chase. But as the race progressed the Williams began to loom larger in the Ferrari’s mirrors. Suddenly it fell back – Villeneuve was temporarily obstructed by Norberto Fontana, who later confessed he’d been ordered by Ferrari’s Jean Todt to make life difficult for Villeneuve.

Villeneuve reeled the Ferrari in again. It was later suggested Schumacher knew there was a problem with his Ferrari. Villeneuve wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass him by – and dived down the inside of the Ferrari at Curva Dry Sack…

We all know how this story ends, so let’s pause for and consider how rare it is to see an F1 title deciding by a passing move between two rivals. On the few occasions it has, it usually ended in tears. This time was no exception, but it remains a rare and exceptional championship-deciding moment.

Watching the onboard footage of those famous seconds gives two impressions – one, that Schumacher brazenly swerved in to hit Villeneuve. The second, that is he had only stayed his hand, Villeneuve might well have run wide (he already had two wheels on the grass) and Schumacher could have taken the place back…

Instead the wounded Williams scrabbled around the corner while Schumacher’s F310 spun its rear wheels hopelessly in the gravel. On ITV Martin Brundle, clearly revelling in the schadenfraude, exclaimed: “that didn’t work Michael – you hit the wrong part of him my friend”.

Villeneuve still had a race to finish and here events took an even more extraordinary turn as Williams waved the white flag to McLaren, letting both their drivers pass by for a one-two. But the title, incredibly, went to Villeneuve.

1997 F1 season history

What are your favourite F1 season memories? Share them below…

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21 comments on My favourite F1 showdown memories

  1. Atticus said on 24th October 2008, 12:46

    well i follow f1 since 1996 and i think the most interesting season was 2005.

    i literally couldnt believe raikkonen’s misfortune. he was the fastest driver in that season by miles – and mclaren and mercedes screwed it up for him.

    imola – suspension problem when he led the race comfortably.

    france, uk, japan, italy – 10-place-penalty due to the lack of rliability of his engine. still he made 29 points from those four races which he could have won easily (in fact he did it in japan with that fantastic last lap overtake).

    germany – he went off on lap 36 with a mechanical problem and he was the only driver retiring on the home event of mercedes. shame.

    it was strange because in most cases it is the fastest car&driver (or at least nearly the fastest) wins the championship. but in 2005 the renault and alonso was clearly second in terms of speed.

  2. schumi the greatest said on 24th October 2008, 13:41

    What about 98? schumacher stalling on the grid, charging back up to third before his tyre blew.

    97 was even more starnge because villeneuve, schumacher and frentzen all qualified with the exact same time to the thousandth.

  3. Ted Tofield said on 24th October 2008, 14:02

    I enjoyed 1998 as well, mostly because thanks to a friend who worked at Virgin we got free flights from the UK to Japan!
    I went with two friends, one is half Finnish and the other a rabid Tifosi……

    Great stuff!

  4. John Spencer said on 24th October 2008, 14:16

    I watched the Australian Grand Prix in what seemed like the middle the night (UK time) back in 1986. It was the last time, prior to 2007, that three drivers were in with a shout going into the last race. Back then Williams-Honda were dominant, with Mansell and Piquet, two of the title contenders, locking out the front row.

    The third contender, Alain Prost, was back in fourth, nearly 1.3 seconds off the pace. If that sounds slow, the Force India of its day – Osella – was up to 9 seconds off the pace.

    It should have been Mansell’s race and Mansell’s year, but for an exploding tyre that left him wrestling for control down the back straight. Prost kept his steady head and finished ahead of Piquet to take the win and the championship.

    His car ran out of fuel after he took the chequered flag (or maybe he just stopped, I don’t recall) – I’ll never forget the shot of him jumping out of his McLaren and slapping his oversized helmet with his spindly little arms in sheer amazement at his good fortune.

    Never a Mansell fan, I thought it was hilarious.

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 24th October 2008, 14:17

    Ted – ah, but who were you supporting…

  6. Precisely twenty years ago, my hero has stalled his car at the Japanese GP start and was dropped to the 14th place. His nemesis at that time, and his main competitor for the championship, took the lead. Our hero desperately needs to win the race to be champion. On the 20th lap he was second and in the lap 28 he passed his main competitor, took the lead and went on to win the race.

    A superb team, a superb car, a superb driveā€¦

    The best F1 showdown ever!

  7. Ted Tofield said on 24th October 2008, 14:38

    Keith,

    I was supporting Hakkinen, so when Schumacher stalled we cheered mightily and when he picked up that puncture we danced like idiots in the stands!

    we also laughed at Ralf Schumacher as his engine detonated in the biggest possible way coming out of the last turn…right in front of us! :)

  8. stevepCambsUK said on 24th October 2008, 14:41

    For me Damon hill winning in 1996 was the best year ever, the first time a father and son had both won the World Championship. To answer your question 1994 when Hill and Schumacher ‘touched’ or did Michael deliberately cut him up?. We all know what happened next, Michael won by a point and Damon retired half a lap later in the pits in tears tho graciuosly showed Michael respect after the race. Will never forget that year. Michael dedicated the Championship to Senna

  9. Mussolini's pet cat said on 24th October 2008, 14:58

    ’94, Schumacher bottled it. Hill was chasing him down lap after lap…Yeh, we know what happened next. Schumacer hit the wall then next corner rammed Damo… Never like the German since that day.

  10. Chris Johnson said on 24th October 2008, 15:51

    1980 Canada — I remember thinking Jones deliberately pushed Piquet off, and I wanted to reach into the TV and kill Jonesy.

    1983 South Africa — I was holding my breath for the final 20 or so laps thinking Piquet had a problem and wouldn’t finish. The last part of that season was a rocket fuel miracle.

    1986 Australia — maybe the most exciting race ever. I actually felt a little sorry for Mansell for a second.

    1997 Jerez — even though I wanted a Ferrari champion, Schumacher confirmed all of my suspicions in that race.

  11. 1997- great testimony to the level schumacher would play to become world champion, however backfired deservedly on him. A punishment for 94 adelaide. My first chance to see mclaren win and Hakkinen was my favourite driver.

    1998 – Schumacher stalls, Hakkinen my childhood hero just has to finish to become world champion as Schuey has a puncture. Great driving from schuey anyway to get back up the field.

    1999 – Suzuka again and this time irvine, but does anyone remember or have a video of that mega start hakkinen made to stun his rivals. Best f1 race start ever.

    2000 – Suzuka again!Light rain and a great quick pitstop from ferrari to get schumacher ahead of hakkinen. I was annoyed and upset as i’m a mclaren fan but a deserved championship for ferrari and schuey.

    Those are my top three favourite showdowns! I have more.

    Unfortunately now we have moved to Tilkedrome Fuji for the time being however Suzuka will be back next year.

    At least the last race is at a track everybody enjoys INTERLARGOS which is my favourite track on the calender.
    I wonder what Abu Dhabi will produce, probably a boring race despite the fact i hate being negative.

  12. Adam D said on 24th October 2008, 19:00

    My favourite showdown was probably 1999, a classic season. 6 different race-winners and if it wasn’t for Schumacher being injured i think he’d hav won that years title considering how strong Irvine was even without Schuey being injured.

    The McLarens that year were close and DC was unlucky not to be fighting for the title. Irvine as we know was unlucky and if it wasn’t for some crap ferrari pit/mechanics he’d have won that years title after they cost him valuable points in the European Grand Prix (in which my hero Johnny Herbert won in a Stewart). Hakinnen was 5th in that race with Minardi’s Marc Gene 6th getting the all valuable last point. Even Jordan’s Frentzen was close to winning the title, winning 2 races taht year.

    The Japanese GP which was the finale wasn’t a classic as Hakinnen just romped it from the start but as in the way that that season rolled into its finish id say it was memorable

  13. 2003 was the first showdown I ever watched. I was cheering on for Raikkonen. During the race, there was always a feeling in my heart that somehow, Raikkonen would do the impossible. He didn’t quite manage it, but Schumacher looked like he didn’t really want to win the championship.

    I’m surprised no-one has mentioned the 2006 championship showdown, even though to be honest, it never really was one. The way Schumacher charged through the field after his puncture proved why he is a seven-time champion.

    2007 will always be THE championship showdown for me because it looked like Raikkonen’s chances were impossible in China, let alone Brazil, but I thought, if Kimi did it in China, he could do it in Brazil. I needed to record that race, just because, and thank godness I did.

    My first moment of glee was when Hamilton slowed down with a gearbox problem. (Unfortunately, it was during the adverts.) And then my second moment of glee, was when Raikkonen did the impossible, won the championship from nowhere.

  14. Terry Fabulous said on 24th October 2008, 22:58

    Not the final race But…

    Suzuka 1989
    90 minutes of incredible tension as Senna and Prost duked it out at the top of their games. You knew there was going to be a lunge into the chicane at some point and when it came, they had the most dramatic low speed collision I had ever seen.
    Murray Walker – “OH, It’s happened!”
    Senna actually put his hand to his head when he realised what had happened while Prost looked across and shrugged his shoulders. Then Senna rejoined, roared around a lap without his front wing, pitted, rejoined and overtook Nannini AT THE SAME PLACE HE HAD JUST CRASHED!!!
    He took the chequered flag to send it to a final race only for the FIA to take it away.

    My most memorable day in F1 ever.

  15. Oliver said on 24th October 2008, 23:55

    I won’t classify the 2007 championship as a showdown, because of events that had taken place off track. There were just too much pressure on Mclaren, one for the spy drama, and the other from the Spanish angle. In a way, it was proper the Ferrari won, but that they deserved it, not really.

    @1994:- Despite the fact it was later revealed, Benetton cheated their way to the title, as suspected by Senna before he died, I’d still have been embarrassed if Hill had won that title. The frivolous penalties handed to M. Schumacher that year was just too much. He could have wrapped the the win mid season.

    @2003:- If Kimi had won that years title, even giving for consistency, it would have seemed strange, with just one win to his name, compared to six for his rival.

    For me the 1999 Showdown was memorable. Ferrari had the opportunity to finally end their drivers championship drought. Unfortunately, the man likely to give them the title was the number 2 driver and loud mouth. Who had openly expressed elation at his teams mates accident and forced absence.
    But we know Schumacher had chosen Irvine to be his team mate. Unfortunately he had underestimated the media’s ability to destroy morale within a team, fueled on by a seemingly handicapped number 2 driver.
    As history will tell, it was with a bitter sweet sigh of relief , despite not winning a drivers title for yet another year, that the number 2 driver was not the one to give Ferrari the first drivers title in over 2 decades. The loyalty Ferrari showed to Micheal Schumacher, would then go on to be rewarded many times over for the next 5 seasons.

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