With this year’s world title decider just over a week away we’re taking a look at the closest F1 championship battles in history.
1964 – John Surtees beats Graham Hill by 1 point
The first instance in which the title was decided by a point came in 1964 – and it’s not entirely straightforward. That season, only a driver’s best six results counted toward the championship. That made John Surtees champ; he had only finished in the points on six occasions and so kept all 40 of his points. Graham Hill finished as runner-up by a single point as he was forced to drop his fifth place finish at the Belgian Grand Prix. Using a standard scoring system the positions would have been reversed, with Hill triumphing by a single point over his fellow countryman.
1976 – James Hunt beats Niki Lauda by 1 point
When it was announced that a film would be made chronicling the 1976 F1 title battle, most agreed that the plot was so fanciful that moviegoers would find it difficult to believe. The contrast between protagonists Lauda and Hunt, the Austrian’s fiery accident and miraculous return two races later, the atrocious weather at the season finale – it already sounded like the plot of an over-the-top Hollywood film. At the showdown in Japan, Lauda retired after one lap due to the conditions. Hunt persevered; he thought he’d finished fourth and thus missed out, but the Brit actually crossed the line in P3. That made him world champion by a single point and wrote the final chapter in one of grand prix racing’s most enduring seasons.
1981 – Nelson Piquet beats Carlos Reutemann by 1 point
Heading into the final race of the 1981 season Williams driver Reutemann led the way on 49 points while Piquet was just one shy on 48. Reutemann seemed set to get the job done when he took pole, but he immediately lost the lead to team-mate Alan Jones. The Argentine quickly tumbled down the order while Piquet moved into the points and eventually finished fifth. Reutemann ended the day eighth having encountered gearbox trouble and an exhausted Piquet was the new world champion. It was the closest Reutemann would ever come to a title – and it could hardly have been closer.
1984 – Niki Lauda beats Alain Prost by half a point
The closest ever world title deficit saw McLaren team-mates Lauda and Prost separated by a mere half point. How did Alain amass the 0.5, you ask? At the rain-soaked Monaco Grand Prix, Prost was leading but waved to the clerk of the course to have the race stopped. As well as the sodden conditions, some believed Prost was nervous about the pace of Ayrton Senna, who was rapidly catching in his Toleman. Sure enough, the red flag was waved, the race was stopped and half points were awarded, with Prost getting 4.5. The great irony is that, had it gone full distance, the extra points would have secured him the title, even if he had finished second. Lauda had spun off a few laps earlier, but in the end the Austrian emerged victorious.
1986 – Alain Prost beats Nigel Mansell by 2 points
Though separated by a comparatively hefty two points, the 1986 season is an essential addition to this list. Heading into the final race in in Australia, Williams driver Mansell led McLaren’s Prost by six points, with the second Williams of Piquet a further point back. Mansell started from pole but dropped down the order. However with less than 20 laps to go he had worked his way back up to third – which would have been enough to secure him the title. Then, in one of the most famous moments in F1 history, his right-rear tyre exploded, eliminating the Brit on the spot. Piquet was forced to pit to avoid a repeat on his car, allowing Prost to grab the lead. The Frenchman just hung on to win, despite a late charge from Piquet. The result saw Prost take an unlikely second world title by two points from Mansell, with Piquet one further back in third
1994 – Michael Schumacher beats Damon Hill by 1 point
Schumacher had dominated the early part of the championship, but mid-season technical controversies saw him disqualified and then banned from a total of four races. That gave Hill a route back into the title tussle, and by beating Schumacher to the win in Japan was able to head to the finale just one point behind the German. Then came their infamous collision in Australia, which put Schumi out on the spot and saw Hill limp into the pits to retire. Michael was world champion by a single point – and against a backdrop of significant controversy.
2007 – Kimi Raikkonen beats Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso by 1 point
Having looked a cert for the title with two rounds to run, Hamilton suffered a DNF in China and then a disastrous Brazilian Grand Prix. That allowed Ferrari driver Raikkonen to clinch the championship by a single point from the Brit and Alonso, with the two McLaren drivers finishing level on 109 points. Lewis was classified as runner-up on a countback, but that was scant consolation. However he would have his moment 12 months later in an even closer encounter.
2008 – Lewis Hamilton beats Felipe Massa by 1 point
Though not the closest in terms of points, the 2008 showdown between Hamilton and Massa was the most dramatic in the sport’s history, with the destination of the title changing during the final 30 seconds of the race. The scenes of celebration in the Ferrari garage, followed by absolute dejection when it became clear Hamilton had snatched the championship by a whisker, remain etched into the minds of all who saw them. For Lewis it was jubilation just a year after his 2007 disaster; for Massa, the heartbreak was plain to see when he took to the podium in tears.