Ten of the best Formula One title deciders: Part Two

Ten of the best Formula One title deciders: Part Two

The second half of VAVEL's look back at ten of the greatest title deciders in Formula One's rich history.

James Eagles

Following on from the first part of VAVEL's countdown of the 10 best title deciders in Formula One's history, let's delve into the races that made all who spectated shuffle to the edge of their seats and bite their nails. Will Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton's fight in Abu Dhabi this year trouble this list? All shall be decided come Sunday.

5. Schumacher goes over the Hill

LIX Australian Grand Prix, 13 November 1994

In a year that's viewed as one of the most traumatic and harrowing in F1's modern history, marred by the untimely deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and title favourite Ayrton Senna - in addition to bad injuries to Andrea Montermini and Karl Wendlinger (the latter spent time in a coma after a colossal shunt at Monaco); the sport needed a calm finish to 1994. It got anything but that. The start of Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill's rivalry provided sparks, controversy and marked a new World Champion.

The Adelaide street circuit was no stranger to a title showdown, see Part One for the epic battle between Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost for proof of that. The 1994 season was close, thanks to Schumacher being forced to sit out a two races earlier in the year for ignoring black flags at the British Grand Prix.

Having returned to Williams for a few races for commercial purposes, Mansell managed to take pole, ahead of Schumacher and Hill. But, the two title players made sure that that order didn't stay for long, with the German leading Hill. That order stayed until lap 36, when Schumacher made a mistake at the East Terrace corner, giving the wall a tap. Hill closed in, and tried to make his move on the inside of the next corner, but Schumacher closed the door and slammed into the side of the Brit, and was consequently lifted onto two wheels and headed straight to the tyre wall. He was out on the spot, but Hill soldiered on back to the pits, his left front suspension bent beyond repair. After a quick check over the damaged part, Hill was forced to retire, making Schumacher champion by default.

Hill bears down on the Benetton. | Photo: Getty Images/Mike Hewitt
Hill bears down on the Benetton. | Photo: Getty Images/Mike Hewitt

Many blamed Schumacher for the incident, others played it off as a racing incident. But, it was to be the first of seven world titles for the masterly German - most of them won in a more comfortable manner, it has to be said.

4. Senna exacts his revenge

XVI Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix, October 21 1990

The climax of the 1989 Formula 1 season was a bitter time for Senna, having lost the world championship to McLaren team mate Alain Prost in the most contentious of ways (see later).

When 1990 rolled around, Prost had moved to Ferrari, and both he and the Brazilian were once more locked in a heated fight, and whilst this may not have been the last race of the 1990 season - thus being the first of two anomalies in the list, it's impossible to bypass it.

Senna set to work in Qualifying, claiming pole over Prost by two tenths of a second. But, both the Brazilian and McLaren team mate Gerhard Berger, were unhappy with where the pole sitter had to start from, they believed that it was the dirty side of the circuit, and thus advantageous for the man sitting in second. The stewards agreed with the duo, but the much maligned FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre overruled the decision on the Saturday night. Furthermore, he told Senna that moving across the track to the racing line, thus crossing the yellow pit lane line was forbidden, adding to the McLaren driver's problems. Senna hit back, saying that he would do anything to challenge for the lead into Turn  1, if Prost got the better start.

He did just that. In the words of Murray Walker "It's happened immediately!" - Prost shot off the line ahead of Senna, but the McLaren driver charged down his inside, tagging his right rear tyre and eliminating them both.

As the dust settled, the two emerged from their respective wrecks and embarked on the trudge back to the pit lane, exchanging no words. In interviews post-race, Senna admitted his remorse over the event, saying that it wasn't how he planned to win the title; whilst a fuming Prost accused Senna of being "a man without value". He later said that he very nearly retired from the sport altogether in the wake of the race.

Revenge. | Photo: Getty Images/Pascal Rondeau
Revenge. | Photo: Getty Images/Pascal Rondeau

The two Benetton-Fords of Nelson Piquet and Roberto Moreno took a 1-2, with Aguri Suzuki clinching a superb third in his home race. It meant that along with Mansell retiring with driveshaft failure, Ferrari lost out on the 1990 Constructors' Championship to McLaren. And as of today, it is the last time a podium consisted of drivers who didn't hail from Europe. How about that?

3. The victory that never was

XV Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix, 22 October 1989

Again, not a last race decider, but it oozed drama, controversy and stunning racing all the same. Once more, Senna and Prost were locked in a battle for the title in the stunning McLaren-Honda MP4/5.

The Woking side dominated both Qualifying sessions, Senna on a different level to the rest of the field - 1.7 seconds quicker than second placed Prost. Gerhard Berger took third, 2.1 seconds off of Senna's aggregate time. However, Prost had opted for a more conservative, race setup for Qualifying, and was allowed to do so because of the McLaren's sheer pace in comparison to the chasing pack.

Prost got the better start - just as he did a year later, but this time, there was to be no first lap shenanigans. Senna had a dreadful getaway, almost being passed by Berger's Ferrari, but he held onto the second place, just. Prost stretched his legs, opening out a gap of eight seconds to Senna. With Berger and Mansell out of the race, the McLarens had no competition in sight, Prost backed off to allow Senna to catch him and use up his fresher tyres whilst trying to pass the Frenchman. On lap 46 however, Senna made his move. After tucking into the slipafter Spoon Curve, Senna swept through the fast 130R corner and sensed a gap on the inside of the Casio chicane, as Prost braked early.

Prost saw the Brazilian close and moved over under braking, thus hitting Senna and taking him out of the race - or so he thought.

The Frenchman was out, but Senna urged the marshals to help him rejoin the race - his car was running, but had front wing damage. Such was the superiority of the McLaren, that Senna had collided with Prost, stalled, stopped, got his engine running again, completed a whole lap and pit for a new wing - and yet he was only five seconds behind new leader, Alessandro Nannini in his Benetton.

Prost clambers out of his car, whilst Senna looks for help. | Photo: Getty Images/Pascal Rondeau
Prost clambers out of his car, whilst Senna looks for help. | Photo: Getty Images/Pascal Rondeau

Nannini's lead didn't last long. Senna charged towards him and passed him for the lead; it took him all of two laps. He won the race, well, initially. Senna was disqualified by FISA president Balestre for missing the chicane when rejoining the race after the incident with Prost. Thus, the talented Nannini took his first and last win in the sport - a helicopter crash a year later severing his right forearm and ending his racing career prematurely. 

Senna's exclusion meant that Prost won the title with one race to go.

It clearly rankled.

2. Vettel's Brazilian barnstormer

Formula 1 Grande Prêmio Petrobras do Brasil, 25 November 2012

Brazil 2012 was Fernando Alonso's third clear-cut chance to win his third world title. Third time lucky?

He had to overturn a 13 point deficit to Sebastian Vettel to do so, easier said than done. Especially when you qualify a disappointing eighth. But, as angry rain clouds drifted over towards Interlagos, the Spaniard was dealt a huge lifeline. After a poor getaway, Vettel had lounged down the order, and into a slippery Turn 4 collided with the Williams of Bruno Senna; replays showed that Senna was not to blame. Senna gave the Red Bull's left rear a hefty clout, luckily for the German, there was no permanent damage done - although he rejoined plumb last. Senna however, was out on the spot.

Alonso meanwhile had climbed up to third, and then the rain came, but not for long. Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg stayed out, whilst the rest of the field buckled and came in for a set of intermediates - before swiftly exchanging the compound for another set of slicks.

The Safety Car made an appearance, with Alonso and Vettel in fourth and fifth respectively - but upon the restart, Kamui Kobayashi made a move on the Red Bull, demoting the German to sixth. Alonso's team mate, Felipe Massa followed through. At the front, Lewis Hamilton had overthrown Hulkenberg for second, when the Force India half spun - but Hulkenberg charged back at the McLaren, and tagged the Briton at Turn 1, eliminating the McLaren and bringing out the Safety Car once again; and another rain shower. Alonso showed supreme car control to keep his Ferrari on the road at the greasy Turn 3. With Alonso second, he looked set to take his third title, but Vettel passed Michael Schumacher for sixth with a handful of laps to go to deny the Spaniard.

Vettel's charge denied Alonso. | Photo: Getty Images/Rainer W. Schlegelmilch
Vettel's charge denied Alonso. | Photo: Getty Images/Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

A rollercoaster of emotions, and Jenson Button's last Formula One win to date to top it all off. Also, with Schumacher calling it it a day at the end of the year, it was the last time we saw six World Champions on the same grid.

1. Down to the last lap

XXXVII Grande Prêmio do Brasil

There was only one contender for this spot, regardless of your personal opinion on the benefiter.

One of the most dramatic ends to a sporting season; move aside "Sergio AGUEROOOOOOO". And Felipe Massa fans, you may want to avert your gaze.

Leading by seven points, Hamilton's task looked simple - simply finish in the top five to take his first world title and banish the demons of his rookie year. He qualified in fourth, behind pole sitter Massa, Jarno Trulli and Kimi Raikkonen

Much like this year's thrilling spectacle, the race was delayed for 10 minutes by heavy rain, and when the race started, Massa led from Trulli, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen; whilst David Coulthard's last race ended with a first turn incident with Nico Rosberg's Williams, forcing Bernd Maylander to tip-toe round in the Safety Car.

After the Safety Car pulled in, some came in for dry tyres, others waited until lap 11. At the front, Massa and Vettel in his Toro Rosso traded fastest lap times, with Hamilton trailing in fourth. Massa was the first of the front-runners to make a scheduled stop, Hamilton followed him in the proceeding lap.

Light rain began to fall on lap 63, with Nick Heidfeld the first to gamble on intermediates in his BMW. The sparring Hamilton and Vettel paused their scrap for fourth as they came in for the intermediate compound three laps later. Massa followed suit one lap afterwards. That meant that the only man on dry tyres was Timo Glock in his Toyota, and he rose to fourth - demoting Hamilton to fifth (the minimum position he needed) and Vettel to sixth.

However, struggling for grip, Vettel sized up Hamilton in the tight second sector and edged through for fifth. With Massa leading, it meant the two contenders were level on points - the Brazilian ahead due to amassing more wins over the course of the season.

The 25 second champion. | Photo: Getty Images/Orlando Kissner
The 25 second champion. | Photo: Getty Images/Orlando Kissner

With three laps to go, there seemed to be no hope for Hamilton, until the dying seconds. Massa crossed the line to take a convincing victory, the Ferrari garage erupting with joy; but unbeknownst to them, both Vettel and crucially Hamilton had crawled past the sliding Glock at the final corner, meaning the Brit had done all he had to do. Joy turned to disbelief - the unnerving silence broken by a catatonic Scuderia mechanic head-butting the garage wall, a la Zinedine Zidane.

Massa stood atop the podium with tears welling in his eyes, passionately beating his chest, whilst Hamilton was held aloft in the McLaren garage. A contrast of emotions that summed up the day better than words ever could.

How could anything possibly top it?