Ranking the Top 10 Season Finales
This weekend’s season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix is sure to get the pessimists riled up about the 2013 Formula One season.
Sebastian Vettel’s relentless charge to a fourth successive title, coupled with Red Bull’s domination of the Constructors’ Championship, means there are no champions pots to be fought over this weekend.
While there is an ongoing fight for second in the team standings, Mark Webber’s F1 farewell and a host of minor sub-plots to be played out at Interlagos, the feeling among many fans is that 2013 has been a very underwhelming season by the sport’s modern standards.
That will only be heightened if Vettel clinches a record-equalling ninth consecutive win.
Inevitably, comparisons will be drawn to last year when title rivals Fernando Alonso and Vettel played out a thriller in front of a world stage.
Also in Brazil, people will look to the thrilling finales of 2007 and 2008 and use them as justification for labeling 2013 a boring year.
While that’s up for debate, what is not is that Interlagos has indeed hosted some fantastic season finales down the years. In fact, F1 in general has often spoilt fans by offering entertaining climaxes.
But what are the best? B/R has endeavoured to work it out.
As ever with lists such as these, there are worthy candidates who failed to make the cut.
They include the 1980 United States Grand Prix East at Watkins Glen, the last F1 race to be held at America’s most prestigious of GP venues. It didn’t decide the title, but newly crowned champion Alan Jones produced a stirring drive to recover from a poor first lap and rise from 14th to first by the race’s end.
Less rousing was the drive by Michael Schumacher in 2003 to clinch the world title over McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen. Schumacher had won more races than the Finn over the course of the year, but F1’s new points system had given Raikkonen—once a winner and six times a runner-up throughout the season—very much an outside hope heading into the finale in Japan nine points adrift.
Schumacher fought to a solitary point in eighth after starting 14th, but Raikkonen finished second, which was not enough to win the title anyway.
Vettel’s maiden championship triumph came after Alonso and Webber had muted races, but despite being a three-way fight, the 2010 finale lacked the real edge of some on this list.
A superb 1983 South African Grand Prix also falls by the wayside. Alain Prost’s Renault led into the final round, but the Frenchman’s lead had been whittled down by Brabham’s Nelson Piquet in the final few races and, despite Prost’s best efforts to get his Renault team to increase development, Piquet nicked it with second after Prost retired.
10. Brazil 2007
It’s difficult to fault how Kimi Raikkonen won his sole (so far) world championship, but those looking to critique the Finn will argue the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso lost the title and the Ferrari man picked up the pieces.
When Hamilton misjudged Turn 3 on the opening lap, he set himself up for a long afternoon. Delayed further by a short gearbox issue, ultimately neither he nor Alonso could rally to beat the dominant Ferraris, with Felipe Massa moving aside for Raikkonen to win and claim the title.
9. Jerez 1997
Michael Schumacher led Jacques Villeneuve by just a solitary point heading into the 1997 season finale.
It was the Williams team that started on pole, but Schumacher had the initiative in the race’s early stages, beating his rival off the line and leading the first half of the race.
At two-third’s distance, Villeneuve dived up the inside. But Schumacher turned in (when the Canadian was ahead), and the pair made contact, ending Schumacher’s race.
Villeneuve continued and became champion, but ceded the lead late on to Mika Hakkinen, allowing the McLaren driver his first win in Formula One. Schumacher was later excluded from the world championship.
8. Australia 1994
That was not the first time Schumacher had made contact with someone to decide the world championship, but unlike at Jerez, when he did so in Australia three years earlier he was the beneficiary.
Like the ’97 season, Schumacher was leading the world championship by one point heading into the decider in 1994, with another Williams in hot pursuit—that of Damon Hill.
Schumacher started on pole and led, but just before half-distance (and with Hill closing in), he hit the wall and damaged his car.
Hill attacked, Schumacher turned in and the pair collided. Both cars retired, and Schumacher was crowned champion.
7. Portugal 1984
It looked for much of the 1984 Grand Prix of Portugal that Alain Prost would claim a maiden world title.
He was doing what he needed to do (winning), and points leader Niki Lauda was where Prost needed him to be (third). The Frenchman had Nigel Mansell as a buffer, and all was rosy.
But when Mansell suffered a brake failure and retired, Lauda inherited second and held it to the flag. In doing so, he wrapped up a dramatic and astounding third world championship just two and a half years after returning from retirement.
A disconsolate Prost would have to wait another year for his first title.
6. Brazil 2012
The epic 2012 Vettel and Alonso battle was breathless for several laps after Vettel was spun on the opening tour in Brazil last year.
It looked as though Alonso would take an unlikely title, but that was quickly abated as Vettel’s damaged Red Bull recovered back through the field.
The team stressed after the race that the car was about as damaged as it could be without needing to be retired, yet Vettel did what he needed to do to claim a third successive title.
5. Japan 1976
The James Hunt/Niki Lauda rivalry spawned a major Hollywood blockbuster, and rightly so.
Their respect and burning desire to beat one another drove each to new heights in 1976. You might think fifth in this list is harsh, but the manner in which the finale played out is underwhelming in one area: Lauda wasn’t in the race.
He pulled off early on, citing the horrific Fuji conditions for his retirement. However, it was still not a foregone conclusion for Hunt.
He needed to pit for new tyres and lost the third place he needed to win the title. However, with fresh tyres, he scythed up the order and, despite a late confusion about the final result, was eventually classified third and champion.
4. Las Vegas 1981
The story of Formula 1’s Las Vegas finale in 1981 is an incredible one. Caesars Palace was a fitting backdrop, and its lovable-but-poor car park-based circuit was a sensational host.
The enigmatic Carlos Reutemann was the title favourite and qualified on pole, but Nelson Piquet was just one point behind and Jacques Laffite a further five points in arrears.
Come the race, Reutemann flopped and finished a lapped eighth while Williams teammate Alan Jones won. Though Piquet ceded fourth to Nigel Mansell in the closing stages, he held on to finish fifth, one place ahead of Laffite.
Piquet thus earned his first world title, but it was incredibly difficult as the Brazilian had suffered heat exhaustion and required 15 minutes after the race to be suitably revived to celebrate his triumph.
3. Australia 1986
Another three-way decider, another thrilling finale.
The Williams team of Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet had been the fastest cars all year, but Alain Prost had stayed in the hunt with his less rapid McLaren.
Mansell, who led Prost by six points and Piquet by seven, started from pole but was passed by Ayrton Senna, Piquet and Keke Rosberg.
Piquet briefly led before Rosberg assumed control. Then, Piquet spun, and Prost picked up a puncture. Despite his poor start, and even after both had recovered and re-passed Mansell, he was looking strong in the third place he needed to win the title because Rosberg suffered a right-rear tyre failure.
With 18 laps remaining, Mansell’s left-rear tyre exploded and damaged his rear suspension. He careened off down an escape road into retirement, Piquet was called into the pits by Williams for fear of a similar problem and Prost claimed the race and back-to-back titles.
2. Brazil 2008
For all of about 30 seconds, it looked as though Felipe Massa had clinched an emotional world championship crown with victory on home soil at Interlagos.
It was a topsy-turvy race in which rain fell and a rookie Sebastian Vettel passed points leader Lewis Hamilton and dumped him out of title-winning position.
But Timo Glock, who had not pitted for intermediate tyres, was scrabbling for grip on slicks, and Hamilton nailed him at the last corner, on the last lap, to take the title in sensational circumstances.
1. Mexico 1964
Graham Hill led the championship going into the race, Jim Clark led the championship with just over a lap to go and yet, somehow, John Surtees emerged on top when it mattered.
Hill had a five-point lead over Surtees heading to Mexico, with Clark nine points in arrears. With nine points available for a win, it looked bleak for the latter, with Surtees requiring second place or higher with Hill non-scoring.
Clark led early on, with Hill battling for third and Surtees down in fifth. Hill’s challenge was then stymied by contact with Surtees' Ferrari teammate Lorenzo Bandini, leaving Clark in the clear ahead of Dan Gurney, Bandini and Surtees.
As damage from the contact limited Hill to a twice-lapped 11th, Clark looked a certainty to win the title by virtue of a greater number of wins.
But in the most dramatic fashion, Clark's engine seized with just over one lap remaining. Ferrari thus signalled Bandini to let Surtees into second, and the Englishman claimed a remarkable title triumph as a result.