No championship fight means no more excitement to be had, right? Wrong.
Some of Formula One’s most memorable and thrilling encounters took place after the title fights were settled. Here’s ten of them.
1953 Italian Grand PrixAlberto Ascari swept all before him in his Ferrari 500 and clinched the title with a race to spare.
At Monza the team had a chance to complete a clean sweep of winning every round it had entered (having not sent a car to the Indianapolis 500). But a threat came from Juan Manuel Fangio, who parked his Maserati A6GCM in between pole sitter Ascari and Giuseppe Farina on the front row.
The three champions proceeded to thrill the crowd with a race of near-constant lead changes around the rapid track. Fangio’s team mate Onofre Marimon was in close attendance too, two pairs of Italian cars striving for the lead of their home race.
As the laps ticked down it seemed increasingly as though Ascari had enough in reserve to end his season with a sixth victory. But heading into Parabolica on the final lap he hit a patch of oil and spun, taking Marimon with him. Fangio dived for the inside and took his first win since he had been seriously injured at the track the year before. The flag man was so surprised he forgot to wave the chequer.
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1965 Italian Grand Prix
Jim Clark’s 1965 campaign had been utterly dominant. Out of the first seven races he won six. He didn’t win in Monaco because he went to the Indianapolis 500 and won that instead.
Graham Hill was the only person who’d beaten Clark’s Lotus to pole position all year, but for once the BRM driver wasn’t even on the front row. Nonetheless the pair soon began disputing the lead along with Hill’s team mate Jackie Stewart. When Clark’s fuel pump failed late in the race, leaving the fight to the BRM pair.
Once Clark was out BRM team manager Tony Rudd told his drivers to back off. Yet the pace remained hot: Stewart was in the hunt for his first F1 win. Hill moved ahead on lap 73 but the next time around he ran wide at Parabolica and Stewart took advantage. He stayed ahead for the final three laps and clinched his first grand prix victory at the end of a race which featured no fewer than 39 lead changes.
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1969 Canadian Grand Prix
At Monza 13 days earlier Jackie Stewart had taken his sixth win from eight races and, with it, the 1969 title. But he missed out on a seventh win at Mosport following a controversial collision.
Local talent swelled the grid to 20 cars, the highest of the season so far, though four drivers were over 11 seconds off Jochen Rindt’s pole time. At the sharp end things were much closer: Rindt half a second ahead of a quintet of cars which were covered by just a tenth.
Rindt kept his lead at the start but Stewart quickly moved forward. He overtook his team mate Jean-Pierre Beltoise, then Jacky Ickx’s Brabham on lap five and, one lap later, Rindt too. It looked like business as usual until Ickx squeezed past Rindt and went after Stewart. Now the race was on.
Meanwhile Rindt slipped into the clutches of a swathe of rivals: Beltoise, Graham Hill, Jo Siffert, Jack Brabham and Piers Courage. Local driver Al Pease held them up when they came to lap his three-year-old Eagle, banging wheels with Beltoise at one point.
On the 33rd lap of 90 Ickx tried to pass Stewart at the hairpin but they tangled, Stewart spinning into a ditch where he retired. Ickx managed to continue and took the win, his second of the season.
The battle behind was now for second place and was resolved when Brabham overtook Rindt. Beltoise was fourth ahead of Bruce McLaren, and Johnny Servoz-Gavin brought Matra’s four-wheel-drive car home for a rare point.
1971 Italian Grand Prix
Another Monza slipstreamer, this time featuring one of F1’s closest-ever finishes. And as was the case six years earlier it was a BRM which led the field home.
Clay Regazzoni’s Ferrari made a suspiciously good start from eighth on the grid to lead the first lap, though he was soon overwhelmed by the faster Marches and Tyrrells. Then within three laps of each other both Ferraris and Stewart’s Tyrrell went down with engine trouble.
The last race at Monza before chicanes were installed was a frantic encounter. At one point the lead changed hands on seven consecutive laps. Five cars were still disputing the victory on the final lap.
They were covered by six-tenths of a second as the flag fell: Peter Gethin’s BRM a hundredth of a second ahead of Ronnie Peterson’s March. Francois Cevert’s Tyrrell crossed the line nine-hundredths behind the race winner with the same gap again over Mike Hailwood’s Surtees. Howden Ganley’s BRM was fifth, 0.61s behind, the whole lot covered in far less time than it takes to read this sentence.
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1977 Canadian Grand Prix
Not only had Niki Lauda already wrapped up the 1977 championship before the Canadian Grand Prix, he had also walked out of Ferrari. Already unimpressed at Carlos Reutemann’s arrival at the team earlier in the year Lauda then discovered a third car had been entered by the team for newcomer Gilles Villeneuve at Mosport. With rows also going on over the state of the Canadian track, Lauda opted to start his off-season early.
The race he missed wasn’t a supreme example of motor racing but it was packed with incidents, including one particularly notorious one.
Mario Andretti led away from pole position on a damp track with James Hunt’s McLaren in pursuit and the rest gradually fading in their mirrors. A string of drivers dropped out early on: Clay Regazzoni crashed his Ensign, John Watson suffered terminal damage trying to pass Ronnie Peterson, and Andretti’s team mate Gunnar Nilsson had a big shunt when his throttle jammed.
Meanwhile Jody Scheckter had forced his way past Peterson’s six-wheeled Tyrrell. The latter eventually spun and fell to the rear of the pack. That left Andretti leading Hunt, Jochen Mass in the other McLaren and Scheckter, who was up from ninth on the grid.
Andretti and Hunt were so far ahead that by lap 60 they were preparing to lap Mass. It seemed the McLaren driver was trying to help his team mate when he held Andretti up, allowing Hunt by into the lead. Mass then tried to wave Hunt by but the pair made contact, sending Hunt into a barrier. The furious Hunt waved his fist at Mass, then used it to floor a marshal who tried to restrain him, for which he was later fined $2,750.
This meant Andretti had his lead back. But with three laps to go his Ford-Cosworth engine, a new development specification, blew spectacularly. Scheckter took the lead and won, bringing joy for Canadian team owner Walter Wolf on home ground.
1979 Canadian Grand Prix
Two years later Lauda walked out again, this time from Brabham. The championship had already been won by one of his rivals.
The title fight had ended early largely because of the bizarre points scoring system used at the time. Drivers could only count their best four results from the first seven races and their best four from the last eight. Scheckter had scooped the title when Villeneuve, under Ferrari team orders, followed him home at Monza three weeks earlier.
This denied the Canadian crowd the chance of seeing the local favourite fight for the title on home ground. Villeneuve, who had won Montreal’s first Canadian Grand Prix 12 months earlier, was pipped to pole position on his return by Alan Jones. The Williams driver would still have been in contention for the championship had the points system not been so restrictive.
The race was all about Villeneuve and Jones. The Ferrari driver got ahead at the start but Jones sat behind, biding his time. Then on lap 51 Villeneuve ran slightly wide and Jones pounced, dived for the inside and squeezed through. The Ferrari kept after him, the pair separated by a second at the flag, but Jones was the winner.
This meant Jones had already earned a maximum 36 points from the second half of the season and couldn’t score any more in the final race at Watkins Glen. Unsurprisingly the ‘two-part’ points system didn’t last much longer.
1985 Australian Grand Prix
Alain Prost put a lock on the 1985 title with two rounds to spare. But the season finale was always going to be something special as the championship headed to a new venue – the Adelaide street circuit.
When three different drivers led the first lap it became clear it was going to be one of those races. Ayrton Senna was beaten off the line by Nigel Mansell, then barged his rival aside, leaving Mansell with terminal damage. Keke Rosberg in the other Williams then pounced on Senna for the lead.
Rosberg proceeded to pull away but the hot conditions and the demanding track meant this race would be dominated by pit stops and brake wear. Rosberg was using tried-and-tested cast iron brakes whereas Senna had opted for carbon fibre discs which promised better performance at the risk of higher wear.
At mid-race distance Senna was right on Rosberg’s tail. So much so that when the Williams driver ducked into the pits Senna clipped its rear, losing part of his front wing. When he approached the pit lane entrance on his next lap Senna understeered wildly, ploughed across the grass and kept going, but had to complete another full lap before finally making it in for a new front wing.
Despite this Senna later found himself back in contention for victory. Rosberg needed a third pit stop which handed the lead to Lauda. The McLaren driver, now finally retiring for good, might have gone out with a win had his brakes not failed. Senna regained the lead but an engine failure restored Rosberg to the head of the field. He duly won his final race for Williams.
There was more drama to come as the Ligier pair were disputing second place. Philippe Streiff paid too little heed to warnings not to attack Jacques Laffite and ran into his team mate on the penultimate lap, wrecking his front-left suspension. Despite that Streiff still took the chequered flag in third place with his front wheels pointing in opposite directions.
1990 Australian Grand Prix
Two weeks on from a bad-tempered championship-deciding race at Suzuka, all eyes were on protagonists Senna and Prost. But it was Prost’s Ferrari team mate Mansell which took the fight to Senna around the streets of Adelaide.
Gerhard Berger, struggling with cramp, was passed early by Mansell, who pushed Senna hard as they caught traffic early on. But a spin for Mansell forced a pit stop for fresh tyres and dropped him out of contention.
Prost was planning to make it through the race without a pit stop but so was Nelson Piquet, who passed him on the third lap. Piquet then demoted Berger and inherited second from Mansell when the Ferrari pitted.
Drama struck on lap 62 when the new world champion crashed out. Senna had been unable to select second gear for the sharp left-hander on to the race course and skidded into a barrier. Now Piquet led Prost and Mansell, the latter having passed Berger again.
With nine laps to go the Ferraris switched places and Mansell was hunting Piquet down Silverstone ’87-style. But this time the ending was different. Mansell got within striking distance of the Benetton on the final lap and threw his car down the inside at the Dequetteville hairpin, but ran wide and Piquet regained his lead.
The pair crossed the line separated by a second. The 500th world championship race had been one of the best.
2004 Brazilian Grand Prix
Michael Schumacher had dominated the 2004 championship, winning the title with four races to spare. But at the final round in Brazil a crash during practice and subsequent engine change left him 18th on the grid.
The final race would therefore be fought out by his team mate Rubens Barrichello, on pole position at home, and closest rivals Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams) and Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren). A pre-race shower prompted the trio and most of the others to start on intermediate tyres.
Montoya started sluggishly and was passed by Raikkonen, Felipe Massa (who qualified his Sauber a remarkable fourth) and Jenson Button’s BAR. That left him fifth at the end of lap one while Raikkonen, his future McLaren team mate, wrested the lead from Barrichello.
But Montoya wasn’t out of it yet. He swiftly passed Massa and Button. Then Barrichello’s Bridgestone tyres came good and he took the lead from the Michelin-shod Raikkonen. The Michelin runners were soon in to swap their intermediates for dry-weather grooves, and though Montoya rejoined the track behind Raikkonen he passed the McLaren on the run to Subido do Lago.
Barrichello stayed out two laps longer which briefly promoted Massa to the lead. His arrival in the pits handed first place to Fernando Alonso, who had bravely started on dry-weather tyres. But he still had two more stops to make the lead, so on lap 19 Montoya became the race’s fifth different leader.
Now it was a straight dogfight between the current and future McLaren drivers. Raikkonen ran five laps longer before his final stop, enjoying the benefit of running a lighter fuel load, but fell short by little over a second when he returned to the track. The victorious Montoya had marked his card for next season.
2005 Japanese Grand Prix
Rain in qualifying produced something akin to a reverse-grid race. Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota was on pole position, his brother 14th in his Ferrari, new world champion Alonso 16th for Renault and the two McLarens behind.
This was a race which could scarcely fail to excite, and it didn’t disappoint. Excerpt for Montoya, who tangled with Jacques Villeneuve the end of the first lap and crashed heavily.
Once the Safety Car had been and gone the action kicked off. Schumacher led the charge through the midfield, pursued by Alonso. But the Renault driver lost time when the stewards ordered him to relinquish a place he’d gained from Christian Klien – unnecessarily, as it turned out. Behind him Raikkonen was catching up.
Alonso was soon hard on Schumacher’s tail and on lap 20 performed a stunning move around the outside of the Ferrari at 130R: An instant symbol of the torch passing from the outgoing champion to the new one.
Crucially, Raikkonen was able to run four laps longer than Alonso. The Renault driver’s time lost getting past Klien meant that after his stop he found himself in more traffic, and as a result Raikkonen’s lap 26 stop got him out ahead of Alonso. The McLaren remained behind Schumacher but only for a few laps until Raikkonen charged past on the outside approaching turn one.
Alonso’s team mate Giancarlo Fisichella had started third and moved into lead by running much longer than the early-stopping pole sitter. He made his final visit on lap 38 at which point Raikkonen was fourth. But the McLaren driver stretched his fuel another seven laps and rejoined in second place om lap 45 of 53.
As the penultimate lap ended Raikkonen was bearing down on Fisichella who inexplicably began defending early, covering off the inside line at the chicane when Raikkonen was nowhere near. The McLaren driver got off the corner better and as the final lap began he took Fisichella the same way he’d done Schumacher. That last-lap pass sealed a stunning victory for Raikkonen from 17th on the grid.
Over to you
Which of these races do you remember? Do you recall any other great post-championship races from F1 or other series?
Have your say in the comments.
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