Formula 1 title deciders in Japan

From farcical to fantastic: Formula 1’s 14 title-deciding Japanese races ranked

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The Formula 1 drivers’ championship has been won in Japan on 14 occasions – more times than any other country.

But the days of Suzuka deciding the destiny of the title are now behind us. From this year Japan’s round of the world championship has moved from the latter stages of the season to the beginning.

From Nelson Piquet to Max Verstappen, nine different drivers have taken titles in Japan, and Suzuka was the scene of all bar two of those. Suzuka was an especially cherished track for Ayrton Senna, who clinched all three of his title in Japan using Honda power.

During that time, with championship glory on the line, we’ve seen the best and worst of F1’s drivers. Here’s RaceFans’ ranking of Japan’s 14 title-deciding races.

14: Injury ends Mansell’s title bid

Suzuka, 1987

Nigel Mansell, Williams, Suzuka, 1987

If Nigel Mansell thought it was hard to take his 1986 title defeat, when a tyre explosion put him out of the final race, worse lay in store the following year. He and Williams team mate Nelson Piquet dominated the season in their Honda-powered cars and arrived at their engine manufacturer’s home track for the penultimate round locked in battle for the title.

Mansell, with a 12-point deficit to overturn, he led the opening practice session on Friday. But in the afternoon qualifying session his FW11B got away from him in Suzuka’s fast Esses, and after swiping a tyre barrier he landed heavily, injuring his back. He was ruled out of continuing on medical grounds and with that Piquet clinched his third championship in unsatisfactory fashion.

13: Prost’s tactical foul

Suzuka, 1989

When Ayrton Senna dived down the inside of his championship rival to take the lead at Suzuka’s chicane, Alain Prost was only too eager to close the door. Retirement for the pair would make Prost champion, so as their McLarens skidded pathetically to a stop on the outside of the corner, he was quick to jump out.

Senna pressed on, rejoined the circuit, pitted to replace his damaged front wing and repassed Alessandro Nannini to win. Then the clunking fist of officialdom made its presence felt: Senna was disqualified on spurious grounds and the title was Prost’s. A controversy on this scale today might even eclipse Abu Dhabi 2021, and the injustice of it rankled deeply with Senna, who made sure history was not repeated 12 months later.

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12: Senna’s revenge

Suzuka, 1990

Twelve months on from being bundled out of the final race by Prost, Senna exacted a clinically-executed yet brutal revenge on his rival, who had left McLaren to join Ferrari.

Having lost the lead from his pole position – blaming the fact he had to start off-line – Senna simply kept his foot in and rammed Prost off the track at the first corner. That secured his second championship but provoked a storm of recrimination and a spurious defence which became an immortal quote: ‘If you no longer go for a gap which exists you are no longer a racing driver’.

11: Points debacle overshadows Verstappen’s title

Suzuka, 2022

One of the most memorable championship-deciders in Japan ended with a driver incorrectly believing he hadn’t done enough to clinch the title. That was also true in 2022, though on this occasion it was down to a poorly-written FIA rule.

Max Verstappen won the rain-shortened race ahead of closest rival Charles Leclerc. As only 28 of the 53 laps were run, and new rules had been introduced in the off-season awarding a reduced points allocation to races which did not reach three-quarters distance, it seemed the Red Bull driver had not yet reached the threshold to secure his second crown.

But to the surprise of many the FIA then announced full points would indeed be awarded, and the title was Verstappen’s. The new rule had not been framed as intended, and was rewritten the following winter after the error came to light. FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem was quick to dismiss any suggestion the governing body was to blame, however, telling Red Bull team principal Christian Horner on-stage during that year’s prizegiving ceremony: “It was not the FIA which made the rules – it was the teams who made the rules and we were implementing it.”

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10: No contest as Schumacher crowned again

TI Aida, 1995

Flavio Briatore, Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, TI Aida, 1995

Hajime Tanaka stumped up the money for Formula 1 to visit his eponymous Tanaka International Circuit Aida in 1994, a grand name for a short, narrow course which looked more like a club track and was ill-suited to grand prix racing. It was given a spring date so Japan’s second round of the championship, dubbed the Pacific Grand Prix, would not directly rival Suzuka’s race in November.

However an earthquake early in 1995 damaged the TI Aida track, forcing F1 to postpone its return. It therefore ended up hosting the championship-deciding race, in which Michael Schumacher won his second world championship. The race was a fairly typical-for-1995 affair as Schumacher’s Benetton team ran rings around their flat-footed Williams rivals through the refuelling stops, and neither Damon Hill nor David Coulthard looked like keeping him from victory.

9: Vettel’s third place for second trophy

Although this was one of the most forgettable championship deciders at any circuit, it was unusual in that not only did title-winner Sebastian Vettel fail to win from pole position, the driver who beat him actually lost a place at the start.

But through the subsequent pit stops Jenson Button jumped ahead of team mate Lewis Hamilton, then Vettel to claim the lead. Fernando Alonso got by Vettel as well, making it three champions on the podium.

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8: Irvine can’t compete

Suzuka, 1999

Hakkinen and Schumacher reprised their fight from a year earlier. The only problem was Schumacher was no longer in the championship hunt, having missed five races due to injury.

Eddie Irvine was Ferrari’s title contender in the final-round shoot-out, but with the team’s number one driver back in the saddle he looked utterly outclassed in this company, particularly after a heavy crash during practice. Hakkinen won the race and his second title with it.

7: Hill’s parting shot

Suzuka, 1996

While Hill lost the 1995 title badly to Schumacher, Williams made plans not to extend his contract. Jacques Villeneuve joined as his team mate for 1996 and during that year it emerged Heinz-Harald Frentzen would replace Hill in 1997.

Villeneuve’s victory in the penultimate race at Estoril meant he arrived at Suzuka with a slim chance of beating his experienced team mate to the title. While he was free of pressure, Hill went into his final race for Williams knowing this was likely his last chance to win a title.

When Villeneuve beat him to pole position it seemed the pressure was telling. But at the start Hill rocketed into a lead he never lost, while his team mate fell to sixth. Soon after his second pit stop Villeneuve’s right-rear wheel fell off and with that Hill won the championship.

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6: Mansell falters in pursuit of Senna

Suzuka, 1991

Mansell’s third chance to win an F1 title also got away from him at Suzuka. This time he was up against Senna, whose team mate Gerhard Berger beat the championship rivals to pole position.

While Berger made good his escape in the leading McLaren, Senna was content to lie second, Mansell in his mirrors. As the 10th lap began Mansell ran a fraction too wide at turn one and the gravel trap snatched his Williams, ending his pursuit and sealing Senna’s third title.

5: Schumacher brings Ferrari joy

Suzuka, 2000

Start, Suzuka, 2000

By 2000 Schumacher had seen his first three attempts to win a title at Ferrari end in defeat twice and injury once. The championship was finally in his sights at Suzuka, scene of that year’s penultimate race, as an engine failure for Hakkinen in the previous round gave Schumacher an eight-point lead with 20 available.

But when Schumacher lost the lead to his rival from pole position it looked like Hakkinen was going to take the fight all the way to the last race. That changed when Schumacher nosed into the lead through their final pit stops, and clinched the title with a race to spare.

4: Hakkinen champion as disaster strikes Ferrari

Suzuka, 1998

The pre-race tension was stratospheric as championship rivals Schumacher and Hakkinen took up their places on the front row of the grid for the final race of 1998. It rose again when, at the moment the field was about to be unleashed, Jarno Trulli stalled on the grid and the start was aborted.

McLaren mechanics sprinted from the pits to cool both their cars on the grid, but pole-winner Schumacher could only wait helplessly as his crew took much longer to arrive. That proved decisive. After leading the field back around Schumacher retook his place at the front of the grid – whereupon his now-overheated Ferrari lurched forwards and stalled. The start was aborted again, but this time Schumacher had to start from the back.

While Hakkinen took up the lead, Schumacher sliced through the 21-car field, rising to seventh by lap five. By half-distance only his team mate separated him from his quarry, and a late drama could still swing the outcome. But it was Schumacher who hit trouble, a puncture ending his race after 31 laps, and handing the title to Hakkinen.

3: Schumacher’s sixth nearly slips away

Suzuka, 2003

Kimi Raikkonen arguably shouldn’t have been a title contender at the final round of 2003. He’d won one race to Schumacher’s six and was kept in contention thanks to a points system which over-rewarded second place, a knee-jerk response to the Ferrari driver’s domination of the previous season.

With the pair separated by eight points, Raikkonen was a long shot for the title. Incredibly, it almost came in. Rain during one-shot qualifying left Schumacher a frustrated 14th, and though Raikkonen was only eighth, he made smoother progress during the race.

While Raikkonen got as far as second, Schumacher toiled in the midfield. He went off at Spoon and tangled with his own brother as well as Takuma Sato. Fortunately his team mate Rubens Barrichello was circulating at the head of the field and Raikkonen couldn’t get closer in his ill-handling car. Schumacher collected a point for eighth place which ensured him his record-breaking sixth title, but no one had expected it to be that close.

2: Two heroes

Fuji, 1976

F1’s first visit to Japan on the high-speed Fuji Speedway (before its 2005 butchering) produced a fittingly memorable conclusion to a season of drama. Runaway points leader Niki Lauda almost died in a fire during the German Grand Prix but bravely returned to the cockpit, his wounds not yet healed, in a bid to prevent James Hunt beating him to the title.

Mario Andretti beat the title to pole position for the Fuji finale, but race day brought foul conditions. With a satellite booked for a then-rare live transmission to Europe, F1 faced immense pressure to race on the waterlogged track. The grand prix eventually went ahead, but Lauda withdrew immediately, insisting the conditions were too dangerous, and struggling to blink the water away from his scarred eyes.

Three others joined him, but Hunt pressed on. As the conditions improved he destroyed his wet weather tyres and was forced to pit. By the time the chequered flag dropped he was convinced he’d lost the title, and on his return to the pits it took McLaren some effort to convince him he had in fact finished third, and won the title by a point.

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1: Senna’s masterclass

Suzuka, 1988

For all the acrimony that was to follow in his later visits to Suzuka, Senna’s drive to the 1988 title was sublime – at least, once he got going. He fluffed the start from pole position and fell to 14th while team mate and title rival Prost led away.

That should have been it. While Senna was always going to regain most of his lost places in the dominant McLaren MP4/4, the chances of him catching Prost were surely non-existent. But Prost was struggling to draw away from Ivan Capelli’s March, which nosed into the lead on lap 16, while Senna took almost three seconds per lap out of them.

By lap 20 the two McLarens were together, Senna stalking Prost as they ripped past a series of lapped car. At the end of lap 27 Prost emerged from the chicane far too close to the Rial of Andrea de Cesaris and Senna seized his opportunity. He drew alongside Prost as they passed the pits, took the lead at turn one and went on to win his first title by 13 seconds. In that race, a legend was forged.

Over to you

Which of these 14 races did you watch – and which were your favourite? Share your views in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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45 comments on “From farcical to fantastic: Formula 1’s 14 title-deciding Japanese races ranked”

  1. Which of these 14 races did you watch – and which were your favourite?
    – 2011 & ’22, although the 1989 & ’90 deciding moments are undoubtedly my favorites.

    1. Watched them all, but my main thought is that the last two GPs of the season should always be Suzuka and Brazil. They’re just iconic spots, with probably the best crowds in F1 and they almost always produce great races. Brazil delivers a great race with nearly 100% consistency. Probably cause Tilke had nothing to do with either.

    2. Same as Nick T. saw them all while i found Senna’s revenge good the later races were more watchable 2022 of Max you saw a race while the earlier races where more dominating.

  2. Thanks Keith. Good to remember the memorable showdowns in Suzuka. Personally, I have too often felt underwhelmed by the races at this track in recent years (yes, a beautiful track, but it seems races just aren’t that great).

    I do hope we get a more exciting race here now, the 22 race was pretty good, once it actually got going.

    1. Yes, and again it’d have been better if not for f1’s incredible fear of rain nowadays, it could’ve been a race where full wets were suitable, but they waited hours to get going, as you well know.

      1. How on earth do MotoGP do it on 2 wheels? Tbh they will also suddenly stop doing full wet races once Liberty take over anyway.

        1. They have 2 fewer tyres to spray the water.

  3. Neil (@neilosjames)
    2nd April 2024, 8:50

    Of the ones I watched live (~1994/95 onward), my favourite was 1998. I’d gone from casual to watching every race a couple of seasons earlier, and had been a Hakkinen/McLaren fan since, so it’ll always be one of my happiest F1 memories.

    I also liked 1999 (obviously), 1996 and 2003, and 2000 was at least a nice historic moment. I think realising that I wasn’t too sad that Schumacher had won might have been when I started easing away from ‘fan of driver/team’ to just someone who appreciates and enjoys the sport itself.

    Of the rest… I can’t say I have any special memories of them. Had totally forgotten 2011 was a title decider, and while I appreciated watching a wet race, I try to forget the maths/points/75%/yawn confusion from 2022.

    1. Had totally forgotten 2011 was a title decider

      It was only once I started going through them methodically that I recalled that one. It does not stand out in the memory for me.

      1. It does definitely stand out for me with how rare full wet races are nowadays, but again a missed opportunity for a classic with all their delays and excessive safety measures, just like spa 2021.

      2. Wasn’t 2006’s Japanese GP the WDC decider too? Schumacher was on course for another title until his engine blew, which gave Alonso the title.

        1. On second thought, MSC was mathematically alive for Brazil, but it would have require a DNF for Fernando and a win for Schumacher. So, it was basically the decider for all intents and purposes.

          1. Well Japan 2006 was the end for Schumacher. A very rare Ferrari failure took him out. And the car failed him again in Brazil when it failed at the start of Q3 after setting by far the fastest lap of the weekend in Q2. In the race a puncture brought him almost a lap down, but in the end still ended 4th only 24s behind Massa. It showed that Schumacher retired too young in 2006. He was by far the fastest driver that race.

  4. Been following F1 since ’99, probably saw all of the Japanese GP’s ever since, if not at least 20 of them. The ones that I remember most strongly are ’00, ’03 and Kimi’s awe inspiring ’05.

  5. I actually didn’t watch suzuka 1998, it’d be painful as a schumacher fan, but impressive he was already back to 7th on lap 5! I suppose I should give it a look to see how the recovery went, was more interesting when drivers in the top cars started from the back at the time since no drs.

    1. @esploratore1 That puncture he got, probably from debris left by Tuero walloping Takagi moments earlier, could so easily have happened to Hakkinen, and then what would the outcome have been…

      1. @keithcollantine

        Not according to Schumacher himself. He dismissed exactly these suggestions that debris were the cause for his DNF, and said that it was caused by tyre problems they had from pretty much the get go instead. Indeed, you can see him frequently locking up his tyres that race, long before the Tuero-Takagi incident.
        He was basically waiting for ‘something to happen’, while at the same time was simply hoping for the best and got on with it.

    2. was more interesting when drivers in the top cars started from the back at the time since no drs.

      There was no drs, but the complete lack of any defensive driving whatsoever, is very comparable to the current drs era.

    3. Give it a try. The first laps by Schumacher were mind-blowing and “LOOK AT EDDIE IRVINE”. One of good old Murray’s finest.

  6. Think it was the Suzuka 89 GP when Senna and Prost bumped into each which got me hooked on F1. Murray’s reaction to the whole situation was priceless. He almost burst a blood vessel.

  7. 1989 final score may be seen as farcical in hindsight, but for those now old fans who were seeing it live (as me), Senna’s comeback was truly epic.He managed to unearth his McLaren from the gravel trap (with the aid of track personnel), hobbled back to the pits, waited half a minute while his crew patched the wounded car best they could, and blitzed the field in the most amazing comeback i’ve ever seen. Balestre, if you could have kept your mouth shut once in your lifetime, this was the one. Can’t resolve to watching it again for it will surely make me cry, but if it is on YouTube and you haven’t seen it, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

    1. If that happened today people’s heads would explode as it happened and have a meltdown 20x bigger than Lewis’ fan base after AD21.

      1. For that matter, Senna would have been disqualified for the marshal assistance (a rule change that was implemented in 2008), which may have resulted in the FIA never even attempting to pass judgment on the crash itself.

        1. Was the change in 08 because of Hamilton getting placed back on the track, dangling from a Tractor, after European GP 07?…

  8. For the hardcore out there here’s 55 minutes of on board footage of Suzuka 89, for everyone else the incident happens at 39 minute mark :)
    https://youtu.be/HkWldymW5Hw?si=OwAwOeGAgoJo1qA4

    1. Having watched all of the 2000 – 2018 seasons’ races at least 6-7x-plug and at least one through all of the seasons since 1980+, the next 55 mins will go by very quickly.

      The biggest disappointment with F1 TV is that all seasons prior to 2003 are incomplete. Some 98% completely with only one full GP.

      1. There was a version out there that had the complete broadcast ( I managed to download a copy of it before it vanished ) but I think this version is the one where they cut out the feed from Prost’s car and maybe some copyright stuff, the strikes weren’t from the small TV channel broadcasting this but from sponsors, hence there’s no film of the wing change pit stop after the crash.
        They mentioned (if my memory serves me right) in an old, taken down, then released again, taken down version, that they got copyright strikes from various companies, including the one that makes 7Up lol

        1. from the small TV channel broadcasting this

          Was it a TV broadcast or one of the Fuji TV onboard camera specials they were releasing. I think there’s an onboard camera special released on home video by Fuji Tv for every japanese gp up until they lost the broadcast rights about a decade ago.

          There was actually a lot of Japanese exclusive home video releases from Fuji TV including a lot of onboard camera specials (Usually called ‘Driver’s Eyes’). Sadly some of these were never released on anything other than laser disc so can be harder to find.

          There are even some specials around the 1991/1992 Japanese GP’s that were shot in HD which can only be played on a compatible laser disc.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_sub-Nyquist_sampling_encoding

          1. The original one I remember watching years ago was recorded from TV in Japan, they said they happened upon a repeat broadcast being shown on a small TV channel in the middle of the night and decided to record it on VHS, one of the strikes they got was from Fuji Film now that you mention it, amongst others… But it was many years ago so memory is hazy about it.

          2. Most of the online video uploads of old races had the overtakefans website domain watermark. I always found that interesting.

  9. I can’t believe that it’s 14 in Japan, on 3 tracks. I knew Suzuka and Fuji, but I let myself down by forgetting the Pacific GP one… then again it was totally forgettable. As well as the one in 94.

    The 2000 one stands out for me, where Ferrari got their first driver’s title since 1979. I was lucky enough to be watching that in Rome, a treat for my 18th birthday. As soon as Schumacher crossed the line the car horns went off all over Rome!

    1. The 1995 Aida race was quite decent imho. Yes, the track is short and strange, but they were able to race each other and the Coulthard-Schumacher battle for the win was interesting in terms of strategy and in terms of witnessing the relentless consistency by Schumacher.

  10. An “interesting” version of events for 1989 and clearly one-sided. Senna had been warned in advance by Prost that he wasn’t going to be shoved out of the way any more. He was entitled to hold his line. Senna justifiably disqualified. If only he was disqualified from the 1990 season as Schumacher was from the 1997 one.

    1. Senna was disqualified for missing the chicane, not the collision..

      1. Speaking of missing the chicane, the article states that:

        Max Verstappen won the rain-shortened race ahead of closest rival Charles Leclerc.

        Except of course that he didn’t. Leclerc was given a highly questionable penalty for skipping the chicane which, by sheer coincidence, dropped him behind Pérez which then gave Honda their constructor’s title party on home soil.

        The sheer nerve of Pérez to even complain about Leclerc skipping the chicane is something to be respected. He was way, way behind. What he was not, was fighting Leclerc for that position.

        And in a sport where drivers regularly skip chicanes, get told not to, and then continue on, for some reason, whatever that was, the FIA felt it just absolutely had to give Leclerc a no warnings penalty right that second.

        It was not quite as bad as the officiating in Australia the following year, but close.

      2. I know. Should have been disqualified for receiving outside assistance, but hardly an injustice for the ages. Add to that the fact that had Senna won that race, he still would have lost the championship. It wasn’t close like in 1990.

        1. Senna had to win the last 2 races of the season at Brazil then Australia, Prost retired at the end of lap 1 because of the heavy rain and he was WDC anyway so why bother. Senna crashed out of the last race but you cant say he would of lost anyway because he would of raced the race differently if he knew he had a chance of the WDC, the whole race would of played out differently, Prost would of been still on track, millions of variables would of been different, Butterfly flaps its wings and all that :)

          1. The way it is discussed, you’d swear that Senna would have won the title in Suzuka had he not been disqualified, but he was so far behind that it was only keeping his chances alive. Senna often raced in an all-or-nothing fashion that, more often than a complete driver like Prost, resulted in a nothing finish.

  11. Regardless of one’s views of the 1989 incident, and I’d agree with An Sionnach that they’re presented rather one-sided here, the antics Senna pulled in 1990 were reprehensible. No matter how great a driver he was, and he definitely was, there aren’t many F1 incidents more worthy of lengthy bans.

    The 1998 GP was a big rollercoaster of emotions for Ferrari fans! At some point it looked like Schumacher might actually pull it off, but alas. Speaking of Schumacher, did he really try to win the 1999 race? Really really? I have some doubts. But alright, he thankfully got the chance to win the title again the following year – for himself – and did the job. Good for him!

    1. UnbiasedDutchGuy
      2nd April 2024, 19:19

      Regardless of whether or not he was able to win on pace that day, I have zero doubt that Schumacher had no intention whatsoever to win that race.. Imagine your subpar submissive teammate running away with the title that you’ve been chasing for 4 years, and by your own assistance!
      Instead he restored order as soon as he returned in Sepang by setting pole a full second clear of p2, and then trailing Hakkinen to second in Japan, conveniently denying Irvine the title. Could not have worked out better given the circumstances. (It would have been something if Hakkinen ran into car troubles though)

    2. Probably because Ferrari Williams and McLaren were playing dirty all the time, but for me the four seasons from 1997 to 2000 were the most intense I have ever watched and Suzuka 1998 will always stand out for the reasons you mentioned.
      Don’t know about 1999. Schumacher was one and a half minutes ahead of Irvine which was way more than their usual gap that season and Irvine wasn’t held up that much. So Schumacher must have pushed quite hard. But especially the start did raise some doubts, but he didn’t really master that the year before and after too and Irvine never complained after he left Ferrari.

      1. Considering the island he’s also from, I shouted for Irvine back in 1999. He came close, and closer than he could ever have imagined, but he just wasn’t good enough. He can be happy that he got to know just how far short he fell and not many drivers get that chance.

        Of course Irvine and Barichello were both team mates at Jordan, and often delighted with the odd decent result. Both had an unexpected chance at the championship in a competitive car. For most drivers, their only chance of winning a championship against a Prost, Schumacher or Max is to have a better car. Even though it was unlikely he would get this, I think Irvine was right to move on when he did.

    3. I’m a big Schumacher fan. He gets a lot of stick for 1997 and clearly crossed the line, deserving disqualification. The bizarre thing about it is how it is treated compared to 1990, where it was premeditated. Senna then lied about it. You’d swear butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth when you look at how the credulous believe all his unverified claims about everything. Ron Dennis clearly didn’t appreciate all the work and testing Prost had done for the team over the years anywhere near as much as he should have with his “rough justice” jibe. Unfortunately, many seem to agree with this. The Senna “documentary” doesn’t help with its unproven claims about what happened. Prost understood his situation when he saw the press lap up Senna’s account of the mystical lap. If anyone else had said the same thing they’d have been laughed out of the room.

      Because this is a British publication I feel obliged to suggest that the 1994 incident with Schumacher is not as clear cut as it is often made out to be. Time how long it takes for Schumacher to leave, rejoin the track, before contact is made. It could have been as simple as he went off, got back on and then tried to close the door on Hill’s lunge. Perhaps a more calculating Hill would have realised the situation and not dived in. That said, each of them had very little time to react. If the same thing happened now, Schumacher would be penalised for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner. The rule about not crossing the line coming out of the pits may also owe something to Schumacher. Himself and Senna have inspired a number of rule changes.

      I may be unfair when I put quotes around the word “documentary” above. After all, the documentary-as-propaganda goes back to the genre’s roots. Nanook of the North, Man of Aran, and several with darker intent which I will not mention.

  12. José Lopes da Silva
    3rd April 2024, 20:20

    I understand that Keith did not want to rate 89 high because of the polemic and for being a dark day for the sport. A title deserving an asterisk next to the winners name, because of the circumstances in which 1989* was decided, along with 1990*, 1994*, 2021* and, after Ecclestone comments, 1981*. Some people would add 1956* and 2008* but I disagree. (Disclaimer: in all of them I think the winner was a just winner, I’m not for revisionism in this matter).

    But 1989 had to be among the very best Japan title decisions. In fact, I think Suzuka 1989 is among the most epic races in almost 75 years of Championship. Surely I’d include it in the Top-3. And this comments section appears to reinforce this view.

    F1 is a team sport and a engineering sport, always has been since the early 20th century, but, has Senna once said, the fan comes for the driver, not the car. It’s the driver that the fan wants to listen and meet, not the engineer. In this way, there is a always an expectation that the cars should be equal and the best driver should come on top. It doesn’t happen, it shouldn’t happen being a team, but the expectation is there.

    People complain about a team domination but I don’t buy it. The silent majority wants track action. Having team mates fighting for the win is slightly better than rivals from diferent teams, because you assume they have equal machinery. The excuse of “he has a better car” dilutes. Intra team rivalry resembles more a gladiator fight.

    1988 and 1989 were epic for that matter. I believe History is starting to reevaluating the years 2014-2016 in a different light. (It was a pity that Rosberg crumbled from Monza 2014 onwards and only truly fought back in Melbourne 2016).

    Suzuka 1989 was a race long fight between two team mates, for a win, and for a Championship Drivers Title, in the penultimate race of the season. Also, both of them were already champions; and already regarded as the best drivers of the era (sorry, Nelson and Nigel).

    Was Suzuka 1989 better than 1988? I would say so. 1988 was, as Keith wrote, a race to forge Senna’s legend. His wet weather racecraft came to the rescue. But in 1989, without that “help”, we faced the best of Prost. Very few drivers in F1 history were able to fight back against a team mate after losing a title fight against him. He did it all season long, and he did it too in Suzuka.

    Both drivers did not put a foot wrong all race long, and surely that was a reason for the staggering McLaren domination of that race (not as usual in 1989 as it was in 1988). It seemed that both drivers were on and over their limits – as we expect to happen in a title fight, down to the wire.

    The circumstances are unhappy. Senna lost his place in the pole, which was unfair. Prost defensive move was (in my view) unfair, and I believe in the version that Prost quit voluntarily a car that would be able to race. The disqualification shouldn’t have happened.

    However, had Prost took the normal racing line, would Senna have been able to do the turn without hitting him?

    And, aside from all that, I think that even the circumstances reinforce the mythical character of Suzuka 89. A fight like this between Senna and Prost, after all the acrimony between the two, could not end in any other way than in a sport… draw. Requiring for the gladiators to return the year after.

    Seriously, Suzuka 1989 has a very especial place in the history of the sport.

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