Nothing beats the thrill of the final race of the F1 World Championship season. In recent years, it’s been Max Verstappen that’s been dominating the circuit. He became the youngest ever championship winner in 2021, before landing a second successive win in 2022 and the third one in 2023. While the young Dutchman might be riding high at the moment, it’s the final race that makes the championship itself anyone’s to win. From early collisions and personality clashes to underhand tactics and remarkable recoveries, just about every final round of F1 delivers when it comes to drama.
Mexico City (1964)
British drivers had been dominating the 1964 F1 season. Jim Clark of Lotus, Graham Hill of BRM and John Surtees of Ferrari were all eyed as potential winners of the 1964 title. However, Clark had a slight edge in the eyes of most pundits, with many expecting him to secure his second F1 title in this decisive final race. Clark maintained his lead comfortably until the 63rd lap when engine failure put him out of the competition at the final hurdle.
While this would have left Graham Hill a clear contender for the win, a collision with Ferrari’s Lorenzo Bandini during the 31st lap had put a dent in his points. While Hill still had a fair chance at victory, Bandini once again caused trouble for Team BRM when he gave way to his Ferrari teammate John Surtees in the closing moments of the final. This single act ensured Surtees had all the points he needed to be crowned the 1964 World Championship of Drivers title.
The 1976 Formula One is still fondly remembered as one of the best of all time. Ahead of the final race of the 1976 championship, all eyes were on Ferrari’s Niki Lauda and McLaren’s James Hunt to win. However, Lauda would quickly rule himself out of the race after deciding to bring his car to a standstill on the second lap owing to unsafe weather conditions. While he might have been in the minority here, you have to consider that Lauda had been involved in a near-fatal crash only a couple of months prior.
While Hunt no longer had to worry about his main competition, he did have to secure an additional four points to be crowned 1976 champion. This would have been relatively straightforward if it had not been for the tyre puncture that came next. While many drivers would have accepted defeat, Hunt upped the ante. With a fresh tyre and filled with optimism, Hunt ended up finishing the race in position three. This secured him just enough points to be declared champion. While the current McLaren roster has some promising drivers like Oscar Piastri, James Hunt still stands out as one of the greatest F1 personalities of all time.
He might be celebrated as one of the F1 all-time greats, but Michael Schumacher was never far away from controversy when driving professionally. During the final event of the 1997 championship, all eyes were on Schumacher to win his third F1 title. As well as being a career-defining moment for Schumacher, it would have been the first time Ferrari had secured such a record since Jody Scheeckter achieved the feat in 1979. Shumacher’s main competitors were Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, both driving for Williams. During the qualifying stage, all three had posted an identical lap time.
It wasn’t until the 48th lap that things got very interesting. With Schumacher maintaining a comfortable lead, Villeneuve made a push to claim the first position. A collision followed, with Villeneuve’s car left idling in the gravel. Later, it was found that Schumacher had intentionally caused the collision. His second-place finish in the standings was revoked, while his career and reputation never really recovered.
Sebastian Vettel has a habit of beating the odds against far more experienced drivers. In 2010, Vettel won his first championship, beating out stiff competition from Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. In 2012, Vettel and Alonso would come together once again to do battle during the final stages of the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Although Vettel had a 13-point lead, this is hardly a guarantee of an outright win. Thankfully, the fates were on Vettel’s side that day. Quickly after the race began, the Williams team were dealt a crippling blow when Mark Webber ended up getting too close to Bruno Senna. This mishap provided Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso with the perfect opening to increase his position, maintaining it long enough to secure a second-place finish. For Vettel, things were looking less rosy after the early collision between the Williams team. After sustaining minor damage in the incident, Vettel dropped to a woeful 22nd place. Nonetheless, he managed to pull through, defeating the odds to end the race in fourth position.