Formula 1’s Closest Ever Title Battles

The 2021 F1 season has been nothing short of sensational, with the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen culminating in a final race, last lap dice to decide the winner that will go down in history for so many reasons.

What unfolded at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix captivated millions worldwide watching on TV. It looked like Hamilton would once again finish as world champion, as he held a ten second lead over his title rival with the remaining laps ticking down into single figures. However, following a crash by Nicolas Latifi, it brought out the safety car, bunching up the pack and the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen. These backmarkers were allowed under the rules to pass the safety car and un-lap themselves, leaving the pair in a one-lap, mad dash to the line. With Verstappen on fresh rubber, it gave him the advantage which he duly took to deny Hamilton a fifth straight title, leaving headline writers at The Guardian and all the world’s attending media gobsmacked at what they’d just seen.

The battle was so captivating; it’s already whetted the appetite for 2022 to be just as memorable, with both drivers retaining their drives at Mercedes and Red Bull Honda, respectively. However, although Dutch driver is now the reigning champion, Hamilton has already been installed as the favourite for the 2022 season in the current F1 odds from Coral, marginally ahead of Verstappen. Should Hamilton overcome the challenge of his latest adversary for the title, it would elevate him to a level beyond that of one of the true greats of the sport Michael Schumacher, as currently the pair share the greatest number of F1 title wins with seven apiece.

Schumacher is another driver who was involved in some of the greatest battles in F1, and it’s with him that we start a roundup of some of the other tight tussles in motorsport history to keep you in the mood for next year.

Michael Schumacher vs. Damon Hill – 1994

It looked like Schumacher would run away with things early in the season; six wins from seven races gave him the perfect platform, but the German didn’t account for Hill making such a comeback as the season wore on. In the season’s penultimate race, Hill took victory in Japan, which left the pair just a point apart ahead of the last race. However, the battle ended in controversy as a ‘racing incident’ between the two left both cars unable to finish leaving Schumacher the beneficiary.

James Hunt vs. Nicky Lauda – 1976

This epic title battle was so good that it was immortalised in the film, Rush, and there’s no doubt why it attracted so much attention. The Brit and the Austrian fought throughout a controversial season of disqualifications and incidents, which finished in just as exciting circumstances. Going into a winner takes all scenario in Japan in the final round, the weather gods weren’t smiling as the rain poured down, and a number of racers appealed for the race to be cancelled. Lauda was one of those, and he pulled off the track, but Hunt continued regardless, and with no red flag forthcoming, Hunt took the title.

Mika Hakkinen vs. Eddie Irvine – 1999

Ferrari expected Schumacher to be the one challenging for the title in 1999; however, a crash at Silverstone that resulted in a broken leg put paid to those ambitions. Up stepped Eddie Irvine, his teammate, to carry the flag for the prancing horse brand by winning back to back races in the middle of the season. Somewhat unbelievably, Irvine headed to Suzuka for the decider with a four-point lead. However, those hopes were dashed as the flying Finn raced to victory to secure his second successive F1 title.

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