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A look at the seasons that went down to the wire
Jenson Button is looking to wrap up the Formula One drivers' championship in Brazil. We look at ten seasons where the race for the title went down to the wire.
Dennis Taylor clinched the 1985 world snooker championship on the last ball of the last frame; thanks to a Toyota tyre call that produced a few seconds of unrivalled drama, Lewis Hamilton settled matters on the last corner of the last lap of last year's Brazilian Grand Prix, finishing fifth and thus denying Felipe Massa the title. Rather cruelly, Massa and his supporters were momentarily of the belief that, having won the race from pole position, he was champion in his home city of Sao Paulo. However, the Toyota's decision to keep Timo Glock on a damp track with dry tyres following a late shower saw the German overhauled by Hamilton within yards of the chequered flag - cue broken hearts for Massa and his many fans.
The tabloids had a field day as Michael Schumacher (German, haughty, brilliant) duelled with Damon Hill (British, nice, bit of a plodder). Only one point ahead of his rival coming into the final race of the season in Adelaide, Schumacher streaked off into the lead with Hill in pursuit. But on lap 35 his Benetton ran wide at East Terrace corner and scraped the wall before lurching drunkenly back on to the track. Hill subsequently admitted that all he had to do was wait to make the pass but he instead chose the first available opportunity to attack. Cue the inevitable collision, with Schumacher out on the spot and Hill's mechanics diagnosing a bent wishbone upon his return to the pits. The chin-some one smiled the smile of a man who had just made history (F1's then youngest world champion) but the question everyone was asking was: did he or didn't he? He definitely did when battling Jacques Villeneuve for the title three years later, although on that occasion he came off distinctly second best.
McLaren won 15 out of 16 races in 1988, a year which saw the team bring together the two most talented drivers of the era: Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. However, where talent goes ego tends to follow and their rivalry became poisonous. That much was clear at that year's Portuguese Grand Prix, when Senna almost put Prost in the pitwall, their relationship reaching boiling point at the following year's Japanese Grand Prix when they collided whilst contesting the title. It achieved critical mass at the same venue 12 months later when, with Prost having moved to Ferrari having become world champion for the third time, the Frenchman's car was assaulted by Senna's at the very first corner. The latter took his second title as a result and subsequently admitted the move was deliberate.
Prost's second successive title came as a result of a game of divide and conquer, his McLaren eventually coming through to triumph in Australia after the much superior Williams cars of Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet spent too much time during the season taking points off each other. Mansell could have taken the title one round earlier in Mexico but instead left his car in neutral on the grid. Come the title decider in Adelaide and Mansell found himself on the brink, running in second place with 19 laps to go. Then came one of the defining images in the sport's history: his left rear tyre exploding in spectacular fashion on the street circuit's Dequetteville Terrace. Piquet was forced to pit as a precautionary measure leaving Prost, calm as ever, to take the chequered flag.
Jenson Button beware. Argentina's Carlos Reutemann, then like Button is now contesting his 10th Formula One season, appeared a strong favourite for the title when he held a 17-point lead over Nelson Piquet following the British Grand Prix in July of that year. However, Piquet was just one point behind heading into the final race of the season in Las Vegas. Reutemann qualified on pole position at Caesar's Palace, with his rival starting fourth. However, he then fell backwards down the field, eventually finishing an anonymous eighth as Piquet came home fifth to take the title by a single point.
A season which shows that the rivalry between Ferrari and McLaren is not something limited to the last decade or so. Races in Spain, Britain and Italy were all subject to disqualifications, appeals and political shenanigans of one form or another. All the decisions were controversial but what was incontrovertible was that, but for his fiery crash at the Nurburgring, Niki Lauda would have taken his second successive title. Amazingly, the Austrian was back in the cockpit a little over a month after being given the last rites in Germany but McLaren's golden boy James Hunt had closed the gap in the meantime, setting up a title decider in Japan. Heavy rain brought a delayed start at Fuji and with Hunt taking an immediate lead, Lauda retired on lap two in protest at the appalling conditions. Even so, Hunt still had work to do because the track had started to dry. He dropped to fifth following a pit stop for tyres but put his foot down and took the third place he needed two laps from the finish. Even then, the highly-strung Englishman needed to be convinced he had actually done enough to become world champion.
Jim Clark and Graham Hill were Formula One fixtures in the 1960s, the introvert Scot taking the title in 1963 and again two years later while the extrovert Englishman won in 1962 and again in 1968 - the latter success coming in the aftermath of Clark's death. However, both missed out in 1964 when John Surtees triumphed for Ferrari at that year's deciding race in Mexico. Hill arrived as title favourite but his chance disappeared following a collision with Surtees' team-mate Lorenzo Bandini. Clark raced into the lead and appeared destined to retain his title before, agonisingly, his engine failed on the very last lap. Surtees finished second to become world champion - remaining the only man to achieve the feat on both two and four wheels.
That season's championship favourite, Germany's Wolfgang von Trips, needed a third-place finish at the Italian Grand Prix to take the title. Instead, tragedy struck in the penultimate round of the season at Monza when von Trips, trying to make up ground following a poor start from pole position, collided with Jim Clark's Lotus on lap two of the race. His Ferrari spun off the track and into the crowd, killing 14 spectators as well as the driver. Team-mate Phil Hill went on to claim victory in both the race and the world championship.
Jack Brabham clinches the first of his three world titles. The latter, in 1966, remains the only occasion a driver has become world champion in a car of his own construction but what makes the Australian's '59 title unique is that in the final race of the season, the United States Grand Prix at Sebring, he sealed his win by pushing his Cooper-Climax car - which had run out of fuel - the final quarter mile up the start-finish straight to take fourth place.
Englishmen Mike Hawthorn and Stirling Moss both had title aspirations heading into the last race of the season in Morocco, the latter having won four races that season to his rival's one but Hawthorn the favourite by virtue of consistent finishing throughout the year. Moss needed to win and score the fastest lap if he was to stand a chance of becoming champion and he managed to achieve both. However, Hawthorn achieved the second place he needed. He had also finished second two races earlier in Portugal, a place he was allowed to keep under threat of disqualification after Moss sportingly testified in his favour at a stewards' meeting - an altogether different era from the one of deliberate crashes.
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