Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

The greatest Formula One championship battles

Alberto Ascari v Juan Manuel Fangio, 1953
Two of the greats of Formula One. The pair dominated the first decade of the sport before Ascari tragically died racing at Monza in 1955 - both drivers still occupy the top two places in the race entry to race win table. One of their closest championship battles came in 1953. The championship consisted of just nine races and Alberto Ascari won five of them in a very powerful Ferrari. But after a poor start to the season that saw several retirements, a rise in Fangio's form as the season progressed and a few non-finishes from Ascari ensured a tight finish. When the penultimate race of the season arrived in Switzerland the Italian driver knew he could claim the title with a victory. It proved to be anything but easy, Ascari (car no. 4 in picture) trailed Fangio (car No. 50 in picture) but the Argentine was forced to retire. It seemed the title would go to the Ferrari driver before he begun to struggle with engine problems, dropping back to 4th. However, he dramatically forced his way back to the front of the grid to win his second title in a row by six points.
Alberto Ascari v Juan Manuel Fangio, 1953 Two of the greats of Formula One. The pair dominated the first decade of the sport before Ascari tragically died racing at Monza in 1955 - both drivers still occupy the top two places in the race entry to race win table. One of their closest championship battles came in 1953. The championship consisted of just nine races and Alberto Ascari won five of them in a very powerful Ferrari. But after a poor start to the season that saw several retirements, a rise in Fangio's form as the season progressed and a few non-finishes from Ascari ensured a tight finish. When the penultimate race of the season arrived in Switzerland the Italian driver knew he could claim the title with a victory. It proved to be anything but easy, Ascari (car no. 4 in picture) trailed Fangio (car No. 50 in picture) but the Argentine was forced to retire. It seemed the title would go to the Ferrari driver before he begun to struggle with engine problems, dropping back to 4th. However, he dramatically forced his way back to the front of the grid to win his second title in a row by six points.
Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill, 1965 With four world championship titles between them, Jim Clark (right) and Graham Hill (left) had been battling for years when Jackie Stewart arrived on the scene for his debut season in 1965. Like all great champions, the Scot did not need a settling-in period. He fought his new BRM team-mate, Graham Hill, and fellow championship contender Jim Clark hard from the start. By the eighth race of the season, the future three-time champion Jackie Stewart had won his first Grand Prix. In a thrilling race at Monza, Jim Clark tussled for the lead in an astonishing four-way battle that also included John Surtees. However, both Surtees and Clark had to retire, leaving Stewart and Hill to duel for the lead in the final twelve laps. The pair raced wheel to wheel in a thrilling finale before Hill lost grip on the final corner and ran wide, leaving the Scot to claim the chequered flag. However, it was Clark who claimed the title with 54 points to Hill's 40 and Stewart's 33.
Nelson Piquet, Carlos Reutemann, Alan Jones, Jacques Laffite, Alain Prost, 1981 Not until this season's 2010 championship has a title fight been contested so closely, by so many as in 1981. On that occasion, Nelson Piquet came out on top of a five-way fight ahead of Carlos Reutemann, Alan Jones, Jacques Laffite and Alain Prost. The quintet were separated by a mere seven points in the final title standings. The season reached its crescendo in the second to last race of the season on a soaked Canada track. Title contender Alan Jones led for much of the race but lost grip in the wet allowing Prost to overtake. However the Frenchman could not hold off the challenge of Jaques Laffite who went on to win. The season finale was held, somewhat strangely, in Las Vegas' Caesar Hotel parking lot. Reutemann was the favourite starting on pole and having the championship lead. However, the German faded in the race as Jones won. But Piquet, finishing in fifth place, did enough to win the title by one meagre point.
Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, 1987 The 1987 Formula One saw Mansell (second right) enjoy a fractious relationship with his two Brazilian counterparts. By the third race of the season, in the Belgium Grand Prix, Mansell and Senna (left), along with Piquet (right), were already regarded as the main contenders for the title. Neither Mansell nor Senna was the type to yield track-position easily, so when Senna moved to overtake, the pair clashed and were forced to retire. The British driver returned to the pit-lane in fury; he stormed down to the McLaren garage and pinned Senna against the wall by the throat. Never, the shy and retiring type, Mansell was also busy falling out with his Williams team-mate, Piquet. The Brazilian had arrived at Williams as World Champion and expected to occupy the number one seat; but Mansell had no intention of playing second-fiddle. Their relationship deteriorated dramatically over the course of the season and by Hungary, halfway through the season, Piquet had already agreed to leave. Nonetheless, the pair traded race victories throughout the year and the Brazilin won the title with 73 points to Mansell's 61, Senna finished a further four points behind in third.
Ayrton Senna v Alain Prost, 1989 Ayrton Senna was signed for McLaren in 1988 to partner the then two-time World Champion, Alain Prost. However, Senna showed no sign of being intimidated by the Frenchman and a fierce rivalry ensued. The two had massively differing personalities and Senna had already riled Prost in the 1988 Portuguese Grand Prix with a dangerous manoeuvre as the pair battled over that championship. However, the enmity really reached its climax during the 1989 season with incredible battles on the track and intense psychological warfare off it. In the penultimate race of the season in Suzuka, Senna needed victory to stay in the race for the title. Prost promised that he would not leave the door open for him as he believed the Brazilian had made too many dangerous manoeuvres on him throughout the season. On lap 46 he stayed true to his word, slamming the door firmly shut on Senna's attempted overtake and they both went off with stalled engines. However, with the help of marshals, the Brazilian driver returned to the track and overtook the Benetton of Alessandro Nannini to win the Grand Prix. The drama did not end there though as Senna was disqualified for cutting a chicane during his collision with Prost and stripped of his points; therefore the Frenchman claimed the title. By the end of the yo-yo season, Senna was engaged in a bitter war of words with FIA President, Jean-Marie Balestre, who he believed favoured his compatriot; while Alain Prost had had enough and left McLaren for Ferrari. The rivalry overflowed into the ensuing seasons so much so that Prost refused to race in the same team in 1993.
Nigel Mansell v Ayrton Senna, 1991 Senna's aggressive style of driving won him few friends among his fellow drivers and another of his great rivalries brewed with Brit, Mansell, who unlike Prost was less inclined to move over when the Brazilian's moves became a bit dangerous. Between 1984 and 1992 there were many great battles on the track but perhaps the most enduring was that of the 1991 world championship. The championship saw a titanic tussle between Senna and Mansell, the pair finished the season with a combined total of twelve victories out of sixteen races. The battle reached a climax in Barcelona, three races from the end of the season. In what remains an iconic image in Formula One, the Williams of Mansell and the McLaren of Senna raced side by side, inches apart, for the full length of the pit-straight with sparks flying from their wheels. Mansell won the race but Senna won the war with a twenty-four point championship victory.
Michael Schumacher v Damon Hill, 1994 The 1994 Formula One season was highly dramatic, powerfully emotional and extremely controversial. It seemed as though as soon as one drama was over, another followed hot on it's exhaust pipe. Despite off-track issues commanding most of the Formula One news, the on-track issues were just as interesting. It proved to be one of the tightest championship battles ever. After dominating the previous season, Williams struggled early on as new engine regulations were brought in. However Benetton flew out of the blocks and with a young Michael Schumacher behind the wheel they won six of the first seven races. Going into the final race of the season, the German needed Hill to score fewer points than himself to claim the title. However, a brush with the wall on lap 35 left him with irreparable damage and Hill loomed in his mirrors. When the British driver took the inside line into the next corner Schumacher turned into him, damaging Hill's front right suspension. Hill cruised round to the pit-lane while the Benetton had to retire immediately. The image of Schumacher perched on the tyre-wall, waiting anxiously to see if the Brit would continue, lives long in the memory. Sadly, Hill's race was over and thus Schumacher claimed the title by one point amidst talk of whether he had deliberately crashed into Hill's Williams.
Mika Hakkinen v Michael Schumacher, 2000 The pair had already battled for the 1998 and 1999 world championships with Hakkinen emerging victorious on both occasions. Schumacher was determined to win his third title and first with Ferrari. The rivalry had become so intense that the Finn was reduced to tears in 1999 when he crashed at Monza. By 2000, Schumacher finally felt he had the car to meet his ambitions having trailed in the wake of the Finn's McLaren for the previous two seasons. Going into the 13th race of the season in Belgium, Schumacher had lost the championship lead for the first time all season; he desperately wanted to win the race. But, while leading with four laps to go, Schumacher's tyres began to over-heat and he battled to keep Hakkinen behind, at one point he almost caused Hakinnen to crash at 200mph. On the next lap though, the Finn pulled off one the greatest overtaking manoeuvres in the history of the sport. The pair came up to lap Ricardo Zonta, and as Schumacher overtook Zonta from the outside line, Hakkinen went up the inside and overtook them both at once. Afterwards, harsh words were exchanged as Hakinnen felt some of Schumacher's blocking moves were a bit close to the mark, although unfortunately neither of the drivers has revealed the finer details of the conversation. Schumacher went on to claim the title by a large margin of 29 points, but that does not reflect the ferocity that him and Hakinnen fought throughout the year.
Lewis Hamilton v Felipe Massa, 2008 Much of the early season was fought out between World Champion Kimi Räikkönen in his Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren. But it was Felipe Massa who proved to be the British driver's biggest rival; the Brazilian won more races than anyone that season but still did not claim the title. The 2008 championship was decided later than any other in history. When Massa took the chequered flag in the last race of the season in Interlagos he stood to become world champion for the first time in his career, but it was stolen from his grasp in heartbreaking fashion. While the Ferrari pit crew celebrated in their garage, Lewis Hamilton claimed the title in the final corner of the final Grand Prix of the season by overtaking Timo Glock. In winning his maiden title, the British driver became the youngest driver ever to win the world championship and also the first black driver to do so.
Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button, 2010 This season's 2010 World Championship has got pundits purring and labelling it, 'the best ever'. With just four races remaining, five drivers are still contending for the title. The addition of a new point scoring system at the start of the season has meant drivers are forced to race for a victory as opposed to the more pragmatic approach of settling for second place that was seen in previous seasons. The story of the season has contained many exiting mini-narratives with the most personal battle coming from an old resentment between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso (centre). During their time at McLaren in 2007, Alonso accused his bosses of favouring the British driver and their relationship has been frosty ever since. After Hamilton came second at this year's European Grand Prix in Valencia the pair's enmity re-ignited, Alonso claimed that the British driver benefited greatly from the steward's delay in announcing his penalty, Hamilton quipped back, "sour grapes". Meanwhile another rivalry brewed; following a collision between team-mates Webber (right) and Vettel (left) at Turkey, an incident that saw the pair retire, a full-scale 'Red Bull Civil War' Broke out at Silverstone. Webber was outraged at his team boss' decision to remove part of his front wing to put on his team mate, Vettel's car. As if almost to prove a point the Australian went on to win the race while Vettel finished back in seventh place. Controversy also surrounded the German Grand Prix when Alonso benefited from Ferrari illegally using team orders. These dramatic events, along with great individual driver performances such as Hamilton's in the difficult conditions of Belgium, have ensured that this season will go down in Formula One folk-law.

The title race goes down to the wire in Brazil on Sunday after Sebastian Vettel failed to finish 15 points ahead of rival Fernando Alonso at the US Grand Prix.

There have been some great battles over the years from Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill in 1965 to Ayrton Senna against Alain Prost in 1989.

We look back at some classic Formula One tussles that saw competitive rivalry turn into fierce battle.

^^Click 'More Pictures' to launch our guide^^

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