For most of the F1 season, we’re all excited about one thing – the championship battle. We all hope it’ll go to the final race, giving us a dramatic title decider that goes down in history, like in 2008, or 1997.
Having a driver win the championship a few races from the end of the season can sometimes be a bit of a bummer – especially this year, since it was so close for so long. But fear not. Because quite often, when a championship gets decided with races to spare, those races can turn out to be absolute thrillers. Here are seven dead rubbers that were really, really good.
In 1971 Jackie Stewart was so dominant that he was crowned champion in Austria with three races still to go, despite failing to finish. The next round in Italy turned out to be an absolute classic.
It was the final race at Monza before it got slowed down by chicanes, and it turned into a colossal slipstreaming battle. In the closing laps five drivers – Francois Cevert, Ronnie Peterson, Howden Ganley, Peter Gethin, and Mike Hailwood – were in with a chance of winning, and none of them had ever won a race before.
Heading for the line on the final lap it was anyone’s guess, but Gethin just clinched it for BRM, 0.01 seconds ahead of Peterson in second, making it the closest F1 finish of all time. Even fifth-placed Ganley was only six-tenths away from the winner!
In 1973 Jackie Stewart took his third and final championship at Monza, this time with ‘only’ two rounds to spare (he was clearly losing his touch). It was probably a good thing he did, because the very next race at Mosport in Canada was… well, bonkers.
It was the first time in F1 history that the safety car was used, and thanks to a combination of bad weather, multiple pit stops and inept officials, nobody was really sure who was leading or indeed, come the end of the race, who’d actually won. Peter Revson was given the victory, but Emerson Fittipaldi, Jackie Oliver, Howden Ganley, and Jean-Pierre Beltoise could each have easily been declared the winner. Thankfully when the safety car comes out now things are a bit more straightforward!
Once Jody Scheckter had won the 1979 world championship for Ferrari, the gloves came off and team orders were no more, meaning Villeneuve could start to race for himself again. Although the Williams of Alan Jones was now the quickest car/driver combination, Villeneuve was keen to show what he could do as the pair put on an incredible show in Montreal.
The pair were barely separated by more than a second or two for the entire distance. Villeneuve led the early stages but Jones finally edged ahead and began to slowly pull away as the tyres on Villeneuve’s Ferrari began to cry enough.
But whilst his tyres made have given up, Gilles certainly hadn’t. He closed the gap right down again in the closing laps, finishing just a second behind Jones, whilst third-placed Clay Regazzoni (in the other Williams) was well over a minute behind, as well as being the only other car on the lead lap.
Two weeks after Alain Prost casually turned in on Ayrton Senna to clinch the 1989 championship, Adelaide saw one of the wettest F1 races in history.
The race had to be stopped a few laps in as JJ Lehto spun and blocked the circuit. During the delay, Prost (who never liked driving in the rain) simply withdrew as he felt it was too dangerous to race. Senna continued leading after the restart, but unseen in the spray, he hit the back of Martin Brundle’s Brabham whilst lapping him and retiring.
Conditions were so bad that over half the field had spun out by half distance, leaving eight cars circulating for much of the race. The race stopped on lap 70 of the scheduled 81 laps, with Thierry Boutsen taking his second win of the season for Williams.
Damon Hill had a pretty awful season in 1995 and had lost the championship to Michael Schumacher by the Pacific GP, three races from the end of the season. He kinda made up for it in the final race of the year though with a crushing victory in what was the final Australian GP at Adelaide.
It was a race of seriously high attrition. Hill won by the huge margin of two laps from Olivier Panis, who only just made the finish in his smoking Ligier, with Gianni Morbidelli claiming Footwork’s only podium.
The absolute highlight of the event, however, was Murray Walker’s reaction when race leader David Coulthard tried to pit.
In a season utterly dominated by Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, the final race of the season at Interlagos ended up being a duel between Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya, but not before Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso, and even Felipe Massa’s Sauber had turns in the lead.
Montoya brilliantly snatched the lead from Raikkonen after a pit stop and just managed to hold him off for the rest of the race, the two barely more than a second or two apart. There was extra interest because these two would be teammates at McLaren in 2005, though sadly that particular teammate battle would end up being a damp squib.
Not just great for a dead rubber, but simply one of the best races of all-time. Rain in qualifying left all the fast guys at the back of the grid, Fernando Alonso 16th and Kimi Raikkonen 17th, with Ralf Schumacher on pole for Toyota (no, really).
Though Alonso had won the drivers’ title at the last race, McLaren and Renault were still fighting for the constructors’ championship. The pair of them scythed through the field, Alonso in particular putting in a superb pass on Michael Schumacher – around the outside of 130R.
Alonso was later delayed after a track-limits issue whilst passing Christian Klien, leaving Kimi Raikkonen to take up the charge. By this point, Giancarlo Fisichella was leading by a mile, but on a wet setup was struggling for ultimate pace as Raikkonen chased him down, setting lap records on the way.
Coming into the chicane for the penultimate time Fisi felt the need to defend for some reason, giving Kimi a bit of a run.
Yeah, that’s never going to stop being exciting, is it?