7-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton has been involved in two of the closest finishes in F1 World Championship history, and is already involved in another this year with his big rival Max Verstappen.
While we wait to see how that battle plays out, let’s take a look back at the closes World Championships in the history of Formula 1.
1958: Mike Hawthorn 42, Stirling Moss 41
The 1958 F1 World Championship saw the introduction of a trophy for manufacturers as well as for drivers, and is one of only two occasions in F1 history where the eventual world champion won only one race during the season – the other being Keke Rosberg in 1982.
Englishman Mike Hawthorn took the title by just one point from compatriot Stirling Moss, in large part thanks to Moss pleading Hawthorn’s case to the stewards after he was initially disqualified from the Portuguese Grand Prix. Hawthorne had restarted his stalled car on his final lap of the race, in a manner that the stewards had deemed dangerous, but Moss, who had stopped to watch the incident, gave evidence on Hawthorn’s behalf and he was reinstated.
Although Moss won four races to Hawthorn’s one, and finished second in a fifth race, his retirement from the other five races he competed in led to him being pipped by his countryman. Hawthorn finished second in five events and won in France, giving him Hawthorn retired after winning his one and only F1 World Championship, but was killed just three months later in a road accident.
1961: Phil Hill 34, Wolfgang von Trips 33
Two wins each for Stirling Moss, Wolfgang von Trips and Phil Hill lead to yet another close Championship finish in 1961, although Moss was once again denied a World Championship win thanks to his failure to finish in four other rounds.
The title was ultimately decided in the penultimate round, at the Italian Grand Prix. Von Trips went into the race leading the Championship, but one of the worst motor racing accidents in history occurred when he collided with Jim Clark and his car was pitched into the crowd. Von Trips was killed in the accident along with 14 spectators, but the organisers decided to continue the race, allowing Phil Hill to take the win and seal the World Championship title.
1964: John Surtees 40, Graham Hill 39 (41)
With only the best six results counting towards the final World Championship standings, Graham Hill lost out on a second World Championship crown by one point despite having technically secured more points over the season than his rival, John Surtees.
Hill amassed 41 points over the season, but his Championship total was only 39, because his 5th placed finish in Belgium was his 7th best result and therefore not counted. Surtees finish 1st twice, 2nd three times, and 3rd once, and retired from all the other rounds, but managed to take the title from Hill by just one point when his teammate Bandini let him through into 2nd place in the final race of the season.
1976: James Hunt 69, Niki Lauda 68
Forever immortalised in the film Rush, the 1976 World Championship went down to the wire after Niki Lauda missed two rounds of the season recovering in hospital from his horrific crash in the German Grand Prix. After suffering severe burns in the accident and being given the last rites in hospital after doctors thought he would never recover, Lauda returned to the track just six weeks after his accident surprising everyone – including his own team.
Despite a valiant effort to stay ahead in the title race, Lauda was unable to perform to his best as he suffered from breathing and vision problems while in the car. He still managed to take the championship fight to the final round in Japan, where Hunt took third place in a soaking wet race to win the title by a single point after Lauda stopped after just two laps. Even before his accident, Lauda had long been a proponent of driver safety, and he took the decision to retire from the race in Japan after many drivers had protested against the running of the Grand Prix, sacrificing his chance at a World Championship title to make a stance on safety and welfare.
1981: Nelson Piquet 50, Carlos Reutemann 49
The lead of the 1981 World Championship swapped hands several times throughout the season, with South Americans Nelson Piquet and Carlos Reutemann sparring away at the top of the leaderboard.
The winner was decided in the final race of the season, as Reutemann could only manage an 8th placed finish while Piquet came home 5th and secured the two points needed to leapfrog his rival and take the title by a point.
1994: Michael Schumacher 92, Damon Hill 91
Michael Schumacher looked to have the 1994 World Championship title wrapped up by the midway point, having won 6 of the first 7 races, finishing 2nd in the other. However, after Williams cars retired 6 times in the first four races – including Ayrton Senna’s fatal accident and the subsequent non-running of his car in Monaco – relative newcomer Damon Hill managed to find form and put pressure on the German.
When Schumacher was disqualified from the British Grand Prix, the championship came alive again. After passing Hill on the Parade Lap and then refusing to serve the subsequent penalty for the offence, Schumacher was black-flagged but ignored attempts to remove him from the race. His team then decided to serve his original penalty, a 5-second stop-go, and let him continue racing. After being disqualified from the standings at the end of the race, Schumacher was then given a further two-race ban for ignoring black flags which his team appealed against in order to allow him to continue to race in the interim.
Schumacher retired from the following race and was then once again disqualified after the Belgian Grand Prix, after his car failed to meet regulations. His appeal was then thrown out, meaning that he would miss the following two races and fail to score in 6 consecutive races.
Hill took full advantage of this, and a series of wins left him 2nd in the Championship by one point going into the final round. As Schumacher led the race, he made a mistake that gave Hill in 2nd the opportunity to overtake him. As Hill passed, Schumacher drove into the Williams, damaging Hill’s suspension and forcing both drivers to retire from the race, giving the German the title. Schumacher was not investigated for the incident after Williams declined to appeal, but he would go on to repeat the manoeuvre in the 1997 decider as Jacques Villeneuve passed him. He was unsuccessful on this second occasion and was retrospectively disqualified from that year’s championship.
2007: Kimi Raikkonen 110, Lewis Hamilton & Fernando Alonso 109
Lewis Hamilton’s rookie season in F1 saw him take on all comers, including his double-world champion teammate. The young Brit started off the season wowing the fans with his aggressive style and overtaking prowess, securing a podium on his debut and his first win in Canada. After his teammate Alonso stoked up some anti-Hamilton feeling at the Spanish Grand Prix and was later penalised for ruining his qualifying run in the Hungarian Grand Prix, it was clear that Hamilton had his more experienced counterpart rattled.
Hamilton could have sealed the title in his first season in F1 in the penultimate round in China, where he led the Grand Prix and the Championship. However, general consensus says that McLaren left him out too long on used tyres, and on his way into the pitlane he couldn’t stop and became beached in the gravel.
After retiring in China, Hamilton got a poor start in the final race in Brazil and was then left to rue missed opportunities as his car failed twice during the race and he only managed to recover to 7th place. He would rank above his teammate on races won, but agonisingly lost out by one point to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who had inherited the win in the previous race in China.
2008: Lewis Hamilton 98, Felipe Massa 97
Hamilton finally grabbed his first title on the last corner of the last lap in the most exciting finish to a Formula 1 season in history. After trading places at the top of the leader board with his rival Felipe Massa all season long, the major talking point came in the Belgian Grand Prix after Hamilton won on the track but was later given a 25-second penalty for an illegal overtake – conveniently placing him behind his Ferrari rivals in the results.
Despite that setback, the title was wide open going into the last round in Brazil, and after a rain-affected race that mixed up the order significantly the Ferrari team believed that Massa had won the title after he crossed the line first. However, Hamilton managed to catch and pass Timo Glock into the last corner on the last lap to win his first title, and give us the infamous “IS THAT GLOCK?” moment.