Hamilton vs Verstappen – the championship deciding crashes from F1's past

F1

The threat of a Hamilton and Verstappen collision looms over this weekend's title decider – we look back at the six times a crash has influenced who takes the F1 crown

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - DECEMBER 05: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W12 collide during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 05, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Verstappen and Hamilton's fight then nasty turn

Lars Baron/Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s third collision of the year at Saudi Arabia only served to ratchet up the tension in this year’s titanic drivers’ championship battle.

The Jeddah collision came after a series of incidents between the pair in earlier laps. The outrage expressed from both teams, plus the fan reaction, plus the fact the two are now equal on points after Hamilton survived and went on to win, means this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi is arguably the most anticipated F1 race of all time.

It marked the third time the two have come together this year, after Verstappen’s British GP-ending trip into the barriers and the Red Bull coming unstuck against Hamilton’s Mercedes in Monza.

However, this is hardly the first time that the grand prix title has turned ugly and been decided through a coming-together. We compare and contrast some of the most notorious (and slightly less notorious) shunts which have contributed to sending the championship one way or the other.

 

Tony Brooks / Wolfgang von Trips – 1959 US GP

Tony Brooks in Ferrari Dino 246

Brooks’ ’59 title challenge ended with a shunt in Sebring

Grand Prix Photo

From a time when the leading drivers were professional, but still had the decorum of gentleman racers (if you ignore Harry Schell finding a short cut on the circuit and using it to wipe six seconds off his qualifying time.)

Going into the season finale, Tony Brooks needed a win to take the ’59 title at Sebring. He also required his championship rivals Jack Brabham to finish lower than second, and Stirling Moss to come home lower than third to take the title

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Moss would in fact retire and Brabham finish fourth after famously pushing his Cooper over the line when it ran out the fuel.

These results would be academic though, as Brooks was shunted from behind on lap 1 by his own Ferrari team-mate, Wolfgang von Trips.

The Brit was known for having a rapid yet controlled approach to driving, and so underwent a two-minute pitstop to inspect the damage. He would valiantly fight back from 15th to third but it wasn’t enough to take the title.

“I resolved never to risk my life driving a sub-standard car beyond the limits of its capabilities,” he told Simon Taylor in 2013. “Von Trips had hit my right rear wheel and suspension. It would have been much easier to keep going, but I’m proud that I made myself stop. I knew it’d put paid to my title chances, but I had to be true to my resolution.”

Contrasts could be made with Hamilton at Saudi Arabia last weekend who, wisely or foolishly, carried on with his damaged front wing, shedding bits of carbon fibre as he went.

 

Graham Hill / Lorenzo Bandini – 1964 Mexican GP

Graham Hill in his BRM before practice for the 1964 Monaco Grand Prix in Monza. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Hill was not amused by Bandini’s on-track conduct in Mexico

Grand Prix Photo

Halfway through the 1964 season-ender, John Surtees’ chances of winning the world title looked to have gone – but no-one had reckoned with one of the most exciting finishes to a championship ever.

Jim Clark had it the toughest out of his rivals as the F1 circus pulled into Mexico – the Scot had to win the race to stand any chance of being crowned. Graham Hill could afford to take it relatively easy, ‘only’ needing finish third to take the title as long as Surtees didn’t win, a scenario which would hand ‘Il Grande John’ the championship.

Then, a series of unfortunate events for everyone but Surtees unfolded. Early on Hill was duelling for third with Lorenzo Bandini, while his Ferrari team-mate Surtees was running a distant fifth. Then the crucial crash came.

The Italian accidentally ran into the back of Hill’s BRM, sending it into the barriers and damaging his exhaust. Hill would send Bandini an LP vinyl of advanced driving lessons for Christmas in dry response.

Having started from pole, Clark was now leading with the championship seemingly his before his Lotus agonisingly broke down on the last lap.

Ferrari then ordered Bandini, who was occupying second after his early prang, to let Surtees past with a few corners to go, meaning the Brit stole the championship from under Hill’s nose by one point.

 

Ayrton Senna / Alain Prost – 1989 Japanese GP

Ayrton Senna of Brazil is given a push from circuit marshals for a restart while his teammate and bitter rival Alain Prost of France leaves his car to abandon the race after the two collided in a chicane during the Japan Formula One Grand Prix in Suzuka 22 October 1989. Senna received the chequered flag but was later disqualified after being accused of receiving an illegal push from marshals and of taking a short cut through the chicane. AFP PHOTO TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA (Photo by Toshifumi KITAMURA / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images)

The McLaren pair collide, but Senna manages to get restarted

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

It was 25 years before a shunt again contributed to the outcome of a title showdown, and the images associated with the next one are perhaps the most recognisable in F1’s history.

Ayrton Senna had to win both in Japan and at the final in Australia to beat McLaren team-mate Alain Prost and become ’89 champion.

Removing the Gurney flap on his McLaren’s rear wing meant the Frenchman had superior straight-line speed at Suzuka, managing to jump his pole-sitting team-mate to take the lead and leave Senna in pursuit.

The slippery nature of Prost’s MP4/5 meant only the bravest of dives (much like those demonstrated by Verstappen this year) would get Senna ahead.

The Brazilian naturally had better downforce through corners due to leaving his Gurney flap on, and therefore by lap 47 managed to use the momentum through the Spoon corner and then 130R to size up Prost for a move into the chicane.

Senna went for it and Prost turned in, the two locking wheels before smoking to a halt at the escape road.

The Frenchman unbuckled and strode away, thinking the title was won, whilst Senna frantically urged marshals to push his McLaren back onto the circuit, using the momentum to restart it.

Senna drove a whole lap with a broken wing, pitted, then caught and passed the now-leading Alessandro Nannini two laps later to win – all to no avail.

Stewards disqualified him for cutting the chicane when getting his restart, handing the win to Nannini and title to Prost – plus pushing the Senna / Prost relationship over the precipice and into the abyss for good.

The Hamilton / Verstappen relationship is hardly looking salvageable now either.

 

Senna / Prost 1990

Ayrton Senna hits Alain Prost at the start of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix

Senna spears into Prost at Suzuka

Grand Prix Photo

If you thought ’89 was a bad time for driver relations, things were going to get worse – and quickly – in 1990. The aggressiveness of Verstappen’s moves has gradually increased over the season, something that was in some ways mirrored by Senna’s behaviour 31 years ago, particularly in the heat of the battle.

Being the penultimate race of the year, a non-score for both drivers would secure the championship for the Brazilian.

Senna claimed pole, but found himself starting on the dirty side of the grid, with Alain Prost second in his Ferrari in the preferred clean lane.

Senna and his team-mate Gerhard Berger urged the Japanese stewards to change the grid positions around to make the start more favourable for the Brazilian, but to no avail.

It appeared from that moment Senna had his mind made up for his course of action, should he be beaten off the line. And so it was, Prost got the better start, but Senna kept his foot in and the two connected – the 1990 championship was decided in the gravel trap with the Brazilian crowned.

Cue Senna’s famous “If you no longer go for a gap…”

 

Schumacher / Hill – 1994

Michael Schumacher, 1994 Australian GP

Schumacher’s Benetton sits wedged in the wall after his infamous crash with Damon Hill

Grand Prix Photo

Senna was tragically lost in Michael Schumacher’s first championship year, but the German appeared to take on his zero-compromise mantle – and now Verstappen could quite possibly be the next in this lineage.

The first famous example of Schumacher not relenting came at the ’94 title-decider Adelaide. The German led Damon Hill by one point as both went for their first championship, and it was he who seized the initiative as the paired leapfrogged Nigel Mansell at the start.

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The positions remained the same until lap 36, when Schumacher finally cracked, slithering across the grass and hitting the wall at the East Terrace corner. The German dragged his damaged Benetton back onto the track just as Hill came up behind him.

Seeing a gap, the Williams driver dived down the inside, only for Schumacher to appear to wilfully turn into him. The German ended up in barriers, Hill’s car was terminally damaged – Schumacher was champion.

The Britain was unequivocal in his analysis of the incident for Motor Sport years later.

“Michael took me out,” he said. “Typically, my first impulse was to blame myself. I thought, ‘That was a crap overtaking manoeuvre, Damon’. There was an open door, and I went through it, and across he came, Boom! I didn’t know his car had gone off the road, I didn’t know it was damaged. But if you watch the replays there’s no question it was deliberate. Lots of drivers would have done the same. You never know – I might have done it myself…”

Could we see a similar scenario this weekend?

 

Jacques Villeneuve / Michael Schumacher – 1997 European GP

SchVil_97Jerez

Schumacher and Villeneuve come together during the 1997 title decider

Kaiser/Grand Prix Photo

Schumacher would try an almost identical manoeuvre on Jacques Villeneuve three years later – but this time it didn’t quite come off.

Again like in Adelaide, again like Verstappen, Schumacher held the championship advantage. Leading by one point, the now-Ferrari driver just needed to make sure Villeneuve did no better than him and he was champion.

An extraordinary qualifying session saw the two title contenders plus the Canadian’s Williams stablemate Heinz-Harald Frentzen all set the exactly same time.

Villeneuve was on pole, with Schumacher second, but Ferrari’s man got the jump at the start. The Canadian sat behind Schumacher for 40 laps, working himself up for a move at the ‘Dry Sack’ corner.

Diving down the inside, it was clear the Williams driver had the corner, so Schumacher resorted to extreme measures. He turned right abruptly and the Ferrari’s front left wheel smashed into Villeneuve’s sidepod.

This time however, it didn’t work out for Schumacher, as he was sent into the gravel trap and the title was Villeneuve’s. Some might have felt it was karma coming back to bite Schumacher three years later.

“Suddenly he realised I was there, so he turned away and then he turned in again,” Villeneuve told Adam Cooper in 2016. “He did it badly, because he didn’t hit my wheels, he hit my sidepod.”

Quite. In a bid to draw a line under Schumacher’s tactic, stewards stripped him of all 78 points he had won that season and it’s an outcome that remains today, should the Hamilton and Verstappen fight really turn sour in Abu Dhabi.

But despite the draconian threat, after all the recriminations of an incident packed season, we might just as easily see an equally controversial end to the year as some of these examples.