Ahead of Sunday's showdown, here are F1's famous five finales

F1’s famous finales: As Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen fight for the world title, here are five extraordinary last-race deciders… from James Hunt risking his life to Michael Schumacher’s dastardly deeds and an infamous British three-way fight

  • Lewis Hamilton completed his fairytale rise to world champion in 2008 
  • Damon Hill lost the 1994 world title after Michael Schumacher drove into him
  • James Hunt claimed the 1976 title after Niki Lauda retired in atrocious conditions

One of grand prix racing’s most rancorous duels reaches its conclusion on Sunday in Abu Dhabi. After 21 races of see-sawing fortunes, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are locked level on points, and it is winner takes all.

But there remains the prospect that Verstappen will ram Hamilton off the road because he leads on countback — nine race wins to eight. If neither scores, the Dutchman will clinch his first championship aged 24.

The world awaits the final showdown, with Verstappen’s father Jos having told Sportsmail yesterday that his son ‘will do everything to get the win’.

Here Sportsmail looks back at the extraordinary tales of last-race deciders that have gone before — none more tantalising, however, than Sunday’s finale.

Lewis Hamilton completed his fairytale rise from a council flat to world champion in Brazil

BRAZIL: Hamilton 94pts, Massa 87pts entering final race

Deep into the 3,264th and final lap of a compelling season, Lewis Hamilton completed his fairytale rise from a council flat to world champion at the age of 23.

The Briton headed into the 18th and concluding round in Sao Paulo leading the local favourite, Felipe Massa of Ferrari, by 94 points to 87. Hamilton needed to finish fifth or higher to be assured of the title that had eluded him by a single point in his rookie season a year before.

Massa won the race. He was champion-elect. Ferrari were in delirium, led by Massa’s father Luis in the garage. Hamilton, still on the track, was down in sixth as rain fell. But wait! Toyota’s Timo Glock, on the wrong rubber, was slowing as it grew wetter. In the final few corners, Hamilton passed him.

The car in front was no longer a Toyota. Hamilton thus finished fifth, a point clear. I have never seen a jaw drop as fast as poor Luis’s did at that moment.

Felipe Massa’s Ferrari team and dad Luis saw their celebrations cut short in 2008

1976 JAMES HUNT v Niki Lauda

JAPAN: Lauda 68pts, Hunt 65pts

‘By all the laws of humanity I should not be motor racing champion of the world,’ wrote James Hunt on the front page of the Daily Mail the morning after he practically begged to die.

Rain was pelting Mount Fuji and Hunt had wanted the race postponed. The inflexible Japanese and an equally intractable Bernie Ecclestone told him, ‘No, it is today or never’. Hunt had to finish third or better to win the title, so suddenly he wanted the race to go ahead.

Niki Lauda, back from the fire that nearly killed him a few weeks earlier at Monza, retired after one lap muttering ‘insanity’ as fantails of water hampered visibility to the point of blindness.


Hunt drove on through the spray to finish third. He burst a tyre at 180mph, tore into the pits and out again. Half an hour later, he was champion.

James Hunt (left) won the world title after Niki Lauda retired on lap one in atrocious conditions


AUSTRALIA: Schumacher 92pts, Hill 91pts

The first memorably dastardly deed of Michael Schumacher’s controversial career allowed him to beat Damon Hill to claim the first of his seven titles.

Taking a one-point lead over the Briton into the final race in Adelaide, Schumacher ran off the road, came back on and turned into Hill’s Williams. The German was out on the spot. Hill staggered on to the end of the lap but the contact with Schumacher’s Benetton had irretrievably damaged his front wishbone. He returned to the pits with nothing to do but shake his head.

Schumacher claimed it was a racing incident and his victory stood. Not everyone was credulous enough to believe him.

Damon Hill loses the 1994 title after Michael Schumacher controversially drives into him

1997 JACQUES VILLENEUVE v Michael Schumacher

SPAIN: Schumacher 78pts, Villeneuve 77pts

Schumacher led Jacques Villeneuve by a point going into the concluding European Grand Prix in Jerez. Challenged for the lead, Schumacher biffed Villeneuve (above). The German careered into the sand trap and was helpless to continue.

Villeneuve managed to finish, in third, enough for what remains Williams’ last world drivers’ title. As Martin Brundle said on ITV of Schumacher’s clumsy act of desperation: ‘That didn’t work. You hit the wrong part of him, my friend.’

A storm raged, with Schumacher later deemed by the FIA to have acted deliberately. He was stripped of second place in the championship but bizarrely kept the 78 points he collected on his way to infamy.

Schumacher biffed Villeneuve but it was the German who careered into the sand trap

1964 JOHN SURTEES v Jim Clark v Graham Hill

MEXICO: Hill 39pts, Surtees 34pts, Clark 30pts

One of the most controversial title wins in history unfolded in the final round in Mexico City, a three-way fight that ended with Englishman John Surtees claiming his place in history as still the only world champion on two and four wheels.

Graham Hill looked set for the title after winning the penultimate round at Watkins Glen to give himself a five-point lead over Surtees and nine over Jim Clark.

Lying third, which was as much as he required, Hill was punted off by Surtees’ Ferrari team-mate Lorenzo Bandini, one of the most doubtful moves of the decade.

Clark was now on target to take the crown until he was robbed by a last-lap oil leak. Bandini waved Surtees through into the second place he needed to win the title by one point.

One of the most controversial title wins in history unfolded in the final round in Mexico City

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