Biggest title comebacks in F1 history: Is there still hope for Charles Leclerc in 2022?
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will head into the Singapore Grand Prix with a 116-point championship lead over nearest rival Charles Leclerc. Can the Ferrari driver stage a shock recovery race in the final six rounds of the season to turn things around? Or is another Verstappen triumph a formality? We reflect on some of the biggest comebacks to the title in F1 history to assess what he faces…
John Surtes: 1964
20 points behind with five races to go (point system: 9-6-4-3-2-1)
John Surtees became the first rider to become world champion on two and four wheels, having won titles on 350cc and 500cc motorcycles before winning the riders’ (and constructors’) titles with Ferrari in 1964.
The Briton faced three retirements in the first four Grands Prix but followed that up with third place at Brands Hatch which put him seventh in the championship and 20 points behind leader Jim Clark. A victory at the Nurburgring brought him closer, but his retirement in Austria threatened to pull him out of title contention.
However, triumph in front of the tifosi at Monza, as well as P2 finishes in the United States and Mexico – aided by teammate Lorenzo Bandini – saw Surtees claim the championship by a single point over Graham Hill.
READ MORE: Life after Ferrari – How did the superstar drivers fare after leaving the Scuderia?
James Hunt: 1976
17 points behind with three races to go (point system: 9-6-4-3-2-1)
The 1976 season was one of the most memorable in F1 history given Niki Lauda’s horrific crash at the Nurburgring, his remarkable recovery and comeback and the intriguing way the championship turned out. unrolled.
During the first half of the season, Lauda stormed Hunt in the standings to give himself a buffer of more than two race wins. But then came his fiery crash and a two-run spell on the sidelines that all but eradicated his lead. That Lauda returned to action in Monza – just weeks after receiving the last rites in his hospital bed – was hard to believe, with the Austrian doing what he could to keep Hunt at bay.
In the end, Lauda’s decision to withdraw his car from the season finale in Japan – in the pouring rain – paved the way for Hunt to clinch the title, scoring the points he needed with a hard-fought podium. .
WATCH: When Niki Lauda met Freddie Hunt
Top 10: James Hunt Brilliance Moments
Keke Rosberg: 1982
16 points behind with five races to go (point system: 9-6-4-3-2-1)
Alain Prost’s winning streak put him in contention for the 1982 title before compatriot Didier Pironi took the lead – Keke Rosberg a distant fifth in the championship with five of the 16 rounds remaining.
A horrific crash at Hockenheim however changed everything, with Pironi suffering career-ending injuries. John Watson, then second in the championship, failed to score in Germany – but Rosberg did, the Finn followed with P2 in Austria (0.05s behind winner Elio de Angelis) to overtake Watson in the standings . A win for Rosberg at the Swiss Grand Prix – his only triumph of the season – gave him a three-point lead.
A no-score in Italy, however, brought Watson back into the frame, setting up a title clincher in Las Vegas where Watson finished second to Rosberg’s P5, giving Keke his first and only championship.
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Nelson Piquet: 1983
14 points behind with three races to go (point system: 9-6-4-3-2-1)
Alain Prost looked set to take overall honors in 1983 until the title chase broke out in the final four rounds. After the Renault driver collided with Brabham rival Nelson Piquet at the Dutch Grand Prix, 14 points separated the duo, with Rene Arnoux sitting between them.
Next time out at Monza, Piquet took advantage of a turbo-bound retirement for Prost to take the win, before overtaking at Brands Hatch with another win – temptingly closing in on the standings.
Prost still held the lead heading into the season finale at Kyalami, but another DNF (again due to a turbo issue) opened the door for Piquet, who leapt up onto the podium and crashed taking the title. Prost will have to wait two more years to break his championship duck.
Dutch Grand Prix: 5 dramatic moments from the F1 archives
All The Angles: Prost and Piquet collide in the Netherlands 1983
Alain Prost : 1986
11 points behind with two races to go (point system: 9-6-4-3-2-1)
Since 1960 no driver (Jack Brabham) had defended his title, and Prost appeared to be fighting a losing battle in 1986 with two rounds to go, Williams’ Nigel Mansell having just won the Portuguese Grand Prix against Prost in his McLaren.
Cue another classic as, with P2 in the penultimate round in Mexico, Prost jumped within six points of Mansell – dropping Nelson Piquet’s other Williams to third in the standings.
The more powerful Honda-powered Williams had the advantage at the final round in Adelaide. But then Mansell’s title charge mounted in a spectacular rain of sparks, steel and rubber, the palpable astonishment from the microphones of James Hunt and Murray Walker in the video below.
With Piquet in the pits to avoid a similar tire failure, Prost took his 25th Grand Prix victory and his second World Championship under incredible circumstances.
READ MORE: Under the body of the best F1 of 1986, the Williams FW11
Murray Walker’s famous comment about Mansell’s tire blowout at Australia 1986
Kimi Raikkonen: 2007
17 points behind with two races to go (point system: 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1)
Kimi Raikkonen defied odds in 2007 when he scored a maximum of 20 points in the last two races to close a 17-point deficit.
After the Japanese Grand Prix, it was Lewis Hamilton who led the way, 12 points ahead of his McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso and five more over Raikkonen. But an extremely dramatic retirement for Hamilton in China (when he slid into the pits on worn intermediate tyres) turned the tables.
Still seven points behind, Raikkonen coolly claimed another victory at the season finale in Brazil – supported by Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa – while Hamilton had to settle for seventh after experiencing gearbox problems. speeds at the start, with Alonso third – meaning the Finn beat them. title by a single dot.
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Sebastien Vettel: 2010 and 2012
2010: 31 points behind and 6 races to go (point system: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1)
Sebastian Vettel may have swept 2010-13 for his four championships, but they weren’t all easy for the then Red Bull driver. In 2010, the title ended in a four-way battle between Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton and Mark Webber, with Ferrari’s Alonso the favourite.
Red Bull had flawed reliability that year, while the relationship between Webber and Vettel also soured, with trouble spots breaking out in Turkey and Korea between the German’s wins in Japan and Brazil. As for the final in Abu Dhabi, Vettel won the race and had to wait for Alonso to cross the finish line in P7 – behind Vitaly Petrov – to be crowned. Weltmeister four points over the Spaniard.
WATCH: Radio Rewind – The Abu Dhabi Story 2010
2012: 39 points behind and seven races to go (point system: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1)
As the 2012 season passed halfway through, Vettel’s hopes of defending his 2011 title faded and Alonso looked destined for a third championship given Vettel’s retirement to Italy – where Hamilton took pole.
But when Hamilton’s gearbox failed in Singapore, Vettel inherited the win and Japan would be even sweeter (a Grand Slam) as Alonso retired on the opening lap. Korea saw Vettel see team-mate Webber back for the win, then in India Vettel dominated to lead the championship by 13 points – a lead he would hold until the very end of the season – with championship-worthy practices in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
EXCLUSIVE: Embark on Vettel’s epic and incident-packed first 8 laps at Brazil 2012
Race highlights – Brazil 2012
Lewis Hamilton: 2017
14 points behind with nine races to go (point system: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1)
Although far from the greatest comeback in F1 history, Hamilton had to overturn a points deficit on several occasions en route to the 2017 crown. Vettel made a stellar start to the season winning three of the first six races and finishing second in the others – sending a clear message of intent.
The battle fluctuated as the campaign developed, culminating in a controversial clash in Azerbaijan, but it was Vettel who entered the summer break as leader – the then Ferrari driver with 14 points ahead of Hamilton.
However, it all went wrong for Vettel early in the final streak as he suffered two retirements in three races – including a dramatic collision with teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Singapore. From there, Hamilton raced for glory, eventually finishing 46 points clear.
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Race Highlights – Mexico 2017