DOWN TO THE WIRE

Over the last 50 years, McLaren has played a key role in some of the most memorable Formula 1™ finales in the sport’s history.
As the 2014 season draws to a close, we remember seven nail-biting finishes, when McLaren drivers clinched the title at the very last race.
 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Image credit: Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Image credit: Photo by LAT

1974 – Emerson Fittipaldi wins by three points

The 1974 Formula 1 season was a proper scrap from start to finish: seven different drivers won races that year, and three of them won three rounds each. In the end, though, it was Emerson Fittipaldi’s cool head (the 27-year-old had already been a Formula 1 world champion), plus the McLaren team’s dogged determination that helped clinch it at the final round in the USA. Neither Fittipaldi nor his closest rival, Clay Regazzoni, qualified well for that last race and found themselves side by side, 8th and 9th on the grid. ‘I remember just before the Grand Prix, I just looked to Clay – Clay was very nervous and I was very nervous,’ remembers Fittipaldi. ‘We just looked at each other, no word, no sign, ready to go.’ In the race, Regazzoni struggled with his car and finished out of the points; Fittipaldi, however, scored three precious points for his fourth-place finish, and claimed the title. 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Image credit: Photo by Sutton

1976 – James Hunt wins by one point

Ron Howards 2013 Hollywood blockbuster Rush followed the twists and turns of the tumultuous 1976 Formula 1 season, when James Hunt and Niki Lauda battled it out for the title. In fact, the dramatic final race in Japan deserves a movie in its own right. Lauda and Hunt arrived at the Fuji Speedway separated by just three points. Then a monsoon hit, and like so many races that year the Japanese Grand Prix descended into chaos. The torrential rain delayed the start, and when it finally got under way Lauda completed just two laps before pulling into the pits to retire, feeling it was too dangerous to continue. Now all Hunt had to do was finish fourth or higher, but in the final laps he dropped from first to third with tyre problems, and then suffered a puncture. After pitting he rejoined in fifth with three laps to go, and chased after the leaders. Even as he crossed the line, he still wasnt sure if hed done it. It was only as he climbed out of his McLaren M23 in Parc Ferme, and saw McLarens Team Principal Teddy Mayer holding up three fingers, that Hunt realised hed done it: hed finished third, and was the new world champion by a single point. 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Image credit: Photo by Rainer W. Schlegelmilch/Getty Images

1984 – Niki Lauda wins by half a point

There’s never been a closer drivers’ championship than this, and it was fought out between two McLaren team-mates, Alain Prost and Niki Lauda. In fact, the crucial race was arguably not the finale in Portugal, but Round 6 in Monaco earlier that year, which was won by Alain Prost. Due to terrible rain, the Monte Carlo race had been red-flagged after just 31 laps, and only half points had been awarded (Prost scored 4.5 points for the victory, instead of the usual nine). By the end of the season those lost points would become critical – the Frenchman did everything he could, winning seven races, including the final round in Estoril, but it wasn’t enough. Lauda claimed his third world championship by an unprecedented half-point, and Prost’s only consolation was knowing their season-long battle had helped McLaren win its second constructors’ world championship.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Image credit: Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images

1986 – Alain Prost wins by two points

And look at that! Thats Mansell!
Murray Walkers excited tones are etched in the memories of Formula 1 fans the world over, the legendary British commentator both animated and aghast as he watched the 1986 championship leader, Nigel Mansell, suffer an explosive tyre failure at 180mph during that year’s finale, the Australian Grand Prix. Mansell wrestled his out-of-control Williams into an escape road to retire, but his title hopes were over. Concerned about suffering a second blow-out, Williams immediately called its other driver, Nelson Piquet, into the pits for new tyres – a move that dropped the Brazilian out of his position as race leader, and out of contention for the world championship.

McLaren’s reigning champion Alain Prost moved into the lead, and from that moment the Frenchman drove 18 peerless laps to take the chequered flag. It was never certain, however – Prost ran out of fuel just a few metres past the finishing line. It was Prosts 25th Grand Prix win, and made him a back-to-back Formula 1 world champion with McLaren.  

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Image credit: Photo by LAT

1998  – Mika Häkkinen wins by 14 points

McLarens Mika Häkkinen was four points ahead of arch rival Michael Schumacher in the drivers’ table as they arrived in Suzuka, Japan for the final round of the 1998 Formula 1 season. Schumacher secured pole position in his Ferrari, but his car stalled on the grid, and he was forced to start from the back of the field. Häkkinen had no such issues, and the Flying Finn drove his McLaren MP4-13 faultlessly, leading from the start and never cracking under pressure. He took the chequered flag and clinched his first world championship with Schumacher eventually retiring following a tyre failure.
Fellow McLaren driver David Coulthard brought his car home in third, and his podium position, together with Häkkinens victory, secured the British team its eighth Formula 1 constructorstitle.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Image credit: Photo by Mark Thompson/Allsport

1999 – Mika Häkkinen wins by two points

For the second year in succession Häkkinen found himself tussling for the title with a Ferrari – except this time it was driven by Eddie Irvine. Schumacher had missed several races after breaking his leg at the British Grand Prix, but was able to return for the last two rounds of the season, to act as Irvines rear-gunner. At the season finale in Suzuka, Schumacher qualified on pole, and as the lights went out he immediately moved to block Häkkinen. It didnt matter. Häkkinen made the perfect start in his McLaren MP4-14, streaking into the lead before the first corner and calmly staying ahead of the harrying Schumacher. Schumacher finished five seconds adrift of Häkkinen, while Irvine – who had a four-point lead over the Finn coming into the race – was more than a minute and half down in third. The victory gave Häkkinen his second title, and he joined the greats as a back-to-back Formula 1 world champion.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Image credit: Photo by LAT

2008 – Lewis Hamilton wins by one point

In his rookie season Lewis Hamilton finished second in the world championship an extraordinary result and 12 months later he went one better. However, the title hed been dreaming of since signing for McLaren a decade earlier as a karting prodigy was only his after a last-gasp overtake on the last lap, at the last race of the season.
The drama unfolded in Sao Paulo in Brazil: Lewis had held a seven-point lead over local hero Felipe Massa at the start of the race, but when the Brazilian driver took the chequered flag, Hamilton was stuck in sixth position, half a lap back and seemingly unable to catch the cars in front. It looked as though the championship was lost.
Yet in the changeable conditions the McLaren team had recently pitted Hamilton to fit intermediate tyres to his McLaren MP4-23, and as the rain intensified he passed Timo Glocks Toyota just a few hundred metres from the finish line. The critical overtake moved him into fifth position, and the crucial extra point was enough to make him the youngest ever Formula 1 world champion.

 

Watch Emerson Fittipaldi’s reunion with his McLaren M23 at the 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed, where he celebrated the 40th anniversary of his title win.

 

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