Ahead of this weekend’s race in Abu Dhabi, take a look back at Formula 1’s greatest championship showdowns

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This weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is poised to go down in the history books, hopefully for all of the right reasons. It looks set to become the only double points race in the history of Formula 1, but with a championship on the line following a bitter season-long tussle between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, the stage is set for a thrilling race under the lights.

Hamilton heads into the final race of the season with a 17-point lead over his teammate, yet he must finish in the top two to be guaranteed the championship due to the controversial double points rule. For Rosberg, winning is a must, but his hopes still appear to be pinned on his teammate hitting trouble across the course of the race.

With three previous last-race title showdowns under his belt (and just one win), Hamilton will have the experience in Abu Dhabi, but he insists that it feels like he is still vying for his first world championship. The Briton’s title win at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix will forever remain in F1 history as one of the dramatic finales to a championship.

So without further ado, here are some of the greatest F1 title showdowns the sport has enjoyed over the years – let us hope that 2014 takes some inspiration from them.

1976 – Hunt beats Lauda in F1’s Hollywood story

For those of you who will have seen Ron Howard’s excellent film Rush, this championship fight will be fresh in the memory despite happening almost 40 years ago. As an intense rivalry between McLaren and Ferrari brewed in 1976, their leading drivers, James Hunt and Niki Lauda found themselves at the forefront of a fight for the world championship.

Having established a healthy lead over the Briton, Lauda’s hunger for victory nearly cost him his life. In treacherous conditions at the Nordschleife in Germany, the Austrian crashed into the barrier at high-speed, with his car being engulfed in a fireball. He was left with severe burns to his head and face, yet remarkably managed to not only combat his injuries but in fact return to Formula 1 just three races later at Monza.

Come the final race of the year in Fuji, Japan, Lauda still enjoyed a three-point lead over Hunt, and looked poised to end a dark season with the second world title that he so craved. However, with heavy fog and rain making conditions dangerous, the Austria took the brave decision to retire from the race despite nothing being wrong with the car – he did not want to risk losing his life again.

Coming through to third at the flag, Hunt won the championship by a single point – it was a dramatic end to a dramatic racing season.

1994 – Schumacher forces his way to a first title

1994 is a racing season that will be remembered for all of the wrong reasons, with the weekend at San Marino and the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger being the darkest depth the sport has hit in modern times. However, through the mist came the rise of a young German that would go on to break every record going: Michael Schumacher.

His first world title was not shy of controversy, though. The legality of the Benetton car that Schumacher was driving was brought into question on a number of occasions, and he was excluded from two races and disqualified from a further two due to misdemeanors across the course of the season. These setbacks allowed Williams’ Damon Hill to come into the fight for the championship.

At the final race of the year, Schumacher simply needed to beat Hill to become world champion. The season culminated with a titanic fight on track between them at the Australian Grand Prix, which ended with Schumacher hitting Hill before bouncing into the barriers himself. Although Hill was able to continue in the aftermath of the incident, the damage to his car had been done: he was ultimately forced to retire, giving the title to Schumacher.

1997 – Jacques’ Jerez joy as Schumacher turns red

Just as the 1994 championship was decided by an on-track clash, 1997 was very similar – only this time, it was Schumacher who came off worst.

After bringing himself back into championship contention following Jacques Villenueve’s disqualification from the Japanese Grand Prix, Schumacher was gunning to beat the Canadian at the European Grand Prix in Jerez and secure his first world title since joining Ferrari. However, he was forced to start from P2 on the grid after setting an identical time to Villeneuve, only later in the qualifying session.

An epic on-track battle ensued after Schumacher moved into the lead, with Villeneuve passing the Ferrari driver on lap 48. Not willing to give up the position, the German driver swiped his car across, making contact with the Williams, sending Schumacher into the gravel. Villeneuve went on to finish the race in third place, taking the title, whilst Schumacher was disqualified from the championship and forced to become an FIA road safety ambassador for 1998 as punishment for his actions.

2007 – Kimi capitalizes on Lewis’ misfortune

When Lewis Hamilton broke onto the F1 scene as a fresh-faced 22-year-old in 2007, he shook up the sport by running the established drivers close for the world championship in his rookie year. After losing a chance to seal it in China following a strategy error, the Briton headed to the final race of the year in Brazil knowing that a top-three finish would be enough to win the title.

However, after being forced wide on the first lap and dropping to seventh, a gearbox glitch saw Hamilton drop through the field like a stone. Despite rallying to finish P7 at the flag, it wasn’t enough to secure him the title.

McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso finished the race in third to tie with Hamilton on 109 points, but, from out of nowhere, Kimi Raikkonen was the man to pick up the pieces and win the title. Having trailed Hamilton by 17 points heading into the penultimate race of the year in China, the Finn edged out his rivals by a solitary point come the flag in Brazil.

2008 – Hamilton snatches glory from Massa

As mentioned at the start of this article, the 2008 finale was the most dramatic that the sport has ever seen. In a wet race at Interlagos, home hero Felipe Massa did all he could in his bid to win the world championship, claiming a second victory on home soil and sending the local fans into raptures. They genuinely thought that the first Brazilian champion since Senna had been crowned.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Hamilton, who needed to finish just fifth to win the championship, had slipped behind Sebastian Vettel to sixth in the final round of pit stops prompted by a late rain shower. Toyota’s Timo Glock had opted to brave the weather on dry tires, leaving him a sitting duck for the oncoming cars in the final stages of the race.

At the last corner on the last lap of the last race of the year, Hamilton made his move, slithering up the inside of the Toyota into Juncao and moving into fifth place. It was enough to win the title by the same margin he had lost it the year before – one point. Few title deciders can rival this one for drama – and if you haven’t seen the Ferrari headbutt incident that followed, watch this.

2010 – Vettel does it at the last

2010 was a vintage year for the F1 title fight, with five drivers getting in the mix: Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. Come the final race of the year, all except Button stood a chance of winning the championship, with Webber and Alonso the most likely candidates.

However, a dramatic final race in Abu Dhabi – much as we hope to get this year – saw Webber’s pit crew make a strategy error that Alonso’s team followed to cover the Australian. This left both drivers stuck behind Renault’s Vitaly Petrov in seventh and eight place, with neither finding a way past before the flag.

At the front, Vettel had managed to get the jump on them all. Having never led the championship until this point, the German driver became the sport’s youngest ever world champion by four points ahead of Alonso. This victory set the tone for the next three years of dominance at the top of the sport. He wouldn’t have it all his own way, though…

2012 – Even a spin can’t stop Seb in Brazil

2012 saw Alonso enter the deciding race of the year as an underdog, with Vettel the sure-bet for the title. However, on lap one, the German driver was hit by Williams’ Bruno Senna, sending him into a spin and to the very back of the field. Alonso now had a fighting chance to win his first title with Ferrari.

However, keen to prove his credentials as a double world champion, Vettel fought back brilliantly amid changing weather conditions to finish sixth. With Alonso only second to McLaren’s Jenson Button, the Red Bull driver had his third title in the bag by just three points. Yet again, he had denied the Spaniard that elusive title with Ferrari. One has to question how things would be different today if both the 2010 and 2012 championships had gone a different way.


2014 certainly has the makings of a classic showdown between the Mercedes teammates. Up to now, double points has not played a part in deciding this year’s championship, and the hope for the sport is that it will not on Sunday. If it does though, the old line “them’s the rules” will be uttered – Lewis and Nico played by the same set of rules; call it living and dying by the sword.

Quite where the most pressure lies is hard to tell. However, we will either have a newly-crowned two-time champion on Sunday night in the shape of Lewis Hamilton, or a 33rd different F1 title winner in Nico Rosberg.

Either way, we are set for a classic end to a classic, if not slightly subdued, Formula 1 season. May the best man win.

Through belief and grief, Josef Newgarden won Indy 500 with life lessons from his family


INDIANAPOLIS – Josef Newgarden was taught by his father that he could win the Indy 500, and he learned through his wife that it would be OK to always lose it.

After finally winning the 107th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the typically unflappable two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion got choked up when discussing the importance of Joey Newgarden, who instilled “internal belief,” and Ashley Newgarden, who “helps make my world go round and sees the heartbreak more than anyone else.”

Monday morning, while Josef Newgarden made the rounds of photo shoots and media obligations at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, beaming family members lingered among incessant laughter on the Yard of Bricks – savoring the moment and recounting their supportive roles through a journey that took 12 tries (Newgarden tied the record for most Indianapolis 500 starts before his first victory).

VICTORY SPOILS: Newgarden earns $3.66 million from record purse

INSIDE TEAM PENSKEThe tension and hard work preceding ‘The Captain’s’ 19th win

For Joey Newgarden, it was turning a scrawny kid (“when Josef was 11, he was 4 foot 11, 67 pounds”) into the superstar with six-pack abs who proved a worthy main character in the first season of IndyCar’s “100 Days to Indy” docuseries.

For Ashley, there were the anguished and helpless days after many Brickyard disappointments that thrust her into the role of an indefatigable sports psychologist.

“In a lot of ways, it’s terribly difficult for someone like Ashley,” Newgarden told NBC Sports during a reflective interview late Monday morning in an antiseptic glass-paneled office on the fourth floor of the IMS media center. “She carries the burden more than anybody, and people don’t know that and see that. I’m not easy to be around when my heart’s broken.

“And when this place breaks your heart, it’s tough to leave here every year. I’m going to cry thinking about it. It’s really, really hard. And she just … endures it is probably the one way to put it. She has endured the pain. And I think it’s almost a harder pain than the pain I feel because she’s not asking for it, but she’s having to live it.

“And there’s more than just that. You think about the genuinely impossible odds that are so against you to make it to this level, and a lot of it is down to my mom and dad, and the way they literally laid everything on the line to make this happen.

“We don’t come from just some blank check group. I came from a great upbringing. We had great opportunity, but you really have to put everything on the line if you’re going to make this type of career work, and they did that. So to come against all these odds, and for all of us to be there together and win this race.

“It’s full circle.”

Josef Newgarden father wife
Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden poses with parents Joey and Tina and his wife, Ashley, during the Memorial Day photo shoot at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

Josef Newgarden was ready to quit motorsports after his first full-bodied car race – a Southern Regional Skip Barber event in 2006 at Sebring International Raceway.

After a hugely successful career in go-karting, this was his chance to take a critical next step toward the major leagues, and it was happening on one of the most daunting, physically punishing road courses in the United States.

So on the first lap, Newgarden fully committed to taking the Turn 17 corner, pancaking his car into the wall with embarrassing overexuberance.

“It was basically a typical me move,” he said sheepishly. “I always overcook high-speed stuff. I love it. That’s what my essence is. I love a high-speed track. I will send it bigger than anybody. That was one of the days I oversent it into Turn 17 and overcooked it straight into the wall.”

There was another race the next day, but at dinner that night, Newgarden was having second thoughts.

“I was saying I don’t know if I want to do this,” he said. “I don’t know that I can do this. There definitely was doubt in a lot of ways, and I’m saying this stuff, and my dad made me run the race the next day when I didn’t want to run the race. That’s how much I was taken aback by the whole thing. He made me run the race. And most people would not ever guess that story that my dad is trying to help make me run the race the next day because I don’t want to do it, and because I feel like I can’t do it.”

It’s unfathomable to consider because Newgarden, 32, comes off as one of the most supremely confident drivers in IndyCar through a persona of unflagging optimism. Whether starting 17th (as he did in the 107th Indy 500) or first, he never betrays an iota of doubt that he can win every race.

Which, under the watchful eye of his father, is exactly what he did in the second Skip Barber race at Sebring.

It was “a big turning point” on the championship mettle required for big-time auto racing.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with parents Joey and Tina the morning after winning the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“There was a light bulb that switched for me for sure that I was like you have to dig deep,” Newgarden said. “It was one of those moments of do you want to do this or not? And I think you either change in that moment to fully get on board or not. Because you can’t be in the middle. You won’t run for Roger Penske in the biggest race in the world if you are.

“It’s weird to go back and talk about it because I know it’s become second nature to me. There’s so much pressure, there’s so much obligation of be you, be awesome. Talk to our sponsors. Be their representative. Get in the car, do a great job. The amount of commitment that people put on you. You just can’t crack.

“It must have been in there, and Joey just brought it out of me.”

Josef Newgarden describes his dad as “the ultimate believer” who was always there as his son barnstormed around the Midwest on dozens of go-kart trips from their home outside Nashville, Tennessee.

“He’s just a very distinct human being,” Josef said of Joey. “But he has an amazing talent for optimism, and that can’t be understated how he’s given that to me. I can be a very realistic and pragmatic person.

“Those don’t always line up, having extreme optimism and trying to be realistic about something and see all scenarios. I think I’m able to be both now. I try to see things truly for what they are, and I don’t overreach. But I also have ultimate belief that anything can happen and anything is possible. My dad embodied that from the very beginning.”

Though Joey refers to it as “putting in the work,” Josef Newgarden said there were immense sacrifices made by him and his mother, Tina, so their son could pursue the dream of becoming a professional race car driver with a single-minded focus.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with fans in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grandstands after winning the 107th Indy 500 (Jenna Watson/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“It was, ‘We don’t have enough money? We’ll get the money,’ ” he said. “We will figure it out. And I didn’t have to carry any of that burden when I was young. If we go into debt, who cares? We’ll figure it out. Are we out of opportunities? Doesn’t matter. We’ll figure something out and keep going.”

His father recalls it all as being my design of trying to mold a young teenager “who never had belief in himself” while competing in baseball, basketball and go-karts against bigger competition.

Joey Newgarden, who grew up sweeping floors for 75 cents an hour in Miami while working for his father in the business of photography chemicals, set to establish that the simple principles of hard work and a positive attitude can take someone to whatever station in life they desire.

“Maybe I was just trying to trick him,” Joey Newgarden, wearing an Indy 500 champion’s hat and dark sunglasses, told a few reporters Monday morning at IMS. “I was scrawny like that when I was a kid, too, and I didn’t really have a male role model doing that with me, so I had to try to come up with a plan. We’ve got two daughters and one son, and he was the youngest. And it was, ‘How are we going to do it and convince him that he can be No. 1?’ It’s tough competition out there.”

Though there was a physical aspect (Newgarden became a fitness fanatic in his later teens), much of dad’s grooming was on the attitude of his son, who has retained the competitive fire and grace as a world-class driver but shed being a poor loser.

AUTO: MAY 29 INDYCAR Series The 107th Indianapolis 500
Josef Newgarden with his parents, the winning No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet and the Borg-Warner Trophy (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“He was the biggest baby about racing cars,” Joey recalled with a laugh. “He wanted to win every race and lead every lap literally from the very beginning. And when he’d get out of the car, he was Tony Stewart Jr. He wanted to win every single time.

“I always told him you’ve got to learn how to lose before you learn how to win. Because if you don’t know how to lose, you don’t know what winning really means.”

Josef Newgarden said the crash in Sebring went a long way toward establishing his mental toughness.

“You either are hardened by that, and you’re steel,” he said. “Or you’re weak, and you’re not going to make it at this level. It’s just what it takes.

“From that point on, it was never again am I going to lack that type of belief. But Joey is central to the belief system. He should have full credit for that. It sounds simple, but not everybody can truly put their all into something and make it happen at all costs. He gave that to me.”

If his parents provided the immutable faith in pursuing a goal that seemed impossible, his wife of four years (and romantic partner of nearly a decade) gave him the gift of letting go of it.

Ashley Newgarden annually watched her husband agonizingly wrestle with the toll of coming up short in the Indy 500 (which Team Penske now has won a record 19 times).

“Every year, you see someone else get that, and you want it so desperately for yourself and you can picture it for yourself, too,” she said. “So with Josef, the heartbreak just comes from just the thought of, ‘Maybe I’ll never get this opportunity.’ And that’s the worst thing. Because you only get one chance a year, and you only have a certain amount of years you can do this and be competitive at it.

“And he knows that it’s now or never. Every year we left, it was just more hard and more hard and sadder and sadder and sadder.”

There was little she could do to console him, too.

“It’s the toughest part because she wants nothing more than to help, and she can’t help me,” Josef said. “That’s why I say she’s had to endure the pain because in some relationships that person is able to help the individual that needs it. And that doesn’t work for me. So she can’t help.”

Ashley Newgarden watches the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Said Ashley: “There’s nothing you can say. Just give him your support. You can say, ‘That one hurt, it’s yours next year.’ But he’s such a realist, and he doesn’t need the coaching like that from me. You just have to be supportive, and my biggest focus was always how do we get him in a mentally stronger place before the next race and not let this bleed over, (and) he goes into the next race angry.

“It was always the focus of how do we somehow let this go and just put it on the back burner and kind of forget about it. This race is done. After the month, just forget about it until next year. Go to Detroit and have a good season.”

Eventually, Ashley helped Josef with landing in a place where he could divorce himself from some of the pain in the Indy misses. After his second IndyCar championship, Josef struck a new tone publicly about refusing to let the Brickyard define him.

“I think you have to get to that point, because if not, this will just eat you alive,” Ashley said. “And you’ll just not feel you’ve accomplished enough, even though it’s harder to win a championship. This is a very hard race to win, of course. But it’s harder to put together seasons and to be an IndyCar Series champion, but yet this race is more elusive, and you want this more almost.

“I think recently over the last couple of years, really the last year, he started to focus on ‘I’ve done my job. I’ve done everything that I can. I’ve given them two championships.’ I think he started to focus more on that, and he was going to do everything that he could, and it’s going to be enough, and if he doesn’t win the 500, that does not take away from his career. Because I think people think it does. And I think he just kind of let go of it.”

Newgarden described the new outlook as conceding he never might win the Brickyard despite the omnipresent belief that he could.

(Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment)

“I kind of grieved it in a way,” he said. “It’s a weird way to put it, but I’m going to grieve the Indy 500 and it just doesn’t matter if I don’t ever win it. I truly do not subscribe to this thesis that you have to win this race to have a complete career. Of course, I would love to win the race, and it is a huge achievement. And it is the most difficult race and the most accomplishing race to win.

“But it shouldn’t define your time in the sport if you’re given that time. So I grieved the possibility of it and said if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I’m not going to linger on it if it doesn’t work out.”

Ashley, who studied psychology in college, provides an emotionally intelligent yin to her husband’s coolly detached yang.

“She’s a very smart woman and more of an empath than I am, which is a little tough because she can be very emotional, and I’m not emotional at all half the time,” Josef said. “But she’s very intuitive with that type of mentality and trying to understand how to survive things and construct things in your brain or how to reason with things. So she’s definitely been most helpful for me to find balance in life.

“Because without her I would probably be a much darker, more miserable person. I would cut everything off and have no balance in my life without her. She’s really the only one that’s figured out how to give that to me.”

Serving as an unofficial nutritionist for her husband’s elite athlete lifestyle, Ashley has tried to find other ways to “make sure everything in his life is easy. Home, food, everything else is taken care of, and I don’t think it comes from a place of him needing that. But that’s how I show him love in those moments and am supportive.”

On the Sunday morning of the Indy 500, Ashley and Josef Newgarden usually awake to a stress level that never subsides.

It wasn’t there this year.

“It was so weird,” she said. “I’ll be honest, starting 17th, I’m like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know if we’re going to get up there’. But yesterday morning, we were so easy. And I don’t know if it was because I just felt so confident within. I think it was just a different change of mind for him and I. It was like if it doesn’t happen today, it’s OK. I think you have to get there mentally because if not, this will emotionally kill you.”

Josef and Ashley Newgarden shared their winning Indy 500 moment with their 13-month-old son, Kota (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images).

Joey Newgarden also has noticed an off-track calmness surrounding his family.

When Ashley gave birth to their first child, a son named Kota, in April 2022, Josef Newgarden joined his siblings in each having children within a 20-month span after the trio had gotten married within three years of each other.

His two sisters (the oldest works in pharmaceutical sales at a California company; the other is a registered nurse at a cancer research facility in Seattle) “are doing really well for themselves” to the delight of their parents.

“It’s storybook, the whole thing,” Joey said. “It almost scares me at this point. When things go this well, you’re always waiting for something to go wrong.

He’s got a wonderful wife that he’s been with for 10 years, married for three or four. He’s got a great relationship. What is that movie with Jimmy Cagney? Top of the world, ma.”

And Josef Newgarden’s family says the 27-time IndyCar winner is not stopping there.

“I’ve never met someone that just wants to break all the records,” Ashley said. “I know everyone says that, but this dude, he knows the stats. He watches them. It’s never enough.”

AUTO: MAY 29 INDYCAR Series The 107th Indianapolis 500
(Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)