• Top ten ... second half seasons

Playing catch-up

Chris Medland
August 22, 2011

With Sebastian Vettel enjoying his mid-season break as he sits on a comfortable 85-point championship lead, we look at ten of the biggest and most severe fightbacks in F1 history - both successful and ultimately in vain

A gearbox failure prevented Stirling Moss scoring a hat-trick of wins and cost him the 1959 championship © Unknown
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Stirling Moss, 1959
Sir Stirling Moss remains arguably the greatest driver to never win the Formula One World Championship, but he came oh so close to pulling off a remarkable comeback in 1959. With none of the leading drivers competing in the Indy 500 - which counted towards the championship at the time - Jack Brabham led the standings with 27 points with three races remaining, while Moss found himself with just 8.5; the half point the result of a shared fastest lap. However, Moss won by a lap in Portugal as Brabham crashed out, and then triumphed at Monza with Brabham in third to put himself in the frame ahead of the final round. With only a driver's best five results counting, Brabham's fourth place wasn't enough to add to his tally, and Moss was comfortably en route to the victory that would have given him the title when his gearbox failed and ended his hopes.

Keke Rosberg, 1982
While the 1982 season was well known for being one of the most open in Formula One history with eleven different winners, Keke Rosberg still had to come from a long way back to win the title. At the half way stage he was sitting in fifth place with little more than half the points of leader John Watson. It was Didier Pironi who then took the championship by the scruff of the neck and a run of 1-2-3 gave him 39 points, compared to 23 for Rosberg - who still lay fifth - with five races to go. Pironi then broke both of his legs at Hockenheim, ending his career, and Rosberg took three consecutive podiums culminating in a victory in the Swiss Grand Prix. Fifth place in the final race in Las Vegas was enough to secure the title, as Rosberg eventually finished 5 points clear of Watson and Pironi.

Kimi Raikkonen, 2007
Kimi Raikkonen's championship hopes were slim in the middle of the season when he found himself 18 points behind rookie Lewis Hamilton, and 16 behind the other McLaren of Fernando Alonso. Raikkonen's Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa was better placed in third, and even when Raikkonen went on a run of five consecutive podiums to leapfrog Massa, with two rounds left Hamilton appeared to have the title secured on 107 points. His lead over Alonso was 12 points and over Raikkonen was 17, and having taken pole in China he only needed to finish second to be crowned champion. In prime position to do so, Hamilton slid out of the race in the pit lane on bald tyres, and Raikkonen capitalised by winning with Alonso second. Hamilton still only needed to finish second - or fifth if Raikkonen won - and started ahead of both championship rivals at the final round in Brazil. Massa and Raikkonen led away though, and Hamilton's gearbox stuck momentarily in neutral to drop him to 18th. He fought back to seventh but Raikkonen went on to win ahead of Massa and steal the title by a point.

John Surtees clinched the 1964 world title in a blue and white Ferrari because of a dispute between Enzo Ferrari and the Italian Automobile Club © Motorsport
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John Surtees, 1964
A strong season for British talent, the 1964 championship appeared to be a two-horse race after Jim Clark won at Brands Hatch. That result left him leading Graham Hill by 30 points to 26 at the half way stage, with John Surtees a distant seventh with 10 points. The championship was to take a totally different course over the final five races though, as Clark could only finish one of them. Hill was yet to retire from a race, and even when Surtees picked up his first win of the season at the Nurbrugring, Hill took second place to dampen any title aspirations. But the next four races saw three retirements for the championship leader. Surtees took victory in Monza, and second behind Hill in America to take the battle down to the season finale in Mexico City, where Hill struggled to 11th place. Clark looked set to take the crown as he led on the final lap, but an oil leak caused his engine to seize, and Surtees' Ferrari team-mate Lorenzo Bandini allowed him through in to the second place that gave him the championship.

Ronnie Peterson, 1973
Ronnie Peterson eventually finished the season a distant third to Jackie Stewart's Tyrrell, but he recovered brilliantly from a nightmare start to the year. Despite taking three pole positions, Peterson failed to finish any of the first five races, and even though he finished third in Monaco he had a grand total of four points, while team-mate Emmerson Fittipaldi had 41 and Stewart 37. From that point, however, his team-mate went on a run of one point from six races, while Peterson won in Austria and France, coupled with a brace of second places. Ultimately a gearbox problem when leading at Zandvoort, and then engine failure at the Nurburgring next time out was capitalised on by two Stewart victories that all but secured the championship, but Peterson finished with wins in Italy and America to end the season three points behind Fittipaldi having clawed back the equivalent of more than four race wins.

Alain Prost, 1986
Once again it was a case of only a limited number of results counting towards the world championship, in 1986 the best 11 scores made up the total. Williams pair Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, along with McLaren's Alan Prost, had been closely matched for most of the year, but early season failures for Piquet and a run of one points-scoring result in four races for Prost meant Mansell had a stranglehold on the championship with two races remaining. 10 points clear of his team-mate and 13 ahead of Prost, Mansell just needed to finish ahead of the pair once to wrap it up, but he couldn't score a result that counted in Mexico as Prost was second and Piquet fourth to take it to the final round. Mansell still had the situation under control at Adelaide and appeared to be headed towards his first title when his left rear tyre blew. Piquet was now set to be champion but Williams called him in for a precautionary pitstop to avoid a repeat failure, allowing Prost through to win and take the championship by two points.

James Hunt, 1976
The 1976 season promised to be a close battle between McLaren and Ferrari - James Hunt and Niki Lauda in particular - after Hunt took pole at the first two races but Lauda won both. Hunt's luck appeared to be out, however, as retirements blighted him early on; he'd failed to finish four of the first six races and was disqualified from the Spanish Grand Prix which he had won. By the time the championship arrived in France, Lauda had four wins and two second places from the first seven races, giving him 52 points to Hunt's eight. But Hunt won in France and had his Spanish victory reinstated before he won at Brands Hatch, and although he was later disqualified with Lauda handed victory, the season turned on its head at the Nurburgring. Hunt still trailed 26 points to 61, but he went on to win as a fiery crash almost cost Lauda his life. Although he eventually only missed two races, Hunt also won at Zandvoort, before back-to-back victories in Canada and the US closed the gap to three points heading to Japan for the finale. Heavy rain made conditions treacherous, and Lauda withdrew, allowing Hunt to battle his way to the third place he needed to secure the title.

The collision which allowed Michael Schumacher to cling on to his world championship lead by a single point © Press Association
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Damon Hill, 1994
Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill's rivalry for the 1994 title is well known, but at one point it appeared that Schumacher would have the championship won with races to spare. While Senna's death had rocked Williams, Schumacher had relentlessly built up a substantial lead with six wins and a second from the first seven races, leaving him 37 points clear of Hill. Though Schumacher was disqualified at Silverstone and Hill won, he still had 76 points when they arrived at Spa, with Hill well back on 45. Schumacher won but was disqualified for wearing away too much of his plank, resulting in the suspended two race ban he'd accrued in Britain being activated. Hill won four of the next five, with one second, to be one point adrift going in to the final round at Adelaide. Having damaged his car against a wall, Schumacher turned in on Hill as he attempted to pass for the lead, taking both out of the race to earn his first title.

Alan Jones, 1979
The points scoring rules in 1979 meant drivers counted their four best results from the first seven races of the season and four best from their last eight. Alan Jones didn't really get that luxury, however, as he failed to score in six of the first seven grands prix of the season. He had to drive the old Williams in the first five, but got his hands on the FW07 at Zolder and led before retiring. Having endured such a frustrating first half of the season, Jones expected his fourth in France would be a scoring result, but he went on to score a hat-trick of victories in German, Austrian and Dutch GP's. He then also won in Canada to secure maximum points for the second half of the season, finishing third overall having previously had just seven points. His latter dominance was such that he scored the equivalent of a full race win more than anyone else over the four counting races.

Nelson Piquet, 1983
Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost had engaged in a tight championship battle early in the year, but Piquet's challenge appeared to fade in the middle of the season. Having won the first race on home soil, he managed only two podiums in seven races as Prost notched three wins in the same time, and with three races remaining Piquet was 14 points adrift. Prost was more preoccupied with Rene Arnoux who was on a run of 1-2-1 and eight points behind, but then Piquet won from Arnoux at Monza as Prost retired, and suddenly it was a three-horse race. Arnoux retired at Brands Hatch to fall out of the running, but another win for Piquet - this time ahead of Prost - meant the title would go down to the wire in South Africa, where Prost failed to score for the third time in four races, and third was enough for Piquet to snatch the title.

Chris Medland is an assistant editor on ESPNF1

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