Red Bull’s Max Verstappen heads to the Singapore Grand Prix with a 116-point lead over his closest rival Charles Leclerc. Can the Ferrari driver put together a shock recovery run in the final six laps of the season to turn the tables? Or is another Verstappen victory a formality? We reflect on some of the biggest title comebacks in F1 history to gauge what he’s up against…
John Surtees: 1964
20 points behind with five races to go (point system: 9-6-4-3-2-1)
John Surtees became the first driver to become world champion on two and four wheels. He previously won titles on 350cc and 500cc motorcycles before winning the Drivers’ (and Constructors’) titles in 1964 with Ferrari.
The Briton faced three retirements in the first four Grands Prix, but then followed P3 at Brands Hatch, finishing seventh in the championship and 20 points behind leader Jim Clark. A win at the Nürburgring brought him closer, but his retirement in Austria threatened to take him out of the title fight.
However, triumph for the tifosi at Monza, plus P2 places in the US and Mexico – aided by teammate Lorenzo Bandini – saw Surtees win the championship by one point more than Graham Hill.
READ MORE: Life after Ferrari – How did 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 Nürburgring, his remarkable recovery and return, and the intriguing way the championship unfolded.
During the first half of the season, Lauda stormed away from Hunt in the standings to give himself a buffer of more than two race wins. But then came his fiery accident and a two-race stint on the sidelines that nearly wiped out his lead. It was hard to believe that Lauda was back in action at Monza – just weeks after receiving the last rites in his hospital bed – as the Austrian did everything he could to keep Hunt at bay.
Ultimately, Lauda’s decision to withdraw his car from the season finale in Japan – amid heavy rain – paved the way for Hunt to take the title and score the points he needed with a hard-fought podium finish.
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 run of wins 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 16 rounds to play.
However, a terrible accident at Hockenheim changed everything, with Pironi being injured towards the end of his career. John Watson, then second in the championship, didn’t score in Germany, but Rosberg did, the Finn followed with P2 in Austria (by 0.05s from winner Elio de Angelis) and passed 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 non-score in Italy, however, brought Watson back into the frame and secured a title decider in Las Vegas, where Watson finished second on 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 to take overall honors in 1983, until the title race broke out in the final four laps. After the Renault driver collided with Brabham rival Nelson Piquet at the Dutch Grand Prix, 14 points separated the pair, with Rene Arnoux between them.
The next time he came out at Monza, Piquet took advantage of a turbo-related retirement for Prost to take the win, before doubling down at Brands Hatch with another win – tantalizingly close in the standings.
Prost was still in the lead in the season finale at Kyalami, but another DNF (again due to turbo issues) opened the door for Piquet, who jumped on the podium and took the title. Prost would have to wait two more years to break his champion duck.
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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)
A driver (Jack Brabham) had failed to defend his title since 1960, and Prost appeared to be losing battle with two laps to go in 1986, Williams’ Nigel Mansell, who had just won the Portuguese Grand Prix at Prost in his McLaren .
This is a new classic as with P2 on the penultimate lap in Mexico, Prost jumped to 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 on the last lap in Adelaide. But then Mansell’s title claim went up in a spectacular shower of sparks, steel and rubber, the amazement felt through the microphones of James Hunt and Murray Walker in the video below.
Pitting Piquet to avoid a similar tire failure, Prost rode to his 25th Grand Prix win and second World Championship in amazing conditions.
READ MORE: Under the Body of the Best F1 Car of 1986, the Williams FW11
Murray Walker’s famous commentary on Mansell’s blowout in 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 the odds in 2007 when he scored a maximum of 20 points from the last two races to wipe out a 17-point deficit.
After the Japanese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton led the way, 12 points ahead of McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso and another five ahead of Raikkonen. But a hugely dramatic retirement for Hamilton in China (when he slid off the pits with worn out tires) turned the situation on its head.
Still seven points behind, Raikkonen coolly took another season-final win in Brazil – backed by Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa – while Hamilton had to settle for seventh after early gearbox problems, with Alonso in third – meaning the Fin defeated them to the title by one point.
BEYOND THE GRID: ‘I wouldn’t change anything’ – Kimi Raikkonen on his career and retirement from F1
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Sebastian Vettel: 2010 and 2012
2010: 31 points behind with six races to go (point system: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1)
Sebastian Vettel may have won all four of his championships in 2010-13, but not all of them were easy for the then Red Bull driver. In 2010, the title came down to a four-man battle between Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton and Mark Webber, with Ferrari’s Alonso being the favourite.
Red Bull had imperfect reliability that year, while relations between Webber and Vettel had also soured, with flash points in Turkey and Korea between the German’s victories in Japan and Brazil. When it came to 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 ahead of the Spaniard.
WATCH: Radio Rewind – The Abu Dhabi Story 2010
2012: 39 points behind with seven races to go (point system: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1)
As the 2012 season crept along, Vettel’s hopes of defending his 2011 title faded and Alonso seemed destined for a third championship, given Vettel’s retirement in Italy, where Hamilton won from pole.
But when Hamilton’s gearbox failed in Singapore, Vettel inherited the win and Japan would be even sweeter (a Grand Slam) if Alonso retired on lap one. Korea saw Vettel overthrow teammate Webber for the win and then Vettel dominated in India to lead the championship by 13 points – a lead he would hold until the end of the season – with championship-worthy races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
EXCLUSIVE: Aboard for Vettel’s epic, incidental first 8 rounds of 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)
While this is far from the biggest comeback in F1 history, Hamilton has had to close several points deficit on his way to the 2017 crown. Vettel made a lightning start to the season by winning three of the first six races and finishing second in the others – a clear statement of intent.
The battle ebbed and flowed as the campaign progressed, culminating in a controversial clash in Azerbaijan, but it was Vettel who entered the summer break as leader – the then Ferrari driver 14 points ahead of Hamilton.
However, things all went wrong for Vettel at the start of the final streak as he retired twice in three races, including a dramatic collision with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Singapore. From there, Hamilton ran to victory, eventually finishing with a 46-point lead.
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Race Highlights – Mexico 2017