Kimi Raikkonen’s victory at the Chinese Grand Prix has set up a thrilling title showdown at Interlagos in two weeks time. Fernando Alonso’s second place has also ensured that three drivers will be vying for the Championship in the final race for the first time in twenty years.
It is an unusual but exciting scenario
Although Lewis Hamilton is still favourite to win the title he should not rest easy because championship finales have a tendency to produce crazy races.
Last year was a perfect example. Michael Schumacher needed to win the Brazilian Grand Prix without Alonso scoring any points to become World Champion. His chances were slim at best, but the task became a lot harder when a qualifying problem relegated him to tenth on the grid.
When he picked up a puncture on lap nine and fell 60 seconds behind the leader it looked like any opportunity to claim his eighth world title had gone.
Or had it?
By the end of the race Michael had fought back into fourth place. His amazing drive was significant because it gave him an outside chance of victory. Alonso was racing closely with Jenson Button and if they had somehow taken each other out, Ferrari would have been left with a one-two finish that could have easily been manipulated in Schumacher’s favour.
The odds of Button taking out Alonso were ridiculously small but it is a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted. Everything had been thrown against Schumacher at Brazil last year but he was still in with a (very remote) chance in the dying stages.
This year’s race will be even more complicated with three drivers in contention instead of two.
In 1950 the first ever Formula One World Championship featured a three-way title fight at the last race. Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen may be interested in what happened during that finale because, against all odds, the driver who started third in the standings went on to become champion.
Interestingly all three drivers fighting for victory in 1950 were teammates. Alfa Romeo had a dominant car and cruised to the title with their drivers who were affectionately called “The Three F’s” - Fangio, Farina and Fagioli.
There were only six Grands Prix in 1950 so it was always going to be a close season. However, even with the small number of races the championship was extremely tight and just four points separated the top three going into the final round at Monza.
Juan Manuel Fangio was fastest of the three men that year and took victory in every race he finished. If not for mechanical problems Fangio would have become the first World Champion quite comfortably. His closest rival was Giuseppe Farina who took the most advantage from Fangio’s misfortune.
Although Farina was not a match for Fangio’s speed he was still very fast and consistent. In 1950 he never started lower than third on the grid and developed a reputation as a very difficult and ruthless competitor.
He was far more aggressive than the third Alfa driver, Luigi Fagioli. At 53 years of age Fagioli was one of the oldest men on the grid and did not score a win all season. He was only in title contention due to a healthy string of second places.
The Alfa Romeo cars, known as Alfettas, were dominant for over a decade leading into the fifties. In 1938 Scuderia Ferrari was part of the Alfa Romeo empire and Enzo’s men designed the Alfa 158. The car was so good that the basic design was not replaced until 1951, by which stage it had given Alfa Romeo plenty of success.
Just like Lewis Hamilton today, Fangio was looking good for title glory at the final race. He was leading the points table and pole position gave him every opportunity to stay there.
His advantage did not last long.
The other two Alfa Romeo’s qualified up front and it was Farina who made the best start. By the end of lap one Farina lead Alberto Ascari’s Ferrari who had fought past Fangio for second place and the top three men started a great battle.
Fangio eventually backed off to preserve his machinery leaving Ascari and Farina to duke it out around the superfast chicane-free Monza circuit. Ascari was driving brilliantly to keep up with the powerful Alfa, but on lap 22 his rear axle gave way and the Ferrari could no longer continue.
This elevated Fangio into second place but that did not last long because the great Argentinean was also forced to park his car with a gearbox problem.
A quirk of Grand Prix racing in the 1950s was that drivers could share cars. With that in mind Fangio and Ascari both made their way back to the pits and jumped into other vehicles so they could re-enter the race.
Ascari was lucky because his teammate, Dorino Serafini, was battling for second place and gladly handed over his drive whilst in a competitive position. Fangio was not so lucky and the car he took over broke down again after only nine laps, meaning Farina simply had to finish ahead of Fagioli to become World Champion.
With a massive lead Farina was able to cruise home and write his name in the record books. Fagioli collected third and the result was a shock to everyone who believed Fangio was a sure thing. It might be worth keeping that in mind two weeks from now.
Raikkonen will need every bit of Farina’s luck if he is to win the title in Brazil but history is on his side. Three drivers have contested the World Championship at the final race on eight occasions, and on five of those occasions, the man leading the points table going into the finale has not emerged the winner.
Rather ironically Fernando Alonso may be on Raikkonen’s side too. The reigning World Champion will be doing everything he can to prevent Lewis Hamilton from taking the title and throwing caution to the wind may involve throwing his car around too. A McLaren collision would be Raikkonen’s best chance of victory, and you kind of get the feeling that would not upset Alonso as much as it should. He would be much happier to see Kimi take the win instead of Hamilton.
It will be an interesting Grand Prix, especially since the 1950 title decider started a trend for bizarre championship finales. That Monza race is a great one to remember if you are a trivia fan.
One interesting fact is that Ascari shared his second place with Serafini, resulting in four Italian drivers on the podium. Not only that, but they did it at the Italian Grand Prix driving Italian cars.
It also happened to be the only Grand Prix that Serafini ever competed in, so it was a pretty good way to start and finish his career.
Another bizarre fact is that Fangio retired from race twice. He ended up driving two cars so his name appears twice in the official classification with a DNF alongside each. Amazingly, he still managed to score a point by setting the fastest lap.
Who’d have thought you could score a point whilst retiring from the same race twice! Remarkable.
That race also featured the oldest ever points scorer with Philippe Étancelin taking fifth place at 54 years old.
Who knows what sort of strange statistics will come out of Brazil this year. It will either be someone’s first World Championship, or their third, but whatever the case we are in for a classic Grand Prix.
Hopefully they will still talking about it 57 years from now.