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Formula 1

Would it really matter if a collision decided 2021 F1 title?

by Edd Straw
4 min read

How many times have you heard variants of the phrase “nobody wants to see the world championship decided by a collision” recently?

While both Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton regularly bat away such suggestions, there is a realistic chance that the 2021 Formula 1 title might be decided by such an incident given how tight the battle has been and that the pair have already had two controversial collisions this year.

But would it really be that bad for F1?

It’s true that the ensuing controversy and fallout would be a huge story that transcends F1, with claim and counter-claim, and the chance of appeals and maybe even legal action.

In short, it would be a mess that would make the fallout from the Silverstone and Monza clashes between Hamilton and Verstappen look tame.

But such bad news draws attention.

Most racers, or sports fan in general for that matter, will rightly say that they want the title to be decided with a good, clean fight and ideally a decisive on-track pass in Abu Dhabi that neither driver has cause to complain about.

And they mean it, because that would indeed be the ideal denouement and go down in history.

But here’s a question – when was the last time that there was a clean and decisive on-track pass in a last-race championship finale?


The fact is that the answer to this – Nelson Piquet overtaking Carlos Reutemann for seventh place (so at that stage on his way to breaking into the points to get the swing he needed but still with more work to be done) at Las Vegas in 1981 – is not exactly ingrained in the collective consciousness of F1.

Yes, Reutemann’s famous last-race struggles are very well remembered, but that key pass on lap 17 simply isn’t part of the lore of grand prix racing.

Ayrton Senna Story

Talk F1 title deciders and it’s the controversies that do spring to mind. The Alain Prost/Ayrton Senna collisions at the 1989 and 1990 Japanese Grands Prix at Suzuka are the most famous of all, and while they did ultimately decide the championship on both occasions, they weren’t even the final race of the season. But they did cement the Prost/Senna duel as arguably the defining rivalry in F1 history.

May 14 : S1 E9: Schumacher v Hill - 1994's controversial ending

The Damon Hill/Michael Schumacher clash at Adelaide 1994 remains one of the most talked-about last-race title deciders in history.

And three years later, Jacques Villeneuve surviving being hit by Schumacher’s Ferrari at Jerez is another celebrated denouement.

Mar 04 : S3 E9: Jerez 1997 - Villeneuve vs Schumacher

To find what might be called a straightforward pass that is so often talked about, you have to look back to the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix when Hamilton overtook the slick-shod Timo Glock late on the last lap to get the points he needed to defeat Felipe Massa. And some even attempted to fabricate a baseless controversy out of that anyway.

Dramatic championship deciders are part of the tapestry of F1’s history and come in all shapes and sizes.

But that same history tells us that, if the worst happens and Verstappen and Hamilton did get together on track in Abu Dhabi – or perhaps even earlier at a decisive moment – then it will be talked about endlessly for years. Controversy, quite simply, sells and is actually good for F1.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Race Day Monza, Italy

In racing terms, clearly such a collision would be a bad thing, but there is not a linear relationship between good things and the popularity of any sport.

This is in no way an argument for it to happen, or an attempt to justify before the fact any driver causing such an accident. There’s a good reason why some of the incidents mentioned above are better described as infamous than famous, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t box office.

This year’s epic world championship fight between Verstappen and Hamilton has been exactly that, the biggest box office title rivalry F1 has had in a long time. Two great drivers at very different stages of their career going at each other race after race, exactly as any fan of F1 would want.

If it does go down to the wire, ideally with the duo separated by just a few points in a winner-takes all finale, then it will automatically enter F1 legend as one of the great title battles.

To suggest that it would be a disaster for F1 if it did then end in a decisive coming together is to ignore everything the history of such collisions tells us.

Hopefully, it won’t come to that. But if it does, let’s not pretend it would be anything other than grist to the mill for F1’s ongoing expansionism.

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