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When has the F1 world championship been decided by a collision?

Jake Nichol December 7, 2021
When has the F1 world championship been decided by a collision?
Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

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Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have now been involved in three collisions in 2021, but with the F1 world championship title on the line in Abu Dhabi, when has it been decided by a collision in the past?

On five occasions, a collision has decided the destiny of the F1 world drivers’ championship.

Indeed, in a nine-season span between 1989 and 1997, a collision decided the world championship four times.

These collisions are some of the most iconic pictures in the history of Formula One.

What are the times the F1 title was decided by a collision?

Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

The first F1 title decided by collision – sort of

Before things kicked off in the 1990s, we must go back to 1964 and Mexico City for a three-way title shootout.

1962 champion Graham Hill, ’63 champion Jim Clark and John Surtees were the three contenders.

And although a collision, per se, didn’t decide the title, it played a huge role in where it ended up.

Hill (below) was leading the standings with Surtees behind. Clark’s only hope was to win the race and hope the other two finished third or lower.

Photo by Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

Clark, as was customary for the Lotus driver scampered of into the distance, as Surtees’ Ferrari teammate Lorenzo Bandini hit Hill.

It caused damage to the BRM driver’s engine, and caused him to lose power, eventually in 11th place.

This would have given the title to Clark, as Surtees was running fourth, but on the last lap but one, the Lotus conked out.

It handed the crown back to Hill, until Ferrari swapped Bandini and Surtees on the last lap to give the Briton the required second place.

So, while no-one knew at the time, Bandini running into the back of Hill and colliding with him was a key factor in deciding the F1 world championship of 1964 – even if it wasn’t as blatant as some latter collisions.

Surtees became the first, and to date, only person to have won world championships on motorcycles and in F1.

Photo by Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

Senna vs Prost F1 title deciding collisions

The most iconic F1 rivalry of them all – although give Hamilton and Verstappen a few years…

Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost’s relationship at McLaren deteriorated in 1989 after the Brazilian broke a non-passing agreement at Imola.

By the time of the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, the McLaren drivers weren’t exactly on speaking terms.

Such was the points system of the day, drivers only counted their best 12 scores – it meant that if Senna failed to finish – Prost would be the world champion.

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So, at the final chicane on Lap 47, Prost made sure Senna failed to finish.

As the Brazilian, who had finally got in striking range tried to lunge down the inside, Prost closed the door on Senna, leaving him nowhere to go.

The two McLaren’s ground to a halt as Prost clambered out – Senna kept going.

He won, but was disqualified on an FIA technicality as he cut the chicane to rejoin the race after the collision.

Senna would remember that a year later.

F1’s worst driving moment

Prost had taken his #1 sticker to Ferrari, and ironically at Suzuka in 1990, if he failed to finish, Senna would be world champion…

Senna was incensed that pole position was on the ‘dirty’ side of the track, while Prost in P2 had the racing line, and so a better getaway.

So, at the first corner, Senna drove into Prost, without braking.

It is the single most reprehensible thing a F1 driver has done on-track in 72 years of the world championship.

He would later admit it was deliberate.

Michael Schumacher vs Damon Hill

Michael Schumacher had become the ‘star’ of F1 following Senna’s death at the 1994 San Marino GP.

Going into the final race of a controversial and tragic season in Australia, he and Damon Hill were separated by a single point.

And Schumacher was not going to let anything stop him – even a wall-strike.

After clouting the wall on Lap 36, Schumacher’s car was terminally damaged – but Hill did not know that.

He dived the Williams up the inside at the right-hander, and Schumacher was all but too happy to turn in.

The German ended up on two wheels as the Williams’ suspension was broke.

It was the third F1 title-deciding collision in just six seasons.

The first German to win the world championship wore a tainted crown.

If at first you succeed, try again

Having already won one world championship through a collision, Schumacher tried it again in 1997 – although this time, it didn’t work.

At Jerez in Spain, he was being hunted by Williams’ Jacques Villeneuve just after a pit-stop cycle.

Villeneuve knew this was his only chance to get past.

At the hairpin on Lap 48, Villeneuve sent it up the inside.

Schumacher, startled, turned out of the right-hander before clocking what was going on.

So, he turned into Villeneuve and rammed him.

Unfortunately for Schumacher, he hit the sidepod of the Williams and beached himself in the gravel.

He was out and Villeneuve won the title – the last for Williams last in F1.

For his actions, the ex-karter from Kerpen was given a dubious honour.

He became the only driver in the history of the world championship to be disqualified from it because of the collision.

F1 champions through a title collision

  • 1964 – John Surtees
  • 1989 – Alain Prost
  • 1990 – Ayrton Senna
  • 1994 – Michael Schumacher
  • 1997 – Jacques Villeneuve
Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

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Jake can usually be found writing about or watching anything to do with motorsport – from Formula 1 to NASCAR to British Truck Racing. His work as a motorsport journalist has been published by the likes of Autosport, Motorsport.com and Motorsport News – all highly respected names. Away from racing he is a keen amateur astronomer, podcast listener and enjoys long walks in the park with his three dogs.