Nico Rosberg, the 2016 Formula 1 Champion and former Mercedes driver, gave a preview of the 2018 Formula1 season in his participation with German TV channel RTL. Rosberg was asked to pick the 2018 F1 champion and the Top 5 after the checkered flag in Abu Dhabi. The German picked Lewis Hamilton to win his fifth title, but it is not supposed to be easy in Rosberg’s eyes. He predicted Hamilton will beat Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by a single point. But what are the odds? Has it happened before?
Nico Rosberg picks Lewis Hamilton to beat Sebastian Vettel in the championship by one point, but what are the odds?
Championships decided by one point? When?
F1 history has offered a lot of crazy, awesome, nail-biting endings to the World Drivers’ Championship (WDC), but how many times has the champion defeated his main rival by one point?
Has it happened? Yes. Eight times the Drivers’ Championship has been decided by one point.
Mike Hawthorn won his only title in 1958 and he edged Stirling Moss 42 to 41. Hawthorn won one race out of eleven, while Moss won four races, but retired on five occasions.
Four years later, in 1961, Ferrari’s Phil Hill beat his then-teammate Wolfgang von Trips to the championship 34-33.
In 1964 John Surtees delivered on his championships aspirations and won the crown over Graham Hill (40-39). Hill scored 41 total points, but only the best six results counted for the drivers’ championship.
After twelve years, it was time for the first non-Ferrari driver to achieve the championship by the single-point margin. James Hunt was crowned champion in 1976 with his McLaren after a sports war against Niki Lauda. The Austrian did not start two races because of his crash at Nürburgring and decided to retire in the last Grand Prix in Japan because of safety reasons, which gave the title to the British driver.
Nelson Piquet won his maiden title in the 1981 fight against Williams’ Argentine Carlos Reutemann, who lost the championship 50 to 49 to Brabham’s Piquet after the Brazilian took advantage of clashes between Williams’ management and its driver.
Schumacher’s 1994 championship
Ten years later Michael Schumacher drove his Benetton to the Golden Land in a hard-fought war with Damon Hill. The German rose and beat Hill 92-91. But his title was everything but unblemished after the German went off the track at the last Grand Prix in Australia and then crashed against Hill’s FW16B. Retiring both cars and getting away with his first championship.
Ferrari versus McLaren-Mercedes
Thirteen years passed by until F1 fans were able to watch another championship decided by one figure. Kimi Räikkönen‘s 2007 championship will always be remembered as McLaren’s pain and Ferrari’s gain. The Finn won the title by one point over both McLaren’s drivers, Lewis Hamilton, and Fernando Alonso after winning the last two races in China and Brazil, with Felipe Massa‘s contribution in São Paulo, of course.
Hamilton´s involvement in one-point season finishes
Hamilton won his first championship in the same fashion Rosberg elected for him to win his fifth.
In 2008, the Briton defeated Massa 98 to 97 in a devastating ending for Ferrari’s Brazilian driver. Massa won his home race in Brazil and was close to his eagerly awaited title, but Hamilton overtook Timo Glock at the last whisper and left him empty-handed.
That season was Hamilton’s second in F1 and was already involved in two titles decided by a slim margin. So you have to take that into consideration when listening to Rosberg’s remarks. Hamilton has won four titles and was runner-up twice. He won one of his championships by one point and one of his second-place finishes was by the same margin. Perhaps the 2016 champion is considering those facts.
One point, the slimmest of margins?
Normally, you would think that one point is the least advantage a driver needs to overcome a rival, but it isn’t the case.
Niki Lauda’s third world championship came in the 1984 season with McLaren-TAG. The Austrian defeated his young teammate, Alain Prost, by half point (72 to 71.5). How was it possible?
Prost dominated that year. The Frenchman won seven races and Lauda five. But one of Prost’s victories was at the 1984 Monaco GP, the race where Ayrton Senna‘s legendary story was born.
The rainy race was stopped before the 75% of the laps were completed and half points were awarded. Completing 75% of the race distance meant nine points for Prost for winning. Instead, the Frenchman was given 4.5 points and he went on to lose the title by half point. The race was stopped primarilybased on Prost’s request due to weather conditions.
Numbers indicate that it is not impossible for an F1 championship to be won by one digit. But numbers also dictate it is more likely for a season to end by a larger margin.
The average point differential of every Formula One Drivers’ Championship won to this date is 19.4 points. Considering the regulation change in 2010, which is the current points rule, the average is higher than it should be.
Prior to the introduction of the current point system, the average margin of victory was 14.3 points from 1958 to 2009. Since 2010, that average is up to 57.6 points (2014 double points at Abu Dhabi enhances that number).
Will 2018 be the tenth time a one-point finish materializes?
In terms of points differential, it is unlikely for a champion to be determined by that gap.
In fact, just nine times a championship margin was one point or lower. Which represents 11.76% of the F1 seasons. Whilst more than 50% of the seasons (58.8%) were resolved by more than a race distance in the scores table.
In conclusion, Rosberg’s prediction is not off the charts. Hamilton was involved in two one-point endings. But history says it is less probable for a season to be resolved by such a close difference.
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