F1: remember when two drivers were last tied on points going into the final round?
Fittipaldi and Regazzoni went into Watkins Glen tied on points back in 1974...
This has been the most extraordinary Formula One season. Over the longest championship in history, we’ve seen the best two drivers in the world today absolutely on a knife edge from start to finish. Sunday’s penultimate race was pure box-office and remarkably it left Verstappen and Hamilton tied on an identical 369.5 points going into the final round, setting up an intriguing ‘winner takes all’ showdown this weekend. This has only happened once before in F1 history, back in 1974 when McLaren’s Emerson Fittipaldi and Ferrari’s Clay Regazzoni went to Watkins Glen in Upstate New York tied on 52 points apiece.
Things were rather different 47 years ago. At this point, McLaren had never won a championship and Ferrari hadn’t seen success for a decade. And despite the era’s most successful driver, Jackie Stewart, having retired a year earlier, the entry list at Watkins Glen was packed with legendary names. Fittipaldi aside, we had Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Graham Hill, Ronnie Peterson and Jody Scheckter. That’s a lot of household names on one grid.
As in 2021, the two title protagonists had finished 1-2 in the penultimate round in Canada, with Fittipaldi in front. However, Jody Scheckter, who would go on to be crowned champion in 1979, suffered a retirement due to brake failure which left him seven points adrift having been in contention all year. With just nine points for a win in those days, whilst he could theoretically still win it, he was effectively out of the running.
Rather strangely, given recent form and with so much at stake, Fittipaldi and Regazzoni qualified just eighth and ninth respectively. Sadly, the race itself proved to be both tragic, and disappointing, from a sporting perspective. On the tenth lap, Helmuth Koinigg, starting only his second Grand Prix, suffered a suspected suspension failure which saw his Surtees go straight on at a corner with no apparent attempt at braking. He crashed through three layers of catch fencing before piercing the Armco barrier, killing the driver instantly. Meanwhile, it had been clear from the start that all was not well with Regazzoni’s Ferrari and he pitted early on, ultimately finishing well outside of the points in eleventh. This left Fittipaldi to grind out an uneventful run to fourth position which was enough to secure him his second championship.
The race was won by Carlos Reutemann with his Brabham team-mate Carlos Pace in second, having passed James Hunt’s Hesketh just five laps from the end. It was a sombre and disappointing end to a season that had promised so much. Let’s hope for a safer and more exciting finale this weekend. Both Max and Lewis are digging deep right now and it's hard to imagine that we’ll see anything less than a hugely tense and entertaining battle on Sunday afternoon. Whatever happens though, 2021 will be remembered as one of the greatest F1 seasons of all time.
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