Title deciders: better late than never

After Nico Rosberg dramatically sealed the F1 Championship over Lewis Hamilton in the final race of the season, Harry Webb, James Sproston, Lily Earnshaw, Tom Shrimplin and Oliver Ross Assogna explore other times that the title has been taken down the wire

Harry Webb
28th November 2016
Winning mentality: 2016 was Marc Márquez’s third title in four years. Image: Wikimedia Commons

With Nico Rosberg clinching the F1 Championship from Lewis Hamilton  in the final race, we take a look at a handful of other instances when the title has been decided at the final hurdle.

ITU Triathlon, 2016

Jonny Brownlee, the British duathlete and triathlete, was described by his brother to have been “as close to death as you can be in sport”, following his men’s world champion shortcoming earlier this year, in Cozumel, Mexico.

The two-time Olympic medal winner looked assured to win the race and secure the men’s world champion crown. It was a necessity that close rival Mario Mola finished no higher than fourth, and that Jonny finished the race in first place.

Despite Mola finishing the race in fifth place, Jonny paced the last 700m poorly and began to suffer from severe heat stroke. Barely able to stand and criss-crossing the track in a languid manner, Jonny’s opportunity of becoming the world number one was over.

"Mola, although the new champion, expressed his disappointment, stating that this was not how he wanted to win"

This shocking twist led to the viral spectacle of Jonny being propped up over the line by his brother, Alistair. Due to Jonny’s exceptional performance in the 1.5km swim and the 40km cycle, he was still able to finish in an admirable second place, followed by his brother in third.

South African Henri Schoeman was able to capitalise on the circumstances, and thus finished in first place. As a result, Mario Mola became number one in the ITU World Triathlon Series standings, surpassing Jonny by a small margin of four points.

Mola, although the new champion, expressed his disappointment, stating that this was not how he wanted to win. Despite the upset, the dramatic scenes were largely celebrated as embodying what sport is really all about.

In the sporting community, fellow Olympian Jess Ennis announced her respect for the brothers on Twitter. Jonny appeared still in high spirits after the riveting finale, jokingly tweeting “normally when you have had too much to drink, this time it was the opposite”, with the accompanying video.

Harry Webb

F1, 2010

Back before the domination of Mercedes, and Red Bull before them, F1 was one of the most exciting sports on offer. 2010 saw the last real competitive season on F1 as four different drivers from across three teams battled it out for the title in the final race.

Throughout the season, the momentum seemed to shift between the drivers. Though the Red Bulls seemed to be able to take more pole positions, it was Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button in the Ferrari and McLaren respectively who seemed to have the early race pace.

However soon Button dropped off, with Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton becoming the most obvious challengers to Alonso. When the teams returned to Asia for the last stage of the season, Webber led from Hamilton by five points, who had a further 16-point lead over Alonso.

"Throughout the season, the momentum seemed to shift between the drivers"

It was at this point that the season took another sudden turn. Four races after the Italian Grand Prix, Hamilton had slipped down to fourth, but was still in with a shout come the last race, along with Alonso, Webber and Vettel.

Webber, who’d seen his 14-point lead slashed to an 8-point deficit, needed to better Alonso and keep Vettel and Hamilton within touching distance. But the Australian qualified in fifth, behind all three of his title rivals, meaning he had a lot of work to do in the race to win the championship.

Throughout the race, Vettel looked dominant, and of his fellow title contenders, only Hamilton threatened his lead. Webber and Alonso were regularly frustrated by traffic, and were never even in touching distance at any stage.

From fourth place in the championship three races prior, Vettel had taken the title in exceptional circumstances. Not many would’ve confidently picked a winner before the race, with the season having been so unpredictable up to the final race. With four in the mix in the final race, it was a fitting end to an exceptionally exciting season.

James Sproston

Tour de France, 1989

The modern-day Tour de France is a most gentlemanly affair. During the final stage, unofficial etiquette dictates that nobody should overtake the yellow jersey, whose pop of a champagne bottle signals the start of an early celebration and a job well-done.

1989 was different. America’s Greg LeMond and France’s Laurent Fignon had been neck-and-neck since stage five, the former sporting yellow for seven stages, Fignon for nine. The title would ultimately come down to the individual time trial at the Champs-Élysées: the first and only time it has been used as such.

Given the Tour’s gruelling distance, most winners usually cross the finish line at least a few minutes ahead of the runner-up (in 1903, Maurice Garin won by almost three hours.) However, up until the final stage of 1989, LeMond and Fignon had always been within fifty-three seconds of each other. Even so, armed with both the yellow jersey and a lead of fifty seconds, it seemed like Fignon had it in the bag.

"The title would ultimately come down to the individual time trial at the Champs-Élysées: the first and only time it has been used as such"

LeMond wasn’t going to give up that easily. Soaring through the final stage in under twenty-seven minutes, Fignon finished with a time almost a minute slower. It soon became clear: LeMond had won the Tour de France by eight seconds.

How did he do it? Perhaps it was the controversial bike used in stage twenty-one, equipped with innovative aerobars that Bicycle Magazine claim may have given him a one-minute advantage. Maybe it was Fignon’s lack of helmet, or even his saddle sores and consequent lack of sleep the night before.

Speculation aside, the fact remains that the 1989 Tour de France was the closest in history. Over two thousand miles of cycling across all terrains, and victory was determined by a mere eight seconds. How’s that for carpe diem?

Lily Eanshaw

MotoGP, 2015

The 2015 Moto GP season proved to be one of the most controversial and closest yet, as the race for the title came down to the final race. The two contenders for the title were Yamaha teammates, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, who left the two rival Honda drivers in the points. Dani Pedrosa was still recovering from surgery on his arm-pump at the start of the season, while reigning champion Marc Márquez was also unable to challenge for the title due to suffering 6 retirements.

Rossi also known as ‘the Doctor’ had started a comeback after a few fallow years in search of his 10th world title, with his team-mate and rival Lorenzo looking for his fifth. The two had been close all season, with the lead switching from the Italian to the Spaniard and then back again to Rossi.

However, before the final race in Valencia, Lorenzo had closed the gap back to seven points. To make matters worse, Rossi had been given a back-of-the-grid penalty after yet another collision with the Honda of Márquez in Sepang.

"A furious Rossi blamed Márquez for losing the championship"

Rossi and Márquez had been involved in a number of battles during the season, with incidents in Argentina, Assen and Misano fuelling a significant rivalry between the two drivers. In fact it grew so heated it even led Rossi to accuse Márquez of supporting his fellow Spaniard in his title challenge during the pre-event press conference in Sepang. The increasingly poisonous atmosphere led to the cancellation of the same conference in Valenica.

Thus, despite an appeal, Rossi was forced to start the race at the back of his grid, while Lorenzo qualified in pole position. ‘The Doctor’ had fought his way up to fourth but was stopped by the two Honda drivers, with Lorenzo just about holding off Márquez and Pedrosa to finish first, even despite heavy pressure on the final lap.

With this, Lorenzo had won his 5th world title, by a slim margin of 5 points, while a furious Rossi blamed Márquez for losing the championship. Nevertheless, the two rivals did bury the hatchet next season, with Rossi giving the eventual 2016 winner Márquez a handshake in Catalonia.

Tom Shrimplin

Premier League, 2012

Astonishingly, Manchester City were losing to a 10-man QPR side, with five minutes until the end of the match and the Premier League season. At the Stadium of Light, United had done all they could, defeating Sunderland thanks to Rooney’s goal.

As heartbroken fans started to leave the Etihad in tears, fearing their dreams of Premier League glory were in tatters, a 92nd minute equaliser scored by Edin Dzeko got them roaring. However, a draw wasn’t enough to take the trophy they’d been waiting 44 years for. Only one man could finish the job, Sergio “Kun” Agüero.

"That last pulsating strike was the one that has become immortalised in footballing history"

“Manchester City are still alive here… Balotelli… Agüero!!!”

Fifty thousand supporters went wild in the stands, and Roberto Mancini sprinted back to his bench in complete jubilation.

“I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again”

Agüero was City’s hero. The Citizens climbed to the top of the table with 89 points, the same as their cross-town rivals United, but goal difference was crucial. Scoring 21 goals overall in the 2011/2012 PL season, Sergio Agüero surely was decisive throughout. Nevertheless, that last pulsating strike was the one that has become immortalised in footballing history.

Oliver Ross Assogna

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