Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will enter the Singapore Grand Prix with a 116-point lead over nearest rival Charles Leclerc. Can the Ferrari driver put together a shock recovery run in the season’s final six races to turn the tables? Is another Verstappen triumph merely a formality? We look back at some of F1’s biggest title comebacks to see what he’s up against…
With five races remaining, he is 20 points behind (points system: 9-6-4-3-2-1)
John Surtees was the first driver to win world championships on two and four wheels, having previously won titles on 350cc and 500cc motorcycles before joining Ferrari and winning the drivers’ (and constructors’) titles in 1964.
After three retirements in the first four Grands Prix, the Briton finished third at Brands Hatch, putting him seventh in the championship and 20 points behind leader Jim Clark. A victory at the Nurburgring brought him closer, but retirement in Austria threatened to take him out of contention for the title.
Surtees won the championship by a single point over Graham Hill, thanks to a victory in front of the Tifosi at Monza and P2 finishes in the United States and Mexico, which were aided by teammate Lorenzo Bandini.
James Hunt: 1976
With three races remaining, he is 17 points behind (points system: 9-6-4-3-2-1)
Niki Lauda’s terrifying crash at the Nurburgring, his remarkable recovery and return, and the intriguing way the championship unfolded made the 1976 season one of the most memorable in F1 history.
Lauda surged ahead of Hunt in the standings during the first half of the season, giving himself a two-race lead. But then came his fiery accident and a two-race suspension that effectively ended his lead. It was hard to believe Lauda was back in action at Monza just weeks after being given the last rites in his hospital bed, with the Austrian doing everything he could to keep Hunt at bay.
Finally, Lauda’s decision to withdraw his car from the season finale in Japan due to heavy rain allowed Hunt to clinch the championship with a hard-fought podium finish.
With five races remaining, he is 16 points behind (points system: 9-6-4-3-2-1)
Alain Prost’s two victories put him in contention for the 1982 title before compatriot Didier Pironi took the lead, with Keke Rosberg a distant fifth with five of the 16 rounds remaining.
However, a horrific accident at Hockenheim changed everything, with Pironi suffering career-ending injuries. John Watson, who was second in the championship at the time, did not score in Germany – but Rosberg did, and the Finn followed that up with a P2 in Austria (by 0.05s from winner Elio de Angelis) to overtake Watson in the standings.
However, a non-finish in Italy propelled Watson back into contention, setting up a title-decider in Las Vegas, where Watson finished second to Rosberg’s P5, giving Keke his first and only championship.
With three races remaining, he is 14 points behind (points system: 9-6-4-3-2-1)
Alain Prost looked set to win the championship in 1983 until the title race erupted over the final four rounds. After colliding with Brabham rival Nelson Piquet at the Dutch Grand Prix, the pair were separated by 14 points, with Rene Arnoux sitting between them.
The following race, at Monza, Piquet took advantage of a turbo-related retirement for Prost to win, before doubling down at Brands Hatch with another victory, bringing him dangerously close in the standings.
Prost was still in the lead heading into the season finale at Kyalami, but another DNF (this time due to turbo trouble) opened the door for Piquet, who pounced by making it to the podium and winning the championship. Prost would have to wait another two years before breaking his championship duck.
Alain Prost: 1986
With two races remaining, he is 11 points behind (points system: 9-6-4-3-2-1)
A driver had not defended their title since 1960 (Jack Brabham), and Prost appeared to be fighting a losing battle with two rounds left in 1986, with Williams’ Nigel Mansell having just won the Portuguese Grand Prix over Prost in his McLaren.
With P2 in the penultimate round in Mexico, Prost closed the gap on Mansell to six points, dropping the other Williams driver, Nelson Piquet, to third in the standings.
In the final round in Adelaide, the more powerful Honda-powered Williams had the advantage. But then Mansell’s title charge exploded in a spectacular shower of sparks, steel, and rubber, the awe palpable from James Hunt and Murray Walker’s microphones. Prost won his 25th Grand Prix and second World Championship in dramatic circumstances, with Piquet pitting to avoid a similar tire failure.
Kimi Raikkonen (Finland): 2007
With two races remaining, he is 17 points behind (points system: 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1)
In 2007, Kimi Raikkonen defied the odds by scoring a maximum of 20 points in the final two races to overcome a 17-point deficit.
Lewis Hamilton led the way after the Japanese Grand Prix, 12 points ahead of McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso and five points ahead of Raikkonen. However, Hamilton’s dramatic retirement in China (when he slid off at the pit entry on worn intermediate tires) turned the situation on its head.
Still trailing by seven points, Raikkonen won again in Brazil, this time backed up by Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa, while Hamilton had to settle for seventh after experiencing early gearbox issues, and Alonso finished third, meaning the Finn won the championship by a single point.
Sebastian Vettel won in 2010 and 2012.
2010: 31 points back with six races remaining (points system: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1)
Sebastian Vettel may have won all four of his championships from 2010 to 2013, but it wasn’t easy for the then-Red Bull driver. In 2010, the championship was decided by a four-way fight between Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, and Mark Webber, with Ferrari’s Alonso favored.
Red Bull was unreliable that year, and the relationship between Webber and Vettel had soured as well, with flashpoints erupting in Turkey and Korea between the German’s victories in Japan and Brazil. When it came to the season finale in Abu Dhabi, Vettel won the race but had to wait until Alonso crossed the finish line in P7 – behind Vitaly Petrov – to be crowned World Champion by four points.
2012: 39 points back with seven races remaining (points system: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1)
As the 2012 season neared its midpoint, Vettel’s chances of defending his 2011 title were fading, and Alonso appeared destined for a third championship following Vettel’s retirement in Italy – where Hamilton won from pole.
However, when Hamilton’s gearbox failed in Singapore, Vettel inherited the victory, and Japan would be even sweeter (a Grand Slam) because Alonso retired on the first lap. Vettel defeated teammate Webber in Korea and then dominated in India to lead the championship by 13 points – a lead he’d keep until the end of the season – with championship-worthy drives in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
With nine races remaining, he is 14 points behind (points system: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1)
While this is far from the greatest comeback in F1 history, Hamilton did have to overcome a points deficit several times on his way to winning the championship in 2017. Vettel got off to a fast start this season, winning three of the first six races and finishing second in the others, sending a clear message of intent.
The battle ebbed and flowed as the season progressed, peaking with a contentious clash in Azerbaijan, but Vettel entered the summer break as the leader, 14 points ahead of Hamilton.
However, things went wrong for Vettel at the start of the final flyaway sequence, as he retired twice in three races, including a dramatic collision in Singapore with teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Hamilton romped to victory from there, eventually finishing 46 points ahead.