Many crazy statements are echoing around the F1 paddock right now, two of which are heard numerously. Firstly, Mercedes played dirty against Lewis Hamilton and, secondly, Nico Rosberg is an undeserving world champion.
Today, Rach F1's Matthew Gannon explores the latter of these statements and finds whether we have seen luckier or less deserving champions than Nico Rosberg.
Nino Farina - 1950
F1's first champion was a very lucky boy. He won the title after a gearbox failure for Championship leader and future legend Juan-Manuel Fangio. Fangio was running in the second place, which should have been enough to clinch the title.
While the Italian was a good driver, he never appeared in the F1 big leagues again By contrast, Fangio went on to make records which stood until the following millennium. I'll leave you to decide who is the better and more deserving champion.
Phil Hill - 1961.
Ferrari were dominant in 1961 and their supremacy left only two drivers in contention for the title, Phil Hill and Wolfgang Von Trips. Von Trips was clearly the faster driver and lead the title race heading into Monza. Sadly for the Dutchman the home race ended in tragedy. A huge crash at Parabolica left spectators and Von Trips dead and allowed Hill to win the race. With one more race to go Hill was left unopposed to take the victory in the title race and claim his sole drivers crown.
John Surtees - 1964.
No doubting that he was a top-drawer driver, but in 1964 he got very, very lucky. Graham Hill, Surtees and Clark went to Mexico City for the final race of the year to decide the title. To clinch the crown, Clark had to win with Surtees 3rd or lower and Hill not scoring; Surtees needed either to finish in the top two with Hill finishing 3rd or lower; Hill simply had to finish ahead of his rivals.
Clark roared off into the lead and stayed there until half-distance, with Hill third and Surtees down in fifth. If the chequered flag was waved at this stage, Hill would have won the title. However, destiny had something else in store. Hill was forced off the track by Surtees' teammate Lorenzo Bandini, and he had to pit for repairs, leaving him two laps behind Clark.
Clark went on in the lead, but his engine started to play up - an oil pipe had split. He was leading by miles, and tried to get the car home, but the engine finally died on the final lap. Dan Gurney inherited the lead, with Bandini second and Surtees third - that result would have still given Hill the title. However, the Ferrari mechanics all went out onto the track to wave down Bandini and let Surtees cross the line in second place to win the title by a point, making the Brit fortunate to take his maiden and only title.
Denny Hulme - 1967
Hulme had the most reliable car, and had fewer problems than his teammate Jack Brabham. They each finished 9 of the 11 races in the points while the most for any other driver was 6. Also, due to the "split season" scoring system used at the time, he was able to count all his scores. By contrast Brabham had to drop one of his. He was perhaps the most comparable to Nico Rosberg, highly competent rather than brilliant. Much like Rosberg, he had the car to challenge for the top, and the luck to turn it into silverware.
Jody Scheckter - 1979.
After years being the wild child of F1, Scheckter had matured into something of an elder statesman and lost a fair bit of his pace when he landed in a highly-reliable and fairly competitive Ferrari for the 1979 season. The Ligiers were the fastest cars at the start of the season and Williams dominated the closing races. But Scheckter and Ferrari were always in the points and took the wins which presented themselves along the way as others retired.
In Belgium he had a steady climb through the field to take over as others fell away. In Monaco he used his pole position to get into Sainte Devote first and drove at his own pace, with his teammate riding shotgun in second place. Then at Monza the faster Renaults failed and Villeneuve dutifully followed him over the line to gift him the title. All things considered it was one of the least spectacular championship wins. Both him and his machinery were never dominant, often outpaced by Villeneuve and others, yet Scheckter rode his luck and was quick to pounce on any opportunity which came his way.
Keke Rosberg - 1982.
The obvious comparison with the tag line "like father like son", Rosberg scooped up the title in the early 1980s despite an arguable underwhelming season.
Without Villeneuve and Pironi falling victim to accidents, without the superior turbo-powered Brabhams and Renaults expiring like ice cubes in the desert, without Watson's suspension failure at Hockenheim, above all without Jones and Reutemann both deciding at very short notice to retire and finding him a drive in the first place, then Keke wouldn't have got within a mile of the title.
Rosberg Senior, though to his credit,used his dominant car well, and like many others paved his own success by profiting on opportunities. Perhaps it's written in the stars Nico will follow an albeit less lucky path to a title some 24 years after his father - the same gap between Graham and Damon Hill's titles - or perhaps unlike Keke, Nico's luck will run out.
Jacques Villeneuve - 1997
Despite running close to title in 1996, Villeneuve was beaten by team mate Damon Hill. For 1997 however he had new blood alongside him, Heinz-Harald Frentzen. The then 30-year-old German was entering his fourth season in F1 and had entered the big time at Williams. The 1997 season quickly showed its front runners, Williams and Ferrari were once again the teams to beat, specifically Villeneuve, Frentzen and Schumacher. But Frentzen dropped out of contention, leaving a straight season long duel between Schumacher and Villeneuve.
Entering the final round at Jerez it was Schumacher who led the standings. However, a controversial crash with Villeneuve, who went on to finish third, meant his points were stripped for the season, handing Jacques a sole title.
Perhaps this shows the last non-European world champion had talent to win the title in his second season (a feat later matched by Lewis Hamilton) and that it was ill-advised career moves which have tainted his image as a poorer driver than what he initially was.
All things considered, he almost lost the title to Schumacher, who had a slower car than Villeneuve. Had it not been for the contact and subsequent slide into the gravel for the instigator Michael Schumacher, Villeneuve would have lost the title. This coupled with the fact he would never win another F1 race is why he too is considered a lucky boy to be champion.
So yes, you may hear the words 'Rosberg doesn't deserve to be champion' ushered around for weeks, potentially years to come. However now after delving deeper, Nico Rosberg might not be the best to win a title, but Rosberg Sr is the true definition of the lucky world champion,. And call it a family trait, lucky break or whatever you want, Nico Rosberg will not be the luckiest or worst champion in F1 should he wrap up the title in Abu Dhabi.
by Matthew Gannon