26th October was well-known for a number of things in F1 history, from two dramatic title deciders to a dark moment in the Schumacher career. This day simply has it all.
Nigel Mansell’s right-rear tyre exploded in Adelaide, effectively ending his chances of winning the 1986 World Championship. To make matters worse, Williams was so worried about the same thing happening to the other car that Nelson Piquet was brought into the pits for fresh rubber, handing the lead to Alain Prost. Piquet did his best to regain the lead and win the championship but came up short.
Prost won the race and the championship, somehow having defeated the faster Williams’ over the course of the year in one of the finest seasons a driver has ever put together. Things were disappointing for McLaren teammate Keke Rosberg in his final season in F1. He’d only finished on the podium once all season but was looking set to end his career with a bang having led pretty much the entire race, only for things to end with a literal bang when his tyre exploded, just a lap before Mansell’s did.
Fast-forward to 11 years later, it was Michael Schumacher vs Jacques Villeneuve for the 1997 title in Jerez. Schumacher had the points lead, but it was so close that it effectively boiled down to whoever beat the other would win the championship.
Schumacher got the best start and claimed the lead but after the final round of pit stops, Villeneuve had the pace. He reeled in the Ferrari and, on a track where overtaking was tough, knew he’d have to be aggressive to make a move. He made a lunge up the inside but Schumacher was having none of it and, after a brief hesitation, decided to simply turn in on his rival. It didn’t work.
Schumacher went off into the gravel whilst Villeneuve – whose car was damaged but ultimately still drivable – was able to carry on. In the closing laps, Villeneuve allowed both McLaren drivers ahead of him as Mika Hakkinen won his first race, while third was enough for the Canadian to take the title in his second season. As for Schumacher? The FIA seemingly had enough of drivers hitting each other in the final race and quite rightly elected to disqualify him from the entire season.
After the race there were all sorts of accusations flying about, from Ferrari telling Sauber to hold up the Williams’ when being lapped to Williams and McLaren conspiring to fix the result of the race.
Incidentally, Schumacher and Damon Hill clashed at Adelaide in 1994 and Schumacher won the title. 1997 was simply a case of ‘that trick don’t work twice’.