Anyone concerned that Brawn GP have had their winning streak interrupted – today’s German GP saw the highly sound Mark Webber break his duck in some style – can look on the bright side: both their drivers scored points, and even the four that Jenson Button took for his fifth place could make a difference come the end of the season. There have been much smaller world championship winning margins.
The narrowest of these came a quarter of a century ago, in 1984. Then, as so often since, the car to beat was McLaren, and the competition was ultimately between their drivers: the (then) young challenger Alain Prost, and the wily fox Niki Lauda. They won twelve of the season’s sixteen races between them. Prost’s majority share of seven wins included Monaco, which had been run in torrential rain, the conditions becoming so bad that the race was stopped early. Not enough laps had been covered for full points to be awarded, so Prost didn’t get the (then) customary nine points, but four and a half.
So what? Well, with only one race left, Lauda led the championship by three and a half points – from Prost. That year, the season ended at Estoril, a beach resort west of Lisbon better known for its seafront casino. Prost went off into the lead, with Lauda having to work his way through the field, ultimately getting himself into third place. That would have given Prost the title, but the problem for the Frenchman was the car in second.
The number two Lotus that year was piloted by one Nigel Mansell. Noidge and the Lotus were quick, but unfortunately the combination was horribly unreliable: car number 12 retired a total of eleven times in sixteen races. And Estoril was one of them: whether it was the car or the driver is unclear, but Mansell went off at around four fifths’ distance. Lauda therefore inherited second place and Prost’s title hopes were crushed.
Lauda, who was renowned for doing just enough to reach his objective (a trait that could be easily forgiven after his near death experience in 1976), had won the F1 World Championship by a mere half a point. So Jenson Button will know that picking up three here, and four there, might not be as glamorous as winning, but they all go in the pot come the end of the season.
It could be a close one, too.