Formula One’s Youngest Triple World Champion
Japan is a special place. Suzuka played host to the Formula One paddock this past weekend, when Sebastian Vettel secured the lone remaining point that stood between him and his second consecutive drivers’ championship. In doing so he became the youngest ever double Formula One champion, and one of just nine consecutive double champs that the sport has seen.
Suzuka is also where the sport’s youngest ever triple world champion clinched his wins. You may know of him.
Formula One during 1988 also featured a dominant team running an unstoppable car – McLaren and the MP4/4. The drivers’ championship, however, was a lot closer. 1988 was the foundation of the career-long duel between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, and the pair won races tit for tat all season long.
In the end Senna won eight races to Prost’s seven and collected his first drivers’ championship. Gerhard Berger was the only other driver to win a race.
Issues with reliability and a few stacks through the middle of the ’89 season set the stage for Senna’s championship fate to be played out at Suzuka. If he was to have any chance of beating Prost in the title, he had to leave Japan with the win.
And win he did, despite being taken out in the first corner as he was charging down the inside of Prost. After the incident Senna was able to return to the race and fight his way into the lead, where he stayed until he saw the chequered flag.
It wasn’t until after he had won the race that he lost it. An extremely controversial decision disqualified him for cutting a chicane when re-joining the track and entering the pits. This meant that the ’89 championship went to Prost, with Senna in an irate second place.
Senna made a terrific start to the 1990 season, developing a commanding lead in the championship. His old nemesis was there to keep him honest, this time in a Ferrari, and had reeled him in by the time they returned to Suzuka, where just 11 points separated them.
Senna put himself on pole with Prost beside him in second. Pole position at Suzuka was on the dirty side of the track, off the racing line, and Senna had campaigned to have it moved to the other side of the track. With the decision made to leave the pole sitter on the dirty side of the track, Prost made the better getaway and the pair once again headed into the first corner of the Japanese Grand Prix side by side. Senna refused to yield the position, and the two once again ended up entwined with each other and the barriers.
Another controversial championship conclusion, but this time the roles were reversed and Senna took home his second drivers’ championship.
1991, by comparison, was simple. Ferrari and Prost had rolled off the pace, and it wasn’t until mid-season that Mansell and his Williams started to bring the championship fight to Senna and McLaren. He and Senna put on a stellar show throughout the season and the drivers’ championship was heating up in the final rounds.
Once again we head to Suzuka, and once again the championship is on the line. Mansell has to win in order to keep the fight alive, and Senna must stay in front of Mansell to make sure it isn’t.
McLaren locked out the front row with Gerhard Berger on pole and Senna in second. And they kept it that way through the start. No entangled excursions. No controversy.
Mansell had an off early in the race and retired in the kitty litter, his championship chase concluded. Senna and Berger ruled the rest of the race, with Senna letting Berger by and giving him the win on the final lap.
And so Senna took his third world championship, becoming the youngest ever driver to do so at the age of 31.
Schumacher was also 31 when he clinched the 2000 title at Suzuka and won his third championship. Senna and Schumacher won their respective third titles in the same month, but Schuey was born in January, making him a few months older when he claimed the triple.
He is, somewhat unsurprisingly, still the sport’s youngest ever seven-time world drivers’ champion.
Fernando Alonso turns 31 next year and has his first two drivers’ championships wrapped up. He’s ready for a third that would pip Senna’s record by a few months. Vettel is just 24 years old, giving him another seven years to chase Senna’s record.
Do you think they can do it? Will it be as thrilling to watch as Senna’s three?
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