While it’s not uncommon that Formula One World Championships come down to the wire in the final race of the season, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have achieved a truly rare feat by coming into the Abu Dhabi weekend with a tie in points. That has only happened once before, at the 1974 United States Grand Prix.
That year, Emerson Fittipaldi of Lotus and Clay Regazzoni of Ferrari were tied with 52 points each, and Tyrrell’s Jody Scheckter technically could have overtaken them both, he was at 45 points.
Fittipaldi had three wins, two second places, and two thirds to his name, but he finished in the points two other times out of 14 races. Regazzoni, by contrast, only had one win, but his four seconds, two thirds, and four other points-scoring finishes had kept him in the competition. Scheckter, interestingly, had one more win than Regazzoni, but the unreliable Tyrrell had kept him out of the points six times.
Back then, points were hard to come by. Only the first six finishers scored points. First place got nine points, second got six, third got four, fourth got three, fifth got two, and sixth got one. So, you had to score pretty well to get any points at all.
It was also an era marked by a lack of reliability — in many races in 1974, you could expect half the cars to retire — so the fact that two title contenders came into the finale tied was a sight to behold.
Qualifying at the 1974 United States Grand Prix wouldn’t have actually given you any indication of who would come out on top, though. Of the three contenders, Scheckter qualified the highest in sixth. Fittpaldi and Regazzoni were eighth and ninth, respectively, while Carlos Reutemann took pole.
Reutemann led for the first nine laps, but on lap 10, rookie Helmuth Koenigg crashed head-on into the Armco at low speed. It shouldn’t have killed him — but his car slid under the unsecured Armco, and Koenigg was decapitated.
Regazzoni’s car had been slow from the start, and on lap 15, he pitted for new tires — but it wasn’t enough, and he couldn’t make up the place he had lost. He tried pitting again later in the race to adjust the anti-roll bar, but it didn’t work.
Meanwhile, Jody Scheckter was trying to battle his way to the front, though his car was slow enough that he was holding up Emerson Fittipaldi just behind him. When Scheckter’s engine broke on lap 44, Fittipaldi cruised past. His odds of winning the championship at that point were good; if he stayed where he was, he would win the championship. If his car died and Regazzoni stayed where he was, Fittipaldi would still win the championship. But it was generally a smart idea to see it out to the end of the race.
And that’s what Fittipaldi did. His fourth-place finish earned him three points, which was enough to put him ahead of Regazzoni, who finished 11th and out of the points entirely. It was Fittipaldi’s second championship, his first having come in 1972.
Meanwhile, Carlos Reutemann took victory, followed on the podium by Carlos Pace and James Hunt.
The world has changed pretty drastically in the decades since the last time two drivers entered the final race of the F1 season tied in points, and it’s easy to imagine that we can expect a much different result from 2021's title fight. Now, the cars are more reliable. The sport is more overtly political, with results influenced, in part, by rulings from the FIA. It’s possible that we could see some dirty maneuvers. It’s also possible that either Verstappen or Hamilton will have to win outright in order to secure the Championship, and highly unlikely that either will finish outside the point.