Twelve years of champions

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Twelve years of champions

This year is heading for its close and our sights are already fixed on 2008, our expectations rising for the new season and the excitement it may bring. But before we start predictions for the next battle for the title, let's cast our minds back...

This year is heading for its close and our sights are already fixed on 2008, our expectations rising for the new season and the excitement it may bring. But before we start predictions for the next battle for the title, let's cast our minds back over the last 12 years and the drivers who hoisted the champion's trophy. Yes, it's a very tenuous Christmas link but the last 12 days wouldn't be very interesting.

Michael Schumacher.
Photo by Renault.

Obviously one man is going to feature rather prominently from the last 12 years so it's rather fitting that Michael Schumacher starts off, as world champion in 1995. It was his second title with Benetton -- making him the youngest double champion in F1 history at the time -- and he and teammate Johnny Hebert gave the team its first constructors' title.

In 1996 Damon Hill took the honours with Williams. He was the last Brit to win the title, something that many hoped would change this year with the arrival of Lewis Hamilton but it wasn't to be. Currently Hill is the only son of a world champion -- father Graham -- to also win the title but no doubt Nico Rosberg and Nelson A. Piquet are aiming to change that.

Jacques Villeneuve, champion in 1997, is the son of another famous F1 driver but Gilles Villeneuve sadly never won the title. Jacques took the championship with Williams and the fight between the Canadian and Schumacher went to the final round at Jerez and the infamous clash between the two, from which Villeneuve recovered to triumph and Schumacher was disqualified.

Press conference: Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.

1998 and 1999 belonged to Mika Hakkinen, arguably Schumacher's greatest rival and the man the German most respected on track. Hakkinen's maiden title in '98 was confidently won but the following year McLaren was not as reliable. Whether Schumacher breaking his leg at Silverstone and being replaced by Eddie Irvine was any help to the Finn is debatable, but Hakkinen clinched title No.2 at the final race.

The century turned and F1 went into the Schumacher era. Five consecutive titles is a pretty astonishing achievement and in those five years Schumacher was almost untouchable. The closest anyone came to him was Kimi Raikkonen in 2003, when, with McLaren, the Finn was just two points behind at the end of the season.

Despite Raikkonen's best efforts it was Fernando Alonso who finally broke Schumacher's stranglehold in 2005. With Renault the Spaniard became the youngest ever champion that year and went on to take Schumacher's record to be the youngest ever double champion in 2006. He had hoped to make it three in a row with McLaren this season but, as we know, that went rather pear-shaped.

Podium: 2005 World Champion Fernando Alonso celebrates.
Photo by xpb.cc.

After the high of those five title-gobbling years, Ferrari suddenly hit a slump in 2005 and it was Raikkonen that fought with Alonso for the top honours. Raikkonen was shockingly fast but erratic in the unreliable McLaren and it was Alonso's focus and consistency in the almost bomb-proof Renault which ultimately won out. It was a fascinating battle between two very worthy drivers.

Ferrari bounced back in 2006 and it was to be Schumacher's last attempt at title glory. The previous year it has been the clash of the young guns but this time it was the old master against the new champion. Again, it was a good fight; the advantage swung from Schumacher to Alonso and back again but eventually Alonso successfully defended his title and Schumacher gracefully accepted defeat and retired.

It was all change in 2007. After years of so-near-but-so-far with McLaren, Raikkonen donned the scarlet race suit and went into battle with Ferrari. Alonso moved to the new challenge of McLaren and despite Raikkonen's bulldozing dominance at Melbourne it soon seemed that the title chance the Finn had always missed with McLaren was going to go Alonso's way.

Race winner and 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen celebrates.
Photo by xpb.cc.

However, McLaren's internal squabbles, the spy scandal and the team's own insistence on equality between Alonso and rookie teammate Lewis Hamilton took their toll. Heading into the second part of the season it appeared the fight was between Alonso and Hamilton but Raikkonen never gave up and came from over 20 points behind to finally win his elusive first world championship.

Can he successfully defend the title in 2008? It will be quite some time before that question is answered but you'd have to think it was a pretty good bet. But for the moment Raikkonen can celebrate his long-awaited triumph with a glass of egg-nogg or perhaps an adventurous Christmas sherry. Oh hang on; this is Kimi we're talking about…

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Series GENERAL , F1