It is a stretch to say this Formula One season has been competitive. From the get-go there has only been one car in it, the Mercedes. Defending champions Red Bull have gone off the boil, the Renault Energy F1-2014 engine in use lacks the power of the Mercedes PU106A Hybrid engine.
As for the landed gentry, Ferrari, this season is looking to be their worst season for some time. Their Team Principal Stefano Domenicali left the side in April after their horror show in Bahrain, whilst CEO Luca di Montezemolo has stepped down after 23-years at the helm. That’s been the story of F1 this season, the excitement also taking place off the asphalt and in the boardrooms.
The only reason this season has been saved from complete monotony is by Mercedes’ insistence of allowing their drivers: Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, to race, rather than burdening them with laborious team orders.
For that we owe Mercedes a great amount of gratitude. By taking the gamble and allowing their drivers to race free from shackles, they have given us one of the greatest F1 rivalries of all time. There have been plenty of near-misses, wheel-to-wheel racing and furious audio exchanges. What was once a harmonious relationship that stretched back to their days of junior karting has descended into animosity, as the two look to get their hands on the coveted Drivers’ Championship.
So without further adieu let us take a look at some of the best rivalries of F1 history.
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) vs. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 2014
Before this season the pair have always been jovial too each other, sharing a competitive but amiable relationship since their youth. How things change when you put some gold into the equation.
Things went swimmingly for the Mercedes hierarchy until the third race of the season, Bahrain. Hamilton, starting second on the grid, overtook Rosberg on the second turn of lap 18 in a brazen, gung-ho move, a maneuver that Rosberg declared to be “over the line” – Hamilton went on to win the race after going wheel-to-wheel with his German teammate for the final 10 laps. The angry clenched fist from Rosberg during that overtake was a clear sign to come.
In the eyes of Lewis, Rosberg took his revenge at Monaco three races later. Qualifying at Monaco is far more important than the actual race itself; on a course which is notoriously hard to overtake your points are claimed in qualification, so imagine Hamilton’s horror when he is hurtling round on his fast lap only to see a yellow flag from the steward, ruining his hot lap. Rosberg ran wide on the final lap of qualifying causing him to abort the lap before reversing back over the racing line and onto the race track. Rosberg claimed, and the FIA accepted, that it was an innocuous mistake, to Hamilton as was as deliberate as deliberate could be. Rosberg won the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix.
And then came the mud-slinging, mainly from the mouth of Hamilton. He started by saying that Rosberg was not his friend but a “teammate”, as well as stating that he was the hungrier driver because of his relatively uncomfortable upbringing in comparison to the “jets and hotels and boats” that Rosberg had been accustomed to as the son of former-F1 racer Keke Rosberg, who based himself and his son in Monaco. The Brit again pointed to Rosberg’s early life before the German Grand Prix, claiming that as junior Rosberg would have the Monaco flag not the German flag hoisted on the podiums, a statement refuted by the German.
Belgium proved to be the spark that detonated the powder keg. On the La Source corner of lap two a leading Hamilton was clipped by Rosberg.
Hamilton suffered an immediate puncture whilst Rosberg just a damaged wing. Unjustly, Hamilton did not finish whilst Rosberg finished second to extend the gap at the top to 29 points in his favour. In the aftermath Hamilton claimed that Rosberg had told him he had deliberately crashed into him. Again this was refuted but Mercedes Chairman Toto Wolff, who has greyed significantly this season, brought the hammer down on Rosberg, giving him a very stern lecture; something that the FIA again failed to deliver, and forcing him to publicly apologise to his stable mate.
Then at Monza, a track that offers so little attack-wise, we all thought the F1 season was over. Hamilton, who had bossed practice and qualifying, fell from 1st to 4th at the start of the race following a power failure. What proceeded to happen was one of the greatest individual drives in recent years. After reclaiming 2nd place on the ninth lap Hamilton proceeded to absolutely hurtle after Rosberg, who, on lap 29, missed the chicane, giving 1st to Hamilton. The British driver was a man on a mission that day, finding pace in areas never thought possible. Rosberg going off was probably the safe option as the mood Hamilton was in was one of pure ferocity and he would have had no qualms in forcing Rosberg off the track.
So that’s the tale of the tape so far. The rivalry is intense and it will continue to be so for the remaining six races. What is for sure is that it is going to be close, even the bookmakers are struggling to distinguish which of the two is the favourite but Betfair currently back Hamilton narrowly.
Mark Webber (Red Bull) vs, Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
Before even being paired with one another the two Red Bull drivers had a pretty frosty relationship. Ever since Sebastian Vettel went into the back of Mark Webber’s car in the torrential rain of Japan 2007, Mark’s had a chip on his shoulder when it comes to the “kid”.
In Turkey, 2010, it became clear who the favoured driver was in the Red Bull garage – going into the race the duo were joint leaders in the Drivers’ Championship. With 40 laps gone Vettel tried to pass Webber, who was leading, on the inside before turning into him, in what was a reprise of the Japan collision three years earlier. To the amazement of the motorsport world the management team of the Austrian sided with Vettel, leaving Webber rightly incredulous.
A driver of Webber’s standing was far too good to be used as a defensive foil for the young upstart from Germany. The Australian had grinded his way to the top whilst Vettel was fast-tracked, so of course Webber was resentful that his time at the top wouldn’t fully be fulfilled as he played second fiddle to Vettel.
Fast-forward to Silverstone of that year and you can really see how irksome things were becoming for Webber. According to David Tremayne of The Independent, Webber declared after his British Grand Prix victory that it was “not bad for a No. 2 driver” after being angered by the fact that the team took his front wing off and giving it to Vettel for the final stage of qualifying after he broke his and there were no spares.
There were no major disputes in the 2011 and 2012 season but that was mainly due to the fact that Red Bull had quite clearly made Vettel their lead driver. Webber was there for back-up rather than to actively pursue.
At the final race of the 2012 season in Brazil, the Australian was asked to defend in order to ensure that Vettel would be taking home a third consecutive title; a policy that Red Bull would not force Vettel to undertake in 2010 when it was Webber going for the title. Webber, brilliantly in the eyes of many, did not defend against Fernando Alonso; Vettel’s title rival, whilst not letting Vettel through later on. It was petulance at is very best but considering his treatment by the time in 2010 well within Webber’s rights.
Then there was the infamous moment when Vettel threw his toys out of the pram, making himself look like a spoiled, little idiot in front of the whole racing world. With the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix coming to its conclusion, Red Bull ordered their drivers to conserve their cars and not race one-another, giving them a one-two and Webber the victory. Vettel had other ideas and passed Webber a little later on, blatantly disregarding team orders and robbing Webber of a deserved victory.
Speaking afterwards, Webber stated: “After the last stop the team told me that the race was over and we turned the engines down and go to the end. The team made their decision. Seb made his own decision and he will have protection as usual.”
Webber retired from F1 after that 2013 season but you can imagine he is taking a lot of enjoyment out of how his replacement and fellow Australian, Daniel Ricciardo, is outperforming Vettel in nearly every race.
James Hunt (McLaren) vs. Niki Lauda (Ferrari) 1976
One of the greatest rivalries in the Formula One tomes, and also one of the greatest sporting movies in living memory – if you haven’t seen Ron Howard’s Rush then you really are missing out.
The reason why Rush is such a good film is that the battle between the two in 1976 was so far-fetched that it could have been penned by any Hollywood big shot.
With his flowing blond hair, chiselled good looks, flamboyant persona and wild playboy antics it was nigh on impossible to dislike James Hunt. Niki Lauda was the polar opposite. Christened “The Rat” due to his facial features, Lauda was methodical, calculated, ruthless and 100 per cent committed to his profession.
The pair actually got on pretty well off the track but on it, neither could stand the thought of coming second to the other.
With tensions already high after Hunt was stripped of his British Grand Prix victory for a benign mistake, Lauda suffered a horrific accident in the next race at the Nurburgring, a race he urged his fellow drivers to boycott amidst safety concerns, losing control of his car and crashing into the barriers. The Austrian driver was trapped in the flaming car for over 30 seconds, and was fighting for his life. Hunt won the race.
The intensity of the rivalry was the driving force behind Lauda’s return to the car after missing just two races. Here was a guy that had horrific and excruciatingly painful burns on his face yet he was willing to put a helmet on, for nothing more than stopping Hunt from winning the Drivers’ Championship.
The pulsating season came to an end in Japan. In what was one of the wettest races in F1 history Lauda voluntarily retired after two laps, Hunt finished the race in third to win the championship by a point.
It was a rivalry built around mutual respect and a love of winning. Never before and never again we will see such a unique Formula One season.
Alain Prost (McLaren) vs. Ayrton Senna (McLaren) 1989
When McLaren brought Ayrton Senna into the side in 1989 it seemed like a logical decision, partnered with Alain Prost they had assembled the greatest F1 side in history.
You needn’t look any further that the stats for confirmation. The duo swept all that was before them in 1989 as they dominated the Drivers’ Championship and McLaren breezed to the Constructors’ Championship.
But the relationship was tumultuous, not helped in San Marino when Senna ignored a pre-race agreement not to pass after the first corner when Prost had taken the lead, and came to a head in Japan.
With Prost leading the world championship and Senna needing to beat him to take the crown, the Brazilian dived up the inside at the final chicane. Prost conspired to turn in, the pair collided.
Prost was out on the spot, but Senna continued.
He won but was later disqualified after being accused of receiving an illegal push from marshals and of taking a shortcut through the chicane, rather than dangerously swing around and rejoin with oncoming F1 cars.
Prost moved onto Ferrari for the next season but even that couldn’t stop the two again clashing.
The pair again were at loggerheads in Japan in 1990 with the title on the line. As they sped into Turn 1 for the first time, Senna moved to the inside to attempt an adventurous overtake, which he did, darting past Prost.
The Scientist looked to give the Brazilian room at first but then jinked right to block gim at the final second, with disastrous consequences.
The collided and both retired meaning that Senna won the title.
The animosity levels between these two were crazy high. They were two great competitors that couldn’t deal with losing. But despite their lack of friendship with each other there was a huge amount of mutual respect.