Five Top F1 Rivalries

Rivalries have been a staple of F1 but there are five rivalries which stand out from the rest. (Image credit: Mark Thompson/ Getty Images)

From friendly rivalries of the swinging sixties to explosive inter team battles for supremacy of the modern era, Formula One has experienced many feuds so let rewind as we pick out some of the best rivalries to grace F1.

Whether its Jim Clark vs Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost or Charles Leclerc vs Sebastian Vettel, everyone has their favourite rivalry from 70 years of F1 so here are five of the best rivalries to grace the sport.

 

Charles Leclerc vs Sebastian Vettel (2019-present)

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Charles Leclerc might be happy to share equal status alongside Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, but we have seen how raw Leclerc’s talent is in how he adapted to the car quickly as this youth vs experience battle continues to heat up after just one season.

Vettel who had the edge in Australia, Spain and Hungary before Leclerc hit back with dominant performances in Belgium and Italy whilst Vettel stumbled.until Singapore saw this rivalry step up a gear.

Strategic errors in Singapore and Russia however ignited this rivalry further as Vettel benefitted from an early stop to win in Marina Bay, whilst Leclerc nearly made a similar strategy work but a MGU-K failure on Vettel’s car gifted victory to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Brazil then saw a huge twist late into a dramatic race as Leclerc who started in midfield had fought back up to the front took Vettel for third into the Senna S, only for the German to then squeeze him too much on run to Turn Four and force both drivers out of the race with damage.

Despite costing the team a double points finish, this clash only adds to the interesting rivalry forming because both drivers are evenly matched across all tracks, which is a refreshing change from the obvious number one-two system which is often prevalent at Ferrari.

It therefore is important to remember that Leclerc is only young and is already proving himself a match for Vettel who has 13 season experience and four titles to his name, meaning that we could have a protege vs master battle between these two for the next season or two depending on various factors at present. 

 

 

Mark Webber vs Sebastian Vettel (2009-2013)

“Multi 21 Seb.” sums up this particular feud which had dominated Red Bull for five seasons between Vettel and Mark Webber, as Vettel was viewed as the favourite whilst Webber had to constantly prove himself against his young teammate.

Their first season together proved harmonious but the 2010 Turkish GP would mark a turning point, as the pair collided on the back straight whilst Webber was in fuel-saving mode after seeing a request for Vettel to reduce his speed denied with the latter consquently spinning out of the race.  

Further controversy soon followed at the British GP as Webber received a new front wing, which was removed and given to Vettel after the German binned his in a FP3 incident and went on to take pole ahead of Webber who won the race and dished out a brutal opinion immediately afterwards on team radio, saying; “…not bad for a number two driver. Cheers.” 

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Rest of that season and much of the following two seasons saw tempers settle until a move at start of the championship deciding 2012 Brazilian GP re-ignited tension, as Webber squeezed Vettel which caused the latter to be tagged and spun around by Bruno Senna although Vettel eventually recovered to snatch a third title. 

That particular incident went on to trigger “Multi 21 Seb. Multi 21.” in Malayia 2013, as Vettel flouted team orders to hold station by passing Webber on fresher tyres for the win, with the Australian then hanging up the steering wheel at end of season and end this feud.

Vettel meanwhile got a taste of his own Aussie medicine the following season, when he was outperformed by Webber’s compatriot – Daniel Ricciardo before switching to Ferrari where he remains to this day. 

 

James Hunt vs Niki Lauda (1976)

Hunt vs Lauda

If there is an one-season sporting rivalry which sums up the contrasts within two rival competitors, you have to look further than the cool dude in McLaren’s James Hunt versus the straight talking Niki Lauda of Ferrari as they fought for the 1976 title.

If you ask anyone why Hunt vs Lauda is one of the most talked about rivalries in sporting history, the answer probably lies in their personality because Hunt was a partygoer off track whereas Lauda was more technical minded.

Those completely different attitudes therefore contributed to one of the sport’s most talked about seasons, because Hunt was dominant in qualifying with eight poles to Lauda’s three, yet Lauda was more consistent in races with nine podiums to Hunt’s seven. 

Another brilliant aspect of this rivalry is the respect that these two held for each other on and off track, despite Lauda missing out on the title to Hunt by a single point, after the latter produced a stunning 52 point turnaround in the last eight races despite Lauda missing two races through injury after a crash in the German GP. 

Following seasons saw Lauda go on to win a second and third title in 1977 and 84 respectively – latter coming for McLaren either side of retirement, whereas Hunt struggled with the following two McLaren cars before retiring in June 1979.

What ultimately makes this rivalry one of the best is the fact that both drivers managed to maintain a friendship in following seasons and in retirement, which is quite rare in sport and lasted until Hunt’s sudden death in 1993. 

 

Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg (2013-16)

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Unlike Lauda vs Hunt of the mid 70s, Lewis Hamilton’s rivalry with Nico Rosberg would see friends turn into foes, whilst racing for the same team just to add extra spice in this classic modern day rivalry.

Having been friends since their junior days, Hamilton arrived at Mercedes in 2013 with a world championship in his pocket, whilst Rosberg had established himself as top dog since joining the team in 2010 upon their return to F1 after a 55 year hiatus. 

You would of been forgiven for expecting a friendly rivalry but the cracks quickly began to show at the 2013 Malaysian GP, when team orders prevented Rosberg from mounting a late charge to snatch third from Hamilton. 

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This rivalry however didn’t step up a gear until the following season after two separate incidents of Rosberg’s doing, in which he first ran wide down an escape road in Monaco to deny Hamilton pole, in a similar manner to how Michael Schumacher attempted to dent Fernando Alonso pole at the same track in 2006.

The second flash point in that season came after the traditional summer break, when Rosberg punctured Hamilton’s left rear on Lap Two as they battled for the lead and consequently cost both the win with Hamilton forced to retire with damage.

Further incidents although relatively minor would follow throughout the rest of season, although both drivers produced brilliant duels in Bahrain and Japan, with the latter sadly overshadowed by Jules Bianchi’s accident. 

2015 however proved quieter as Hamilton comfortably waltzed to a third title without much on-track squabbling against Rosberg, but 2016 would see a return to the drama of 2014 season at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Mercs Shunt
2016 Spanish Grand Prix would see Hamilton unintentionally spin and take Rosberg out on the opening lap. (Image credit: Zak Mauger/LAT/REX/Shutterstock)

Rosberg got the better start but found himself in the wrong power unit mode on the run to Turn Four, which offered Hamilton an opportunity down the inside whilst Rosberg quickly corrected the error and squeezed Hamilton who consequently spun to take both drivers out on the opening lap. 

Further opening lap contact then followed in Canada although both eventually finished in the top five, before Austria threw up a last lap flash point when Hamilton took outside line into Turn Two but Rosberg broke later, causing a collision in which the latter lost his front wing and a podium finish whilst Hamilton escaped unscathed to take victory. 

That would eventually prove to be the final flash point bar a failed backing up strategy by Hamilton in Abu Dhabi to try and deny Rosberg his first title, with the German then retiring from the sport a few days later to bring this rivalry to its close. 

What makes this rivalry stand out from the others is that this wasn’t any ordinary rivalry in that both drivers used to be close friends yet the desire to win titles in the best car of the hybrid era was what drove them to the limit with plenty of clashes and racing.

 

Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost (1984-93)

Senna embraces Prost

If there is one classic sport rivalry that instantly springs to mind between two athletes then Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost surely has to be high on the list, because this rivalry goes far deeper than any other rivalry ever seen in F1 or sport. 

Controversial decisions however seems to be the key element of this rivalry, which begun at the wet 1984 Monaco Grand Prix when Senna overtook Prost for the lead at the end of Lap 32, only for Circuit Clerk – Jacky Ickx to bring out the red flag and positions were counted back to end of Lap 31 with Prost declared winner.

It might appear a simple and fair decision but Prost was racing in a Porsche designed engine, whilst Ickx was racing for Rothmans-Porsche team in Sports Car racing at the time hence reasonable conspiracy theories around the controversial stoppage.   

Normal racing rivalry then followed between the pair until 1988 when Senna joined McLaren as Prost’s teammate, which proved to be harmonious for their first season together.

Formula One World Championship

1989 however would see the rivalry fully ignite into a proper psychological battle on and off track, with both drivers beginning to lose trust in each other which is never a good sign in any dominant team.

One notable disagreement came at the San Marino GP when Senna ignored an alleged pre-race agreement, overtaking Prost for the win at the restart after Gerhard Berger’s crash at Tamburello although Japan would prove to be the bigger controversy.

Senna entered Suzuka needing victories in the final two races to deny Prost that season’s title, which he managed if not for the controversial decision making at Suzuka which cost him victory and a successful title defence. 

Prost dominated the majority of the race but Lap 46 saw Senna attempt a lunge down the inside of Prost on the run to CASIO Triangle, only for Prost to cut across to block him and send both cars down the run-off with their wheels locked and engines stalled.

Prost retired on the spot believing that he had won the championship but Senna got a push start down the escape road, before continuing on to win after a pit-stop only to then be disqualified for cutting the CASIO Triangle chicane as he re-joined the race and a subsequent appeal was rejected in the post-season.

That clash would ultimately see the then dream-team break up as Prost departed for Ferrari with Berger joining as his replacement, but the title once again was to be settled in controversial circumstances at Suzuka. 

Senna took pole but a request for pole position to be moved to the clean side of the track was denied by then FIA President – Jean-Marie Balestre who had been accused by Senna the previous season of influencing his disqualification and title loss. 

That decision therefore meant that Prost had the advantage off the line, resulting in Senna refusing to leave racing room into Turn One and both drivers colliding to send them into retirement and gift Senna his second of three eventual titles. 

1991 however would prove comfortable for Senna as Prost found himself struggling at Ferrari and consequently fired by season end, although 92 and 93 saw Senna and McLaren struggle to match their rivals, despite taking stunning wins at Monaco and Donnington in those respective seasons. 

Prost meanwhile took a sabbatical in 1992 before returning with Williams the following season, in which he vetoed Senna joining as his teammate en route to a fourth and final F1 title before retiring as Senna took over his seat until his tragic death in the 1994 San Marino GP.

It therefore is difficult to argue that there is a greater rivalry because Senna vs Prost had literally everything from tension to political integrity exposure to some of the greatest on track battles ever seen in F1, which is still debated today by fans and sport analysts.

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