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Iconic rivalries in Formula 1

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Published 10 Oct 2013, 21:12 IST
10 Oct 2013, 21:12 IST

In a sport where fractions of a second decide the fate of a race and separate the greats from the also-ran, it’s near-impossible not to have rivalries and fierce competition.

While it’s a battle for supremacy with drivers from rival teams, some of the greatest rivalries have been within the same garage. The adrenaline rush to cross the line leading the pack in every race is what a driver sets out aiming for at the start. Unfortunately, only one can take the win.

Every driver dreams of becoming the champion but only one of the drivers can take it. Formula One is a sport that feeds on speed, adrenaline rush, skill and the satisfaction of beating a fellow driver.

Here’s a look at some iconic F1 rivalries:

Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost

With McLaren signing the best drivers for the 1988 Formula One season; little did they know that it would turn out to be the best pairing in Formula One history. While Senna was the one who always wanted to go fastest, Prost was more calculative and made his moves strategically.

The two were completely opposite drivers, apart from sharing the glory among themselves, ended up fighting the most fierce battle for the Drivers’ Championship in the history of the sport that lasted for five years. The relationship between the two drivers was turbulent to say the least.

The sparks of the rivalry began at the Portuguese GP in 1988 with Senna trying to overtake Prost, and was almost forced by the Frenchman towards the pit wall. But Prost overtook the Brazilian and eventually won the race.

Grand Prix of Brazil
Alain Prost (L) with longtime rival Ayrton Senna

Alain Prost drove with Ayrton Senna in the Honda powered Mclaren in 1988 and 89 season

A similar incident took place at the San Marino Grand Prix where Senna emerged as champion in 1988. The first year proved to be a stepping stone to a war that intensified in 1989 with number of instances between the two drivers giving each other the hardest time possible on track along with a psychological battle off it. The most talked about were the San Marino Grand Prix and the final race of the season at Suzuka, that saw Senna getting disqualified and Prost winning the Championship.


For the 1990 season Prost moved to Ferrari and the battle was more intense as ever.  Suzuka, Japan was witness to the drama again as a crash between the two drivers saw Prost going out of the race and Senna winning the Championship. Senna’s Mclaren romped home with the 1991 Championship yet again with Prost in second. In 1992 Prost took a sabbatical from racing as Senna finished 4th in an noncompetitive Mclaren . But Prost returned in 1993 to race for Williams with a clause in the contract making sure that Senna couldn’t be hired as his teammate. The Frenchman had his revenge winning his fourth title in the final year of his career as a Formula One driver.

Ayrton Senna, leading the initial laps of the ill fated San Marino Grand Prix,1994, where he suffered his fatal accident

Prost retired from the sport in 1993 and an era of domination and rivalry in Formula One by two driver’s had come to an end after years of controversies, allegations, tactics ,heated exchanges and wheel-to-wheel racing. It’s needless to say that the rivalry brought out the best in the two drivers and both drivers had admiration for each other as their lives had been intertwined for more than five years. It was indeed worthy of the topmost rivalry in Formula One history. Senna’s tragic death at the San Marino GP in 1994 left the Formula One fraternity shocked. Prost, himself taken aback by the turn of events said he felt as if a part of him had also died.


Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg

A dejected Hamilton in 3rd, as he loses top spot at the Monaco GP to teammate Rosberg

One of the newer rivalries in Formula 1, the Rosberg-Hamilton saga did not start off with the two drivers at loggerheads; in fact, they are childhood friends. Hamilton has been attached to the team since 2013, following a prior stint with McLaren-Mercedes. He joined old friend Rosberg, who has been with the team since 2010, and is set to continue with them till 2016. 

A recent incident at the Monaco Grand Prix brought their rivalry to a head. Hamilton, on pole, was primed to win the Monaco GP, Rosberg’s home track, for the first time in 7 years. Due to errors on the part of Mercedes engineers however, Hamilton lost his lead, ending the race in 3rd while teammate Rosberg won. They have been at loggerheads on and off since 2014, when Rosberg accused Hamilton of attempting to undercut him, allegations Hamilton had denied at the time. 

Hamilton is miffed with Rosberg, and in a recent interview said he would employ the same tactics against Rosberg that F1 legend Ayrton Senna employed against his own long-time rival, Alain Prost. 

Considering they are teammates until the end of the 2016 racing season, however, it could spell ill for Mercedes, which has had an otherwise brilliant season, with top spot in the constructors’ standings and both drivers making up the top two among the drivers.

Niki Lauda vs James Hunt

A prominent rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt in 1976 had the fans on the edge of their seats

A prominent rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt in 1976 had the fans on the edge of their seats

The movie Rush remarkably brought out one of the most closely contested battles in the history of Formula One. It came so close that only a point separated two of the best drivers of the era, with James Hunt winning the title with McLaren in 1976, but not before both of them created history with their rivalry, which was largely down to their completely different personalities. While Lauda was disciplined and strove for perfection, Hunt was carefree and lived his life with abandon. The headline-hogging animosity between the two drivers was exciting to say the least for the fans.

Lauda won 5 races with Ferrari before he crashed brutally at the Nurburgring with severe burn injuries and smoke in his lungs and blood. The Austrian was forced to miss the next two races (Grands Prix of Austria and Netherlands) recuperating from a life threatening accident as Hunt closed in by winning 3 races in Netherlands, Canada and USA. It came down to the final race in Suzuka, with Lauda making his comeback with burn injuries scarring a major portion of his face. But Lauda retired from the race over security concerns with his vision getting affected as it poured heavily in Japan. Hunt finished in 3rd place to win the championship with a 3 point difference separating him and Lauda, winning the championshiphe title with a single point margin.


Michael Schumacher vs Mika Hakkinen

Despite their rivalry Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen had respect for each other

Despite their rivalry Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen had immsense respect for each other, and were known to be firm friends.

While Schumacher’s initial years in Formula One started with a fiery battle with Damon Hill in the Williams,the German won the 1994 title under questionable circumstances as both drivers collided in the final race of the season in Australia. The rivalry with Hill continued as Schumacher won again in 1995 driving for Benetton before Hill took the Championship in 1996.

But the one driver for whom Schumacher had utmost respect and the one who had guts to race wheel -to-wheel with him consistently and beat him was Mika Hakkinen. The Finnish driver won two world championships beating the German quite comprehensively in 1998. In 1999 the Mclaren again had the charge coupled with Mika’s brilliant driving skills, Schumacher’s unfortunate accident caused Hakkinen to take the lead and eventually win the Championship. Hakkinen bid goodbye to the sport in 2001 but by that time he had managed to match Schumacher for speed and skills. Such was the rivalry on track but off track both the drivers had mutual admiration for each other. One of the best passes in F1 history involved Hakkinen overtaking Schumacher with a back-marker Ricardo Zonta sandwiched between the two at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.

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Modified 19 Dec 2019, 22:58 IST
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