Greatest F1 rivalries of All Time

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January 18, 2018 4:55 pm

With Mercedes dominating the turbo era of F1, the only realistic competition they face is from themselves. Over the past couple of seasons, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, once good friends from their childhood days, are now the fiercest of rivals on track. The biggest example of their rivalry is the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, when tensions between the two were at the peak. So here’s a look at some of the greatest F1 rivalries over the course of it’s existence.

Greatest F1 Rivalries

6. Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso

The most recent great rivalry pitted the man who broke the Schumacher dominance of the early 21st century, against the next great German driver. Between the two of them, they have won 6 World Championships and  have 74 wins. Their peak battles were from 2010-13, when Vettel won his 4 World Championships.

Ferrari had hoped that Alonso would be their man to spearhead them back to Championship glory in 2010, while Vettel would be the number one man of Red Bull. While the 2011 and 2013 seasons were dominated by the German, Alonso was the only driver who provided stiff competition in the early parts of the season, before Vettel would pull away.

However, the 2010 and 2012 season’s were a different matter altogether. Alonso was able to push a not as competitive Ferrari machine, well beyond its limits and was a constant threat to take the titles. Both were decided in the final race of the season, the 2010 even more dramatic as Hamilton and Webber were also involved in the championship battle. Yet it would be the German who’d win the race in 2010, to take his maiden title as Alonso would get caught behind Vitaly Petrov and would finish 4 points adrift of Vettel.

2012, it would once again go down to Brazil, with Vettel finishing sixth in a rain soaked race. While Alonso was able to finish on the podium, Vettel who suffered a slow stop 10 laps to the finish would charge his damaged Red bull (after crashing on the first lap) to sixth.

2014, both drivers were unable to get the best out of the Turbo Engines, despite the occasional battle, especially at Belgium. They would finish with 6 podiums between them in 2014. The rivalry is somewhat halted for now, as Vettel enjoyed a successful 2015 season with Ferrari, while Alonso is part of a struggling McLaren outfit. This was one of the best F1 rivalries in the 2010s era.

5. Nigel Mansell and  Ayrton Senna

Nigel Mansell was by far the most successful British Driver in the 1980s and early 90s. While Senna’s rivalry with Prost and his friendship with Gerhard Berger are more prominently known, to some extent he did have a rivalry with Mansell over a few seasons, split into two groups. In 1985-87, Mansell and Senna were fairly established drivers, fighting for just outside the top 3 (4th and 5th ) in the drivers championship.

86 and 87, Mansell would challenge for the title, finishing 2nd in both seasons, whilst Senna pushed a Lotus to respectable finishes throughout. They were much closer in the 87 season with Senna finishing 3rd.

The next few years would be dominated by the Prost and Senna rivalry. Mansell would also be struggling for the next 3 seasons, with the only bright side being a strong mid season run in the 1989 season.

When Mansell moved to Williams in the 91 season, it was a fairly successful period for the team. He would finish second in 1991, behind Senna before taking the championship in 1992 in a convincing manner. He was the first driver to win 9 races in a single year and it was an end to the rivalry, with Mansell only returning to Williams following the death of Senna

4. Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio

Stirling Moss is considered a F1 legend and the greatest driver to have never won the World Championship. He has won 16 races but never won the title. Fangio was the first F1 great, winning 5 titles with 4 constructors.

Both raced in an era when race participation was not guaranteed and there were around 10 races a season (compared to nearly double the amount today). From 1954 to 1958, they were the top drivers in the sport. Moss would always be finishing behind Fangio except for 1958. From 1954-57, Fangio was the number one driver, winning 3 consecutive drivers championships and Moss would be the runner up.

In 1955, When Mercedes entered the sport, Moss and Fangio were teammates in a dominating season, yet Moss would be far behind Fangio who was able to get the most out of the cars. In 1958, Stirling Moss for the only time in his career would be classified ahead of Fangio.

This, the first great rivalry, was a rivalry in a different league. The sport was not safe, the drivers were not assured of a drive in every race and they raced and experienced success with multiple teams. The Fangio-Moss battle was one of the earliest F1 rivalries in the sport.

3. Michael Schumacher and  Mika Hakkinen

From 1998-2001, the 4 seasons saw Schumacher and Hakkinen engage in a great on track rivalry. Both had been competing against each other since 1991. In Schumacher’s maiden championship season in 1994, while marred by inconsistency, Hakkinen was finishing on the podium in the races he finished.

In 1998, Hakkinen would be the biggest rival against Schumacher with the two going at it for the title. Hakkinen would build up on an early 2 victories to take the title with a couple of races to spare, finishing with 100 points to Schumacher’s 86. The 1999 season, was however not a full rivalry, with Schumacher missing nearly 100 days after suffering a broken leg in the British Grand Prix. He would be duelling Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine, and taking the title by just 2 points.

The turn of the millennium saw the Schumacher years for the next 5 seasons. 2000 would be the start of his 5 consecutive world championships. Schumacher would lead throughout the season, with Hakkinen losing 20 points at the start through 2 retirements over the first 2 races. 2001 would be the final year of the rivalry, with Hakkinen struggling with inconsistent performances and being outpaced by his teammate. His teammate David Coulthard would fight for the title which would eventually be won by Schumacher.

Following the conclusion of the 2001 season, Hakkinen left the sport, ending one of the fiercest F1 rivalries in the sport. Schumacher considered Hakkinen as the opponent he respected the most.

2. Niki Lauda and  James Hunt

The rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda has been an F1 Classic.

It was a rivalry that pitted two contrasting drivers, both on and off the track. The risk taker, aggressive and boisterous James Hunt against the cold-calculating and generally reserved Niki Lauda. They had duelled before in Formula Two and during the early 70s of the F1 season, when both were relatively unknown names. Lauda and Hunt’s F1 rivalry began to develop in 1975 season, when Hunt and Lauda engaged in heated duels, despite Lauda taking the title in a comfortable manner.

Their rivalry would be immortalized in the 1976 season (and also thanks to the movie Rush). Hunt moved to McLaren, and would be on the back foot as Lauda dominated the early parts of the season, making the title seem a formality. It would not be as Lauda would suffer a near fatal crash during the 1976 German Grand Prix that kept him out of action for a while. Hunt, along with McLaren would have a late season resurgence.

It would go down to the final race of the season, with Lauda still leading the championship. While Lauda retired from the race unwilling to drive in the conditions, Hunt would face a tight battle to finish the race in at least 4th (needing to overcome the point deficit), and would finish 3rd. He would win the title. It is also one of 3 occasions in the history of F1, when the World Champion never lead the championship until the season finally ended.

In 1977, Lauda would be dominant once again, as Hunt and McLaren struggled. The 78 season saw McLaren fall behind in the development and Hunt was also affected by the death of Ronnie Patterson. It would also be an inconsistent year for Lauda who would finish 4th in the drivers championship.

Hunt would leave driving in 1978 before going onto commentary and would eventually succumb to a heart attack in 1993, while Lauda continued his racing career till 1985, and is now currently a director at Mercedes F1. This was one of the first F1 rivalries to be portrayed on the big screen

1. Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost

The common thing between this rivalry and the rivalry between the Mercedes duo, both have been teammates for at least two seasons and during their time, their team was utterly dominant. Arguably it’s the greatest F1 rivalry. 91 wins and 7 world championships and they both were part of the late 80s success of the McLaren Honda partnership. From 1988 till 1993, the two were in direct competition.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest F1 rivalries of all-time

Both had opposite driving styles, with Senna being more aggressive than the calculative Prost. Yet having two alpha drivers in the same team led to conflict. On more than one occasion they would clash, either as team mates or as rivals after Prost left McLaren in 1990. Prost had felt that Honda and the team had preferred Senna despite assurances that was not the case.

1989 San Marino Grand Prix, the 1989 and 90 Japanese Grand Prix saw them directly collide which led to an infatuated war of words. The 89 and 90 seasons were even more important as they were fighting for the titles in the final race of the season. It would not be the only war of words, as accusations were bitterly traded between throughout.

When Prost returned to Williams in 1993, his clause included a term that forbade Williams from signing Senna who was also interested in the team. Prost would win his final championship in 1993, with Senna runner up before retiring for good.

Senna would unfortunately pass away in the forthcoming 1994 season. Despite their hostility to each other, Prost admitted, when Senna passed away, part of him had died as well. So ended one of the greatest F1 rivalries of all-time, if not the greatest.

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