As much as F1 is defined by the technology involved and the excitement around it, F1 would be nothing without proper competition. Whether it be drivers from rival teams or teammates, F1 has seen its fair share of iconic rivalries.
Here are some of the most epic F1 driver rivalries of all time.
Hakkinen vs Schumacher
Throughout his career, Michael Schumacher went head-to-head with some of the best drivers in the history of F1- Fernando Alonso, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. However, the driver with whom he had the most intense rivalry was the “Flying Finn” Mika Hakkinen.
Unlike all the other rivalries in this list, the one shared by Schumacher and Hakkinen never became acrimonious. They respected each other too much and never let their on-track battles turn into a war of words. Every time they stepped onto the track, they pushed one another to the limit, which meant they were forced to consistently up their game.
They first fought each other for the championship was in 1998, a year in which they were a class apart from the rest of the grid. That year the Finn would end up winning the title by 14 points. The following year, their title fight came to a halt after Schumacher broke his leg at that years British Grand Prix.
In 2000 their rivalry was resumed, but it also marked the start of Schumacher’s dominance with Ferrari. Even though that year’s championship title was very close, Schumacher would win the title with one race to go and then would go on to win the following four drivers’ championships.
A couple of years after they both retired, Schumacher admitted that Hakkinen was the only driver he ever feared, and he was also the driver he gained the most satisfaction of racing against.
Hamilton vs Rosberg
The rivalry between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton is the most recent one, as it happened only when the turbo-hybrid era started. What is surprising is that Hamilton and Rosberg were best friends in their junior karting days, which is why everyone thought their partnership at Mercedes would be ideal, but it as we know now that didn’t last for long.
Even though everything was fine between them in the first year(2013), things turned sour quickly a year later when the title fight was basically just between the two of them. With the stakes so high between them, every single incident between the pair just kept up building the tension. And it got built up to a point where their relationship behind the scene got toxic.
Hamilton ended up winning the championship the first two times they went head-to-head. Rosberg would eventually get the better of him in 2016 when he won the championship by 5 points in the last race of the season at Abu Dhabi. That would also be the last time they saw each other on the track because Rosberg ended up retiring after that season.
Hunt vs Lauda
The rivalry between Nikki Lauda and James Hunt is so famous that it has been immortalised in Ron Howard’s film, ‘Rush’. Just like Schumacher and Hakkinen, the pair had a great deal of respect for each other. But there was no love lost on the track.
Their relationship started declining after Lauda took the 1975 championship, with Hunt finishing in an impressive fourth in Hesketh. The Briton, who had beaten the Austrian in lower categories, believed that he should be the one in the front. Next year, Hunt found himself in a McLaren, which meant that now he had a fair chance at the championship.
The pair went pound-for-pound and were in a league of their own the most of the season. Hunt had a terrible start in his McLaren career with four retirements in 6 races, and Lauda finished on the podium for all of those races and won four of them.
Hunt did win two races, one at the Spanish Grand Prix and the French Grand Prix, before being disqualified at Brands Hatch, after which it looked like there was no way of him winning the championship. But then, at Nurburgring, Lauda was involved in a horrific crash that almost killed him. The impact left him with permanent burns and severely damaged lungs.
After Lauda’s crash, it seemed like Hunt would run away with the championship, but then Lauda made a remarkable come back at the Italian Grand Prix only six weeks after his crash at the Nurburgring. His comeback meant that the championship was up for grabs till the last race of the season. One more twist remained at the season’s final race at the Fuji Speedway, where the Austrian withdrew on the second lap because he believed that the conditions were too treacherous to race.
Hunt was then left in prime position to win the championship if he finished fourth or higher, which he managed to get with only two laps remaining. Hunt won the title by just a single point that year.
After hunt won the championship, he dedicated his victory to Lauda- “Quite honestly, I wanted to win the championship and felt I deserved it. But I also feel Niki deserved the championship – I just wish we could have shared it.”
Vettel vs Webber
If you looked at the record books, you would have never thought that Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were rivals. Because in their five years as teammates at Red Bull, Vettel won 38 races, compared to Webber’s nine.
When Vettel joined Red Bull in 2009, they were very close to each other in terms of performance and results. In the initial stages of the 2010 championship, the Australian looked like the team best shot at a title. But by the time the season was over, the German ended up winning the title by just four points. Webber was third in the drivers’ standing and 14 points behind his teammate. That was the closest he would ever reach to Vettel in the Drivers’ Championship. Vettel won the next three championships after that season, with his 2011 and 2013 seasons being some of the most dominant seasons in F1 history.
Webber’s relationship with the team also declined the longer he stayed there because he realised that he was the clear No.2 driver there and that they would do anything to make sure Vettel was as competitive as possible. The final blow was dealt at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, where Vettel defied clear team orders to overtake Webber when both of them running a comfortable 1-2. Webber was furious after the race, and he ended up quitting F1 at the end of the year.
Senna vs Prost
Even though there is no particular order to this list that we have put together, there is no denying that the rivalry between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna is the greatest F1 rivalry of all time.
When Senna joined Prost at McLaren in 1988, it was thought that Prost would be the undisputed No.1 in the team because he had won two titles for the team in 85’ and 86’ and that Senna would play a supporting role to Prost. That season, both of the drivers combined to win 15 of the 16 races, but in the end, it was the Brazillian who was crowned champion.
It was in 1989, tensions between both of them were at an all-time high. At the penultimate race of the season at Suzuka, both of them collided near the end of the race, which ended Prost’s race. Senna, on the other hand, was able to continue and eventually won the race. His victory would have kept the title fight alive, but the Brazillian was controversially disqualified for passing through an escape road to rejoin the track after the collision with Prost. This disqualification meant that the Frenchman won his third Drivers’ Championship.
In 1990, Prost moved to Ferrari, citing that the reason for his move was “a person” rather than the growing tension between him and the team. That season the title fight again came down to Suzuka. Senna knew that he would earn a second world title if Prost failed to finish in the race. So in the first lap of the races, Senna made sure that Prost wouldn’t finish the race by taking him in the first corner with a move that he later admitted was deliberate a year later.
Their rivalry continued until 1993, when Prost retired from the sport after winning his fourth Drivers’ Championship, with Senna finishing second. This was the fifth and final time both of them finished 1-2 in the championship. Almost instantly after Prost retired, the friction between them cleared up, and he and Senna became friends until the Brazillian unfortunate death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.