Competition has been fierce in F1 since day one, with teams like Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus all pushing its staff to the limit, vying for championship glory.
But from time to time, things get personal. From trash talk in press conferences to (supposed) premeditated crashes – there’s nothing quite like the rivalry between F1 drivers to add to the adrenalin of the sport. Here are a few battles that if you didn’t know, you should…
Niki Lauda and James Hunt
An on-track rivalry between two polar opposite drivers is the stuff movies are made of. And that’s certainly what director Ron Howard felt when he filmed Rush in 2013.
Methodical, calculated and precise, Austrian Niki Lauda was certainly the more professional F1 driver during the 70s, whereas James Hunt, the charming, unpredictable and audacious Brit was certainly the chalk to the Austrian’s cheese.
It was during the 1976 season that their conflict went into overdrive. Lauda led the points table, with double Hunt’s total, before heading into the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring. Lauda pleaded with fellow drivers to boycott the race due to safety concerns about the circuit, but a vote saw the race go ahead.
Lauda crashed, seeing his car burst into flames, leaving him severely scarred for life. He forced a return six weeks after injury, famously announcing his return while covered in bandages at the Monza Grand Prix press conference; he even opted against certain reconstructive surgery to get on the track sooner to defend his lead.
Hunt had reduced the gap to three points seeing the final race of the season in Japan playing the decider. The torrid rain forced Lauda to retire as he felt it was too unsafe to drive, that, and his fire-damaged tear ducts were causing his eyes to constantly water.
Lauda still led but needed Hunt to slip – which he did. A puncture saw him drop from pole to fifth quickly. But Hunt, being the aggressor on the track, managed, after a tyre change, to get back to third place clinching the championship from Lauda, by a single point.
Friends off the track but holding a clear fight on it, the Lauda Hunt saga was the definition of sportsmanship.
Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna
When a driver has a clause written into his contract that another competitor can never be their teammate, you know there isn’t much love lost between the two.
The late 80s saw the birth of the Alain Prost vs. Ayrton Senna fracas. Brazilian Senna joined McLaren in 1988 to partner the Frenchman,
nicknamed The Professor for his calculated races. And things didn’t exactly start off smoothly.
The mind games began after Senna, out to prove his talent at the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, crashed. Prost labelled him overconfident. But Senna came back and grabbed the championship from Prost – the then double-world reigning champ.
The only way for Prost to win the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix was if Senna didn’t finish the race; Senna had to come first if he was to win the title.
The duo crashed on lap 46 at the casino chicane, forcing Prost to retire from the race. Senna continued, but only after getting a push start from the marshals to get back to the pit to replace the damaged nose of his car. Senna rejoined the race, caught up with leader Alessandro Nannini and overtook him to take the podium top spot. Or so he thought…
Prost, a master of F1 law, aired his displeasure about the incident. After delaying the podium celebrations, the sport’s governing body, the FIA, deemed Senna’s re-entry into the race illegal as he cut off a section of the chicane, not fully completing the track, disqualifying him from the race. There was also the threat of a six-month suspension: we wonder if the close relationship between Prost and fellow Frenchman and FIA President Jean-Marie Balestere had anything to do with it? Senna certainly thought so.
Fast forward a year to the next Japanese GP and we see a situation where if Prost didn’t finish the race, Senna would win the championship – the exact opposite scenario 12 months on.
Senna was on pole with Prost in second. Pole position was on the ‘dirty’ side of the track, leaving position two in the clean. After Senna’s request was denied by Balestere to switch the positions, the race started with Prost taking the lead just before the first corner. Prost turned in, Senna didn’t back off and by crashing, Senna became the world champion once again. But the big question on everyone’s lips was did he purposefully crash into Prost?
Michael Schumacher vs the world
Schumacher didn’t have a bust up with just one driver – he had a few. Most notably, his fracas with Brit Damon Hill has been cemented into F1 history, with a championship deciding crash at the helm of their rivalry. The 1994 championship left many drivers and their respected teams somber after Ayrton Senna lost his life during a crash at Imola, Italy. Hill, now Williams’ No.1 driver, took the championship to the final race in Adelaide with one point between him and the German – Senna would have been proud of his teammate.
Hill had to finish ahead of Schumacher to clinch glory, but Schuey wasn’t going down without a fight. The two drivers approached a corner, where the German ran wide and left enough room for Hill to pass. The Brit pounced on this split second mistake and went for the overtake, but Schumacher – who supposedly didn’t see Hill in his mirror – turned into the corner and collided with his competitor. Both were forced to retire the race, leaving Schumacher with his hands on the trophy. Was the crash deliberate?
Jump forward to 1997 where the German, now with Ferrari, and his new sparring partner Jacques Villeneuve, also crashed. The two were milliseconds apart at the Jerez GP in Spain and Villeneuve, seeing smoke bellow from Schumacher’s car, went in for the pass. The inside move was clear but Schumacher – supposedly with intent – once again turned inwards and took Villeneuve off the track. The Ferrari driver was out but Villeneuve managed to finish in third spot and ultimately, take the ‘97 championship.
The list goes on of memorable battles with Mika Hakkinen, Rubens Barrichello and Fernando Alonso. But when you’re at the top for so long, you’re going to have a few run-ins, right?
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton
“We’ve been friends a long time and as friends we have our ups and downs.” Hamilton tweeted this in May 2014, in what some say was an effort to put a lid on rumours of squables at Mercedes. #noproblem? We think not.
The 2014 China Grand Prix saw the first spat between the two, as Rosberg accused the Englishman of deliberately not going at full throttle in order to back him closer to third-placed Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton obviously denied such claims.
Bahrain in April 2014 saw a gripping duel between the duo with Hamilton coming out on top. Again, the German wasn’t happy with a move Hamilton made on the 18th lap, branding the manoeuvre as “over the line”.
Team orders were ignored by Hamilton during the Hungarian GP, despite the reigning champ being told to let Nico pass. The team radio heard Hamilton say: “I’m not slowing down for Nico. If he gets close enough to overtake, he can overtake me.” This would have meant Hamilton taking fourth and no podium spot.
The mid season break did nothing to reduce the heat on this F1 hotpot, as Rosberg admitted after crashing into Hamilton that he could have avoided it, but didn’t.
The 2014 championship came down to the finale here in Abu Dhabi last year, with Rosberg dropping positions due to mechanical failure, only to see Lewis cruise to victory.