Five best F1 title rivalries as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battle it out

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Formula 1 has found its mojo again as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton serve up a title challenge for the ages.

One of pair has been victorious in 11 of the 14 races, while Hamilton clipped Verstappen to dramatically take the Dutchman out of the British Grand Prix and Verstappen returned the favour at Monza last weekend as his Red Bull dramatically landed on top of Hamilton’s Mercedes after aggressively bouncing off the kerb.

As a result, Verstappen preserved his narrow three-point championship lead over Hamilton and added another chapter to their growing rivalry.

The 2021 world championship tussle will likely go down in Formula 1 lore as one of the all-time greats, but where does it rank against some of the most explosive rivalries in the sport’s history?

James Hunt vs Niki Lauda

Contrary to popular belief, James Hunt and Niki Lauda were fond of one another off the track – but they battled hard once they were behind the wheel.

Their rivalry became particularly dramatic in 1976 when Hunt joined McLaren, placing him in a car competitive enough to take on Lauda’s Ferrari that had secured the Austrian his maiden world title the previous year.

Hunt struggled early in the campaign, with mechanical issues condemning him to four retirements from the opening six races while Lauda won four and finished runner-up twice. At the Spanish Grand Prix – the fourth race of the season – Hunt was disqualified for driving a car deemed to be 1.8cm too wide. The Englishman appealed and was later reinstated as the winner, but the decision had set the tone for a volatile and acrimonious season.

Drama followed at the British Grand Prix, when Hunt claimed victory only for his win to be disallowed after a Ferrari complaint regarding an incident between Lauda and Hunt on the first lap that caused the race to be restarted. The result seemed to hand the title to Lauda before the German Grand Prix.

At the Nurburgring, Lauda suffered a horrific near-fatal crash. He was left with permanent scars from the burns and severely damaged lungs, while Hunt went on to secure the win in the restarted race.

With Lauda seemingly out the picture, it appeared Hunt would easily drive to the title but the Austrian heroically recovered and was back in the driving seat of his Ferrari just six weeks later.

At the Japanese Grand Prix – the final race of the season – Lauda retired early as he was unable to blink due to the facial burns sustained from his crash. His retirement meant Hunt needed to finish fourth or better to claim his first title, and he would dramatically finish third.

Their storied rivalry will be forever immortalised in the 2013 move Rush, one of the great racing films in recent times.

Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost

Is Ayrton Senna versus Alain Prost the greatest rivalry in F1 history? It is difficult to argue against.

No other head-to-head rivalry holds more world titles as the duo won seven between 1985 and 1993 – and the bitter foes clashed as teammates at McLaren and as enemies after Prost moved to Ferrari.

The first chapter of their rivalry was installed at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, when treacherous conditions meant eight of the 20 starters finished. With Senna flying up the grid in his unfavoured Toleman, Prost encouraged stewards to abandon the race due to the unsafe weather.

The officials decided to red flag the event just as Senna overtook Prost on the line with the unknowing Brazilian jubilant as he took his maiden F1 win – but results were taken from the previous lap, ensuring the Frenchman secured the win.

Things became particularly explosive after the two became teammates in 1988. The pair made contact with one another towards the end of the Japanese Grand Prix – the penultimate race of the 1989 campaign – with Prost forced to retire while Senna won, keeping his slim title hopes alive. However, Senna was disqualified for cutting the chicane and Prost secured his third championship.

Senna got his revenge the following season, ensuring he won a second world title by crashing into Prost at the first corner of the Suzuka race – a move the Brazilian appeared to suggest was deliberate payback for the year before.

After Prost moved to Williams, he won his fourth championship in 1993 with Senna finishing second in the standings, the fifth time the pair occupied the top two spots. The Frenchman retired after that season, and the two became friends before Senna died at Imola in 1994.

What do you think is the best Formula 1 rivalry? Let us know in the comments section.

Mika Hakkinen vs Michael Schumacher

This rivalry could not be further from the Senna-Prost battle, as Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher truly respected each other.

Going into the final two races of the 1998 season level on points, Hakkinen triumphed in Luxembourg and Japan to win a maiden world championship. The Flying Finn managed to retain his title the following season as Schumacher broke his leg at Silverstone after a brake fail and was absent for 98 days.

Their rivalry returned in 2000, with the impetus in the title race swapping between the two as Schumacher won the opening three races only to retire four times in the next five Grand Prix to give Hakkinen a seven point lead with four races to go.

The German would go on to win all four of the remaining races, sealing a third world championship for the racing legend.

Lewis Hamilton vs Fernando Alonso

Only one season of racing was enough to secure a place in F1 history for the rivalry between two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and rookie Hamilton at McLaren.

Hamilton arrived at McLaren in 2007 and was later joined by Alonso, the reigning world champion, after the Spaniard decided to leave Renault. Alonso assumed he would be the number one driver within the team, and Hamilton didn’t get the memo.

Hamilton, 22 years of age at the time, immediately matched Alonso’s speed in his new car to finish on the podium in each of the first nine races of the season. With the Brit leading the championship, frosty relationship deteriorated as neither gave way to the other.

This came to a head at the Hungarian Grand Prix as Alonso deliberately blocked his teammate in the pit lane after Hamilton had ignored team orders. Alonso was furious and threatened to hand over dubious emails to the FIA if McLaren refused to side with him over the rookie.

The feud led to the ‘spygate’ scandal surfacing, where McLaren had illegally taken technical information from Ferrari – the eventual 2007 champions – which saw the team fined $100million and expelled from the constructors’ championship that year.

Respect between Hamilton and Alonso seems to have replaced the animosity with time, although the two aren’t exactly best friends.

Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg

It’s difficult to hold all the records Hamilton does while being a seven-time world champion and not be involved in dramatic rivalries, and the intrateam battle between the Brit and former friend-turned-enemy Nico Rosberg is certainly worthy of making it to the big screen a la Hunt-Lauda.

The pair grew up together and were best friends in their junior karting days, and they were pleased to be teammates at Mercedes when Hamilton confirmed his switch from McLaren in 2013.

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However, Mercedes’ overwhelming dominance in the new V6 hybrid engine era led to three years of fierce battles, and their relationship deteriorated due to the toxic atmosphere.

Hamilton triumphed in 2014 and 2015, but it all came to a head in 2016. The two clashed on a regular basis, even taking each other out at the Spanish Grand Prix – which was won by a certain Verstappen. After Rosberg emerged the victor, the German dramatically announced his retirement from the sport just days after the final race in Abu Dhabi, citing the exhaustion and strain of his rivalry with Hamilton as a reason for his sudden decision.

Both Rosberg and Hamilton now own teams in the Extreme E series, so it appears their rivalry isn’t quite done yet.

  • Ferrari
  • Mercedes
  • Lewis Hamilton
  • Max Verstappen
  • Michael Schumacher
  • F1

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