Whether it be between teammates or drivers from different stables, Formula 1 produces tension between competitors like few other sports can.
With so much at stake, be it a world championship or scrounging for the final points place in a race, many drivers have resorted to dirty tactics and mind games in order to one-up their rivals.
Across all decades in the sport’s 70-year history, several drivers have forced teams to draw battle lines, while others have seen relationships completely deteriorate in the ruthless pursuit of glory.
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Ahead of the 70th anniversary season of the world’s premier motorsport category, foxsports.com.au looks back at the 10 most explosive rivalries.
10. Jim Clark vs Graham Hill
The two all-time great Britons didn’t exactly hate each other, but their on-track rivalry was as raw as it gets with regards to winning ambition. There was no outward hatred between Clark and Hill – but once the helmets were strapped on, the motivations were clear in what they wanted and who they needed to defeat to get there.
There were six British championship-winning years in the 1960s, and Hill (1962 and 1968) and Clark (1963 and 1965) were the benchmarks. Hill would dedicate his 1968 title to Clark, who was killed in a Formula 2 accident at Hockenheim.
9. Alain Prost vs Nigel Mansell
Prost had already won three drivers’ titles with McLaren, but after a final acrimonious season alongside Ayrton Senna in 1989, the Frenchman took the crown to Ferrari for 1990. Mansell was the last Ferrari driver personally picked by Enzo Ferrari before his death, and the Briton had become a fan favourite. However, Prost – who was fluent in Italian – quickly took control of the team’s attention.
Mansell, after a race at Silverstone, suspected Prost had been receiving better equipment and even announced his retirement mid-season. He stayed in the sport, and moved back to Williams – but after winning the 1992 title, Mansell moved on for good when it was revealed Prost was set to be his teammate in 1993.
8. Mika Hakkinen vs Michael Schumacher
Schumacher won titles for Benetton in 1994 and 1995 as Hakkinen found his feet with McLaren. When Schumacher moved to Ferrari, Williams won titles with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, before Hakkinen and McLaren came to the fore with titles in 1998 and 1999. Schumacher’s 1998 Ferrari wasn’t quite there to challenge the Finn, while a broken leg at Silverstone ruined any chance of a 1999 title fight.
What these two drivers lacked in charisma or venom was made up for by sheer technical minds working to offset the other. Take Hakkinen’s daring move on Schumacher at Spa in 2000 as one example. Schumacher would win five straight titles between 2000 and 2004 for Ferrari, while Hakkinen gave it away at the end of the 2001 season – but the racing rivalry burned brightly between the two, so much so that Schumacher once admitted that Häkkinen was the driver whom he gained the most satisfaction of racing against.
7. Fernando Alonso vs Lewis Hamilton
They only spent one season as teammates at McLaren, but Alonso and Hamilton came to blows a number of times in a bitter 2007 campaign. McLaren entered the season with an all-new driver pairing, one a reigning two-time champion, the other a highly-rated rookie. Hamilton emerged as the title favourite as the year wore on, but both would walk away with nothing after the season finale fell the way of Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen.
Alonso simply didn’t like getting beaten by his rookie teammate. Amid the Spygate scandal, in which McLaren was under fire for obtaining confidential data from Ferrari, Alonso was getting dirty and baulked Hamilton’s qualifying effort at Hungary. Witnesses also claimed Alonso tried to blackmail McLaren team principal Ron Dennis, saying the team had to make him the No. 1 driver or cut him free. It didn’t matter in the end – Alonso returned to Renault, McLaren’s drivers cost the team the title with costly mistakes, none more critical than Hamilton’s China meltdown in the penultimate race with the championship for the taking.
6: Alan Jones vs Carlos Reutemann
Jones and Reutemann steered Williams to crushing success in 1980, with the Australian winning the title. When they returned in 1981, things appeared fine between the two – until the Brazilian Grand Prix, where Reutemann took things into his own hands by ignoring team orders.
Reutemann refused to let Jones by and won the race, leaving the world champion seething. Tensions escalated from there, and as they kept taking points off each other, Brabham’s Nelson Piquet sailed through to win the title by a single point. Reutemann finished three points ahead of Jones, who retired at the end of the season. Such was the animosity, that when asked about a report which quoted Reutemann suggesting it was right for the drivers to buy the hatchet. Jones relied: “Yeah. In your f*****g back, mate.”
5: Sebastian Vettel vs Mark Webber
Vettel and Webber were Red Bull teammates for five years, with the German winning titles in four of them. Even before they linked up in 2009, the duo had history after Vettel wiped out Webber’s chances of a podium in the rain in Japan in 2007. Things got ugly when they collided fighting for the win in Turkey in 2010, and although blame was largely apportioned to Vettel by pundits and the media, Red Bull management sided with their academy driver.
Webber’s “not bad for a No. 2 driver” quip, exclaimed after he won in Silverstone despite Vettel receiving a newer front wing, proved the Aussie knew where he stood. Vettel would win the title, and cruised to the next, before a topsy turvy 2012 peaked when Vettel was angered Webber did little to aid his title charge in the Brazil finale. Vettel’s response? The infamous Multi-21 team orders drama in 2013, which all but drove the final nail in the coffin for Webber’s time with the team and in the sport.
4: Damon Hill vs Michael Schumacher
Hill carried the hopes of a subdued Williams team in the wake of Ayrton Senna’s tragic death at Imola in 1994. He nearly brought home an emotional title, only to hit one big roadblock – Schumacher. The two drivers battled for the crown all the way to the end to the Adelaide season finale, where it ended in chaos. Hill was chasing Schumacher, who made an error and grazed the wall. When Hill attempted an overtake, Schumacher closed the door.
Schumacher was out, Hill’s car was damaged, and neither finished the race. The title went to Schumacher, his first of seven. They went at it again in 1995, and Schumacher again emerged as champion – but not without incident after collisions at Silverstone and Monza. Hill would finally break through in 1996 once Schumacher moved to Ferrari, but two years of intense battles defined their story and place on this list.
3. Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg
These two came from different backgrounds and upbringings, yet always seemed to be in each others’ pockets growing up around race tracks. Rosberg reached Formula 1 first in 2006, but Hamilton arrived a year later and nearly claimed an unprecedented rookie title. They hugged and celebrated Rosberg’s maiden podium in Australia the following year, a year Hamilton won the title.
It wasn’t until 2013 when they joined at Mercedes when things began to get serious. When Mercedes took control of the competition in the V6 hybrid era from 2014, the duo fought for wins and titles. It came to a head in Spa when they collided, although Hamilton won the title. He repeated the feat in 2015, with an angered Rosberg throwing the podium cap back at Hamilton after the Briton claimed the crown in Texas.
Rosberg’s triumphant 2016 campaign was full of drama, such as comings together in Spain and Austria, while Hamilton deliberately held up the German in the Abu Dhabi season finale in a bid to race their rivals into contention. Rosberg held on to win the crown by five points. Bitter? You bet – and there was nowhere to hide. Rosberg announced his immediate retirement afterwards.
2: James Hunt vs Niki Lauda
This rivalry was so dramatic and intense, that it prompted Hollywood’s finest to produce a feature film.
The 1976 season saw two title combatants of very different backgrounds. Lauda was wired and tightly-strung, a ruthless machine dedicated to his pursuit. Hunt was a renegade, who could drive a car to its limits but was more interested in living out the playboy lifestyle.
Lauda suffered shocking injuries in a fiery Nurburgring accident, a race in which Hunt had won. It came after Lauda had inherited a Silverstone victory which had been stripped from Hunt’s grasp. Lauda missed the next two races before making a miraculous comeback to race at Monza, despite being near-death just weeks earlier. Hunt had managed to wipe away a significant points deficit and won the title by a single point in a sodden Fuji decider where Lauda had withdrawn.
1: Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost
This is the rivalry that defines the sport and two of its greatest champions. Was it the greatest driver pairing in history? They share seven titles and 92 race wins, so the raw numbers suggest an overwhelming yes. But no driver pairing was more venomous when the title was up for grabs. In 1989, it threatened to go overboard at San Marino when Senna ignored a pre-race agreement not to pass after the first corner when Prost had taken the lead.
In Japan, the relationship came to a grinding end when Senna – who was behind Prost in the title fight – went down the inside. They collided, Prost was out on the spot, and Senna continued. However, the Brazilian was disqualified after he received an illegal push from marshals and took a shortcut through the chicane. Prost took the title to Ferrari, but with a championship fight in the balance again, they collided again in Japan at the first corner. This time, the title went to Senna – but the damage between the duo was irreparable.