Five of The Biggest Rivalries in Formula One

Rivalries are rampant in Formula 1, but none have quite the charm of generational greats or teammates going head to head. ATRL’s Chloe Harper Daly highlights five of the most memorable Formula 1 rivalries.

In the 71 years of F1, there’s no doubt we’ve seen our fair share of teammate squabbles, near fistfights, and intense battles on track. Here are 5 of the most memorable. 


Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

Arguably one of the greatest rivalries of the 21st century was Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. This wasn’t just a teammate rivalry, but also a lifelong friendship turned sour. The two were friends due to their intertwining careers starting back during their years in karting, but this all came crashing down when Hamilton joined Mercedes in 2013 to partner Nico Rosberg. The first year went smoothly, but that all was soon to change. 

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as teammates

It wasn’t until the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix cracks started to show when the pair had an intense wheel-to-wheel battle that Lewis won. It was later revealed Rosberg, feeling threatened, used engine modes that Mercedes banned to gain an advantage and had someone study Hamilton’s data to find how his teammate was faster. The roles were reversed later in the season when Hamilton used the same banned engine mode.  It’s fair to say it went from bromance to nomance overnight as the determination to win the title and defeat their teammate became more critical. However, when Lewis won his title at the last race in Abu Dhabi, narrowly beating Nico, they still had enough respect to congratulate each other.  


In 2015, the friendship broke down even further. One of the most significant moments in the pair’s history was the United States Grand Prix. Lewis needed to win to clinch the title and, in the first turn, pushed Rosberg off. They went on to have a thrilling race with close battles, but Rosberg made a crucial mistake in letting Hamilton through. If you don’t remember the race, you remember the famous cool-down room moment when an upset Rosberg threw his podium cap at Hamilton and refused to spray champagne on the podium. 


2016 was a completely different year. Rosberg was determined to get the title. Their on-track battles became much more heated like in Spain when they collided on the first lap letting Verstappen get his first win in his debut for Red Bull Racing. As many know, Rosberg went on to win the championship in the last race even though Hamilton tried getting other drivers to overtake Rosberg so that the championship would fall to him. After winning the championship, 5 days later, Rosberg announced his retirement from racing.


There is still hostility in the air when the pair are together today, and it’s safe to say they aren’t friends anymore.  While they probably didn’t mean to, they certainly made a name for themselves as ‘Brocedes” due to their intense rivalry.


Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.

It’s clear this rivalry was never meant to end the way it did, as in 1988, Prost convinced the McLaren bosses to hire Senna. It first started to become a horror story when Prost thought Honda was giving Senna preferred treatment which was later revealed to be true. Prost asked for equal treatment, which he was promised, but that never happened. Because of the special treatment, Senna won the first of his championships in 1988. 


In the second year, tensions only seemed to rise. One of the most famous moments was the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix, where they had an agreement after qualifying 1-2; whoever led in the first corner got to keep the lead. However, when the race was red-flagged, Senna, who was leading, thought it was his right to keep the lead Prost thought it was reset and passed Senna on the restart. This led to close battles till Senna passed Prost near the end of the race, leaving Prost unimpressed and Senna denied an agreement was ever made. This year Alain got his last championship with McLaren.

Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost (Photo via CNN)

In 1990, Prost moved to Ferrari, but this didn’t stop the two going for yet another intense season. At the Japanese Grand Prix, they famously collided on the first lap as Senna was desperate to win the championship. After this, Senna said his famous quote, “Being a racing driver means you are racing with other people, and if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver because we are competing.” In the end, it was Senna who outdrove his rival to get his second title.


In 1991 Senna went on to dominate once again, but Ferrari and Prost weren’t so lucky. In 1992 Prost took a year off after his falling out with Ferrari, and Senna struggled to maintain his dominance. In 1993 when Prost returned with Williams, the two battled it out again for the championship, however less dramatic than previous years. Alain won his fourth and final title before retiring.

Niki Lauda and James Hunt 

One of the most documented rivalries in F1 history is the healthy battle between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Their rivalry began in the 1976 season when Hunt moved to McLaren. Lauda mostly dominated the season until he had a massive crash at the German Grand Prix that people thought would end his career. While Lauda was recovering, Hunt dominated, taking the lead of the championship. Heroically, Lauda returned to racing a shocking three races later to fight for the title. With only four races left, Hunt continued his dominance and won the championship. Even though Hunt walked away with the title, The way Niki recovered and fought for the championship even after his crash will never be forgotten.

Niki Lauda and James Hunt

This rivalry was different from all the others. Lauda and Hunt had great respect for each other, even becoming friends and speaking highly of each other. They were an excellent example of what a rivalry should be on and off-track. They proved you don’t need to be hostile to your rival, but rather respect them and appreciate the competition. The friendship and rivalry between Hunt and Lauda was documented in the 2013 film Rush.


Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel

Long gone are the days of the Red Bull Golden Era, but we won’t ever forget the rivalry between Webber and Vettel. In 2009, Sebastian Vettel was promoted from Toro Rosso to Red Bull to team up with Mark Webber, but the rivalry began before that. In 2007, Vettel crashed into Webber while under a safety car, and while most argue it was Hamilton’s fault for the way he was driving in front, Webber wasn’t impressed and said, “It’s kids, isn’t it. Kids with not enough experience – you do a good job and then they f**k it all up”. Red Bull has always been known for their second driver issues, so it wasn’t a shock when this turned sour when they became teammates. There were a few moments that showed just how toxic the two were together. In the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, we saw them refuse to give up a fight and come together, proving the team letting them battle it out on track wasn’t a good idea. 

Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel on the podium with Red Bull

One of their most famous moments was “Multi 21” in 2013, the season that ultimately made Webber retire. Multi 21 was the code name for team orders when Webber was leading the Malaysian Grand Prix, and Vettel ignored them, overtaking his teammate for P1. This led to the memorable “multi 21 Seb yeah multi 21” from Webber as they sat in the cool-down room. 

Webber has admitted since the Red Bull days, the tension has calmed down, but they’re not best friends.


Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen     

This rivalry started when the pair were young lads karting and continued until Hakkinen’s retirement in 2001. Instead of going straight to the negatives, let’s look at the friendship they had. In 2000 after the Italian Grand Prix, when Schumacher equaled Senna’s win record and broke down crying in the post-race press conference, Hakkinen wasn’t afraid to support him. Hakkinen warmingly put his hand on Schumacher’s back to comfort him and asked for a break. True sportsmanship showing the respect needed between rivals. 


From 1998-2000 we saw the Flying Finn and his German competitor battle for the championship, but it all began in 1990 at the Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix. Hakkinen had a slipstream on Schumacher down the straight, but Schumacher didn’t let him through, making Hakkinen slam into the back of him. 


Next, a famous moment in the British Grand Prix in 1998 where originally Hakkinen had a 49-second gap, but due to mistakes he made, Schumacher was suddenly only 10 seconds behind. Due to rain, the safety car was deployed, so the 10-second gap now meant nothing, and Schumacher finally overtook Hakkinen after he made a mistake. However, the famous part is how Schumacher was called into the pit to serve a ten-second stop-go penalty on the last lap, so he crossed the finish line in the pits, which led to many debates on if he actually served the penalty as he’d already crossed the finish line.

Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen

The final year of this battle saw a tight battle at the penultimate race of the year at the Japanese Grand Prix. For Schumacher to win the title, he needed to win the race; otherwise, the championship was once again Hakkinen’s. After an intense qualifying session, Schumacher got pole by 0.009 seconds. Schumacher managed to use strategy to keep back the unbelievably fast Hakkinen and won the race. Finally, he beat his rival to the championship and gave Ferrari their first championship since 1979. The beginning of Michael Schumacher’s golden era began, and the tifosi loved it.


Hi, I’m Chloe and I have a huge passion for motorsports. I want to work in media in the future and I love writing. My favourite drivers are Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo and my favourite team is McLaren. You can find me on Instagram @chloeharperdaly.

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