5 of the greatest rivalries in Formula One through the years

The PA news agency takes a closer look at F1’s famous scraps of yesteryear.
5 of the greatest rivalries in Formula One through the years

By Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s battle at Formula One’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix ignited hope of a fascinating rivalry between the sport’s two brightest stars.

Here, the PA news agency takes a closer look at F1’s famous scraps of yesteryear.

James Hunt and Niki Lauda, 1976

Niki Lauda, speaking to Lewis Hamilton, won three world championships
Niki Lauda, speaking to Lewis Hamilton, won three world titles (David Davies/PA)

Hunt had a reputation as a party animal away from the track – an unruly playboy who once claimed to have slept with 5,000 women. In contrast, Austrian Lauda was depicted as a studious and dedicated driver.

Hunt beat his great rival by just one point following a dramatic season. Lauda led Hunt in the championship before his near-fatal fireball crash at the Nurburgring.

Incredibly, Lauda missed only two races but his six-week absence – and a run of victories for Hunt – saw the Englishman reduce the gap to just three points ahead of the decider in Fuji.

James Hunt celebrates after winning the 1976 Formula One title

James Hunt celebrates after winning the 1976 Formula One title (PA Archive)

Lauda felt the race should have been cancelled due to the awful weather conditions and withdrew after only two laps. Hunt crossed the line in third to win the title.

In an interview with the PA news agency in 2016, Lauda said: “I was trying to concentrate, focus and work on my car, and get everything right.

“James had an easy life and got it right in another way. He was a straightforward, eccentric, and a weird guy, but very good for Formula One.”

Hunt died aged only 45 following a heart attack in 1993, while Lauda passed in 2019 after a period of ill health.

Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, 1986-1987

Nigel Mansell endured a very personal rival with Nelson Piquet
Nigel Mansell (pictured) endured a very personal rivalry with Nelson Piquet (PA Archive)

Piquet signed for Williams as the team’s number one driver but nobody informed Mansell. An incredibly tense relationship ensued.

They took points off each other throughout the 1986 campaign before Mansell’s tyre blow-out at the final race in Adelaide allowed Renault’s Alain Prost to take the title.

Mansell won six grands prix the following season – including arguably his greatest victory when he overturned a 28-second deficit in 30 laps to beat Piquet at the British GP – but his team-mate won the championship when an injured Mansell missed the final two races following a qualifying shunt in Japan.

Nelson Piquet, pictured with Williams founder Frank Williams, won three world titles
Nelson Piquet, pictured with Williams founder Frank Williams, won three world titles (PA)

In an interview with Playboy magazine the year after he left Williams, Piquet described Mansell as an “uneducated blockhead with a stupid and ugly wife”.

Five-time F1 winner John Watson, who raced both men, told the PA news agency: “I thought that was disgusting and outside the rules of engagement to bring in a third party.

“If he had said that about anyone I was with at the time I would have hit the guy smack in the face, and I don’t know why Nigel didn’t.”

Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, 1988-1990

Probably the greatest rivalry in Formula One. Senna, the naturally-gifted Brazilian, went toe-to-toe with the so-called professor Prost in three fascinating seasons.

Senna won the championship in the first year, but their time together at McLaren soon descended into chaos.

They collided at the decisive race of the 1989 campaign in Japan. Senna recovered to win after Prost retired, but the Brazilian was subsequently disqualified by the stewards with Prost claiming the title.

Prost moved to Ferrari but their sour rivalry continue and another crash, again in Japan, enabled Senna to win the 1990 title. This time he was allowed to keep it.

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, 2010-2013

Team-mates Webber and Vettel collided at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix and from there, the relationship was beyond repair.

Webber subsequently accused Red Bull of favouritism towards Vettel – “not bad for a number two driver” he said after winning the British Grand Prix in 2010. Vettel then passed Webber to win in Malaysia in 2013, despite being instructed not to do so by his team.

However, the German won four championships while Webber took none.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, 2013-2016

The childhood friends enjoyed a reasonably-amicable relationship in their first season as team-mates but their rivalry was intensified when Mercedes became the force of the field in 2014.

They fell out in Monaco after Hamilton accused Rosberg of deliberately botching his qualifying lap by running off the road – the latter secured pole – before they collided in Belgium. Hamilton was forced to retire with damage from the accident and Rosberg was blamed.

But Hamilton won the title in 2014 and again the following year. Their disdain for one another resurfaced in Barcelona in 2016 following an opening-lap crash.

They tangled again in Austria of that year before Hamilton defied team orders to back Rosberg up in a desperate ploy to stop his rival from winning the title at the season-concluding race in Abu Dhabi in 2016. It did not work, with Rosberg taking the title and retiring five days later.

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