Formula One needs this rivalry. It’s not because they’re exceptionally friendly with each other. God knows this good spirit and fist punches and brotherly hugs won’t last long, once Lewis Hamilton feels like the title is slipping away – a title he virtually expected to fall into his lap after the retirement of teammate and bitter rival Nico Rosberg. And it won’t be friendly when Sebastian Vettel showcases his typically German win-at-all-cost ruthlessness during a race to deny Hamilton track position. Vettel has now won two out of the first three races of the 2017 season, and all three times the two have been on the podium together. Hamilton’s body language and face have progressively gone from “hey, we’re cool! I’ll win the season” to “why did it have to be Ferrari?”
He doesn’t like it that Ferrari chose this year to resurrect themselves. And he doesn’t like that he isn’t being handed wins on a platter. His pit-lane mistake at Bahrain on Sunday proved that he doesn’t like being challenged. Yet, we know he loves it.
F1 needs this because this was the rivalry every F1 fan in the universe deserved. They craved for it.
ONE OR THE OTHER
In 2007 and 2008, Hamilton’s rookie years with McLaren, where he shot onto the scene as a young world conqueror, Sebastian Vettel was younger, and still to hit the big-time. He was still with Red Bull’s sister minnows, Toro Rosso, and was working his way up the big ladder. He had a couple of rash run-ins with future teammate Marc Webber, especially at the wet Japanese Grand Prix, and even hot-headedly blamed Hamilton for his driving under safety-car conditions, describing the Brit’s decisions as “shit”. He was getting under the skin of the top drivers, and in 2008, he became the youngest ever F1 driver to win a race. Yet, he was still a “rash kid,” and a season away from being hired by Red Bull – back when Brawn GP was beginning to dominate the sport. Hamilton had just won become the first British driver to win a title since Damon Hill in 2008 and the youngest ever to win a title.
VETTEL ON TOP, HAMILTON DOWN
The problem started when Hamilton and McLaren suffered a dip in form in 2009, just when Vettel was starting to hit his peak. Jenson Button swept that season, but in 2010, Vettel was the underdog for Red Bull behind senior teammate Webber and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso when he stole the title at Abu Dhabi from under their noses. Between 2009 and 2013, when Vettel won four titles out and one runner-up position, Hamilton was struggling with car and reliability issues and got three fourths and two fifths with two different teams – McLaren and then Mercedes in 2013.
VETTEL UNDER, HAMILTON BACK ON TOP
Once Hamilton hit his second wind in 2014 and won his second title, Vettel was stuck with an average Red Bull car, and then an average Ferrari for the next two seasons while the two far superior Mercedes cars built up a rivalry of their own. Hence, the three-time F1 champion and the four-time F1 champion have never really had the opportunity to race in equally good and reliable cars.
A BATTLE OF EQUALS
2017 could mark the beginning of a rivalry long in the making – between two drivers who have won seven of the last eight titles. For once, they’re both driving fast, strong cars. And for once, two teams are competing instead of it being a one-horse race.