3 PEAK HAMILTON RIVALRIES (AND HOW THEY ENDED)
Intense battles between rivals is synonymous with F1's history and as a 7-time World Champion, Hamilton has had his fair share of competition over the years. I look back at some of the peak moments from those duels and how they ended.
For many of us, intense battles between drivers in F1 is the reason why we tune in. For me, I recall my first years watching F1 as a teenager, with the 2007 season being my first introduction into the sport. As a young Brit watching another young Brit, I was one of the many people screaming at my TV purely because of Fernando Alonso's competition with Hamilton at McLaren. I don't remember much about my first season as a fan, but one of the main moments I do vividly remember from that year was a Vodafone advert which featured both drivers and, to me, summed up exactly why I fell in love with the sport in the first place. I actually managed to find the ad on YouTube, you can watch it here.
Their competition at the time was infuriating and stressful as a fan, (especially as a new fan) and looking back I'm now grateful to have watched 2 young drivers try their best to outperform one another for glory and trophies. So as I break down my peak Hamilton rivalries, I'll start at the very beginning:
Alonso vs Hamilton, 2007
I mentioned that the 2 McLaren teammates infamously tried to out-do the other in the Vodafone advert, but this was heavily inspired and somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek response to a slow-boiling pot of molten competition throughout the 2007 season. Hamilton, a rookie and GP2 Champion had a stunning start with podiums in his first 4 races and reigning double F1 Champion Alonso presumably wanting to keep his winning streak. A lot of people would have imagined Hamilton to play a supporting role in his first season, including Fernando.
PEAK MOMENT: MONACO GRAND PRIX
The intense battle peaked in Monaco of that year, when a dream debut at the principality went wrong for Hamilton who was looking for his first ever F1 win. After qualifying behind his teammate in P2, Hamilton was on course to take the lead of the race after Alonso pitted. That was until an earlier-than-planned pit stop kept Hamilton behind and what subsequently followed was a nearly 50-lap cat and mouse chase for the prestigious win. Nerve-wracking for everyone watching as the tight Monaco streets proved challenging to overtake at, McLaren eventually put hold to the battle by instructing both drivers to remain as they were with 20 laps to go. The win gave Alonso the points to go level with then-championship leader Hamilton in a race that would prove to be costly for the British driver at the end of the season. A rivalry worthy of the ages, and whilst it didn't result in the fiery blowouts we've come to see with other battles, it certainly proved to be decisive in the battle for the World Championship, which Hamilton lost to Kimi Raikkonen by just a single point.
"The ruins of both Mercedes cars in the gravel after just 3 corners stunned me"
Hamilton vs Rosberg, 2016
As I look back, I think the 2016 season was probably the hardest to watch. Both metaphorically because the rivalry between Rosberg and Hamilton was cowering-behind-the-sofa worthy, but also physically because I recall my job at the time required me to work Sunday shifts so I actually missed number of races that year! The season started phenomenally well for Nico Rosberg who won the first 4 races with a foot-down attitude of someone who was making a clear bid for the World Championship. Rosberg was one of the most intelligent drivers on the grid that year, and was often seen making comments to get into his teammates' head. Looking back, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff spoke about how the rivalry divided the team itself, resulting in unwillingness to share data and a tough mentality of deciding who to prioritise on a race weekend.
PEAK MOMENT: SPANISH GRAND PRIX
Whilst still only the 5th race of the season, the Spanish Grand Prix proved to be one for the books. Rosberg led from pole whilst bidding to win his 5th race in a row. Frustrated Hamilton was on the back foot in the championship and made his intentions to fight clear as he took the outside line after Turn 3 in an attempt to overtake Rosberg. Rosberg firmly shut the door as Hamilton ended up on the grass which spun his car into - you guessed it - his teammate. Both Mercedes drivers collided in a moment that had me falling off my sofa at the time with my head in my hands, unable to believe what I'd just seen. The ruins of both Mercedes cars in the gravel after just 3 corners stunned me, stunned their team and every other F1 fan watching that day. Hamilton would go on to charge to 4 straight wins after this race, but the strong start from Rosberg ultimately proved to be too much as he went on to win that year.
Hamilton vs Verstappen, 2021
I was always going to end up here. How could I not? Hamilton & Verstappen: the modern rivals. Worthy of remembrance? We'll have to see but after the scenes at (and after) the British Grand Prix this weekend I believe we will want to look back at this duel. This particular rivalry has been bubbling up for some time now and much like with Alonso and Hamilton, Verstappen now finds himself nipping frequently at the heels of a reigning World Champion. Verstappen has already marked himself as a contender to be reckoned with, and his backing by Red Bull has seen 3 fellow teammates have to make way because they couldn't keep up. Now, as the championship leader and winner of 4 of the last 5 races (before the British Grand Prix), the race at Silverstone was always going to be a boiling point if Hamilton decided to fight back.
PEAK MOMENT: BRITISH GRAND PRIX
The coming together of Hamilton & Verstappen at the British Grand Prix will be worthy of auto-fills in Google for many years. Perhaps similarly to the start of the 2016 season, the momentum carried by Rosberg was always going to eventually clash with the competitiveness of Hamilton. In the same way here, Hamilton has spent a number of races succumbing to the pressures of Max Verstappen and, at the British Grand Prix, decided that was no longer an option. After the race Hamilton said he "won't back down for anyone", which was clear in the incident where neither driver wanted to compromise. As a result of the coming together, Verstappen spent the remainder of the day in hospital but was thankfully released with no suspected injuries.
Hamilton's rivalries over the years and the peak moments of those coming-togethers have often been a turning point in his season. With Alonso, whilst the result of Monaco did not go his way, Hamilton responded by winning 3 of the next 4 races. With Rosberg who, before the crash had won all 4 races up until that point, Hamilton proceeded to claw back a substantial amount of points before the summer break and ultimately lost to his teammate that year by just 5 points. Both of these moments seem to push Hamilton to another level, even if it doesn't always work out. With this most recent rivalry with Verstappen, Hamilton currently sits 8 points behind the Dutchman in the championship. We will have to wait until the end of the season to see if this moment is as much a turning point for Hamilton's season as we've seen in the past.