Ranking the Top 3 driver battles in modern F1

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 12: Race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing is congratulated by runner up in the race and championship Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP during the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX *** // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202112120675 // Usage for editorial use only //

Over the last ten years, we‘ve seen amazing driver battles. In no particular order, here are three of the best from the modern F1 era.

What would Formula 1 be without their intense on-track battles? We’ve witnessed some of the greatest drivers in F1 history fighting for the championship title. Rivalries have shaped the sport into what it is today.

1. Mark Webber vs. Sebastian Vettel

For five seasons (2009 – 2013) Webber and Vettel were teammates at Red Bull. But throughout the seasons, the favoritism of Sebastian Vettel kept destroying their friendship.

2010 Turkish Grand Prix

This might be the race that ultimately destroyed their relationship. On Lap 40 Vettel tried to overtake Webber on the inside line. Having little space, Vettel turned in, made contact with Webber, and spun himself out of the race. Before he found himself in the gravel, he almost made contact with Webber again. In the end, Webber managed to come third. Despite Vettel turning in on Webber, he was seen calling the Aussie crazy, as he got out of his car. Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner and advisor Helmut Marko blamed Webber for the incident and defended their new golden boy Sebastian Vettel. Webber said,

“When I saw on TV the hugs Sebastian got on the pit wall from the team, I began having serious doubts as to who was really pulling the strings at Red Bull.” 

2010 British Grand Prix

In the eyes of Webber, Red Bull‘s favoritism for Sebastian Vettel showed once again in Qualifying. The team decided to replace Vettel‘s broken front wing with the team’s solitary remaining new front wing, which helped the German to get pole position on Saturday. His luck in Qualifying didn‘t show in the actual race though. Vettel had to retire his car within a few seconds of the opening lap. Webber was able to secure the win for the Red Bull Racing Team. When Horner congratulated him on the win, Webber said:

“Not bad for a number 2 driver.”

2013 Malaysian Grand Prix

Though Vettel was starting from Pole, Webber was able to take the lead very early in the race. With 13 more laps left, Vettel got the ‘Multi 21’ team order. Meaning, Vettel was told to hold his position behind his teammate. Vettel ignored his team’s order, overtook Webber, and snatched the victory from him. After the race Vettel stated, 

“I was racing, I was faster, I passed him, I won. I don’t apologise for winning.”

2. Nico Rosberg vs. Lewis Hamilton

Back in their karting days, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were best friends, but being teammates at Mercedes for four years (2012-2016) changed their relationship. Here are a few of their most controversial and discussed moments in Formula 1.

2014 Monaco Grand Prix 

Qualifying is where things got heated. In the last few minutes of Q3, both drivers started one last flying lap on the Monaco circuit. Rosberg, who had already set the fastest time before his last round, went first, Hamilton second. 

Due to breaking issues, Rosberg went off the circuit at Mirabeau, causing a yellow flag. Hamilton couldn’t finish his final lap and his lap time got deleted, meaning Rosberg would stay in Pole position. 

This incident was probably the start of their rivalry. The whole thing seemed like a planned move of Rosberg, which he denied. After investigations by the stewards, no further actions were taken. Starting from Pole, Rosberg managed to finish first in the race on Sunday. His teammate Lewis Hamilton came second.

2016 Spanish Grand Prix

A race that ended very early for the two Mercedes drivers. Right at the start of the race, Rosberg overtook pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton tried to gain his position back, but eventually, he found himself on the grass losing control of the car. It led to a collision of the two just before Turn 4, forcing both of the drivers to retire.

2016 Austrian Grand Prix

A potential 1-2 for Mercedes gone in just seconds. On the very last lap on the Red Bull Ring in 2016, the Mercedes drivers crashed again, not even two months after their incident in Barcelona. Hamilton, on the outside, tried to make a move on his leading teammate. The two eventually made contact and this led to Rosberg dropping down to 4th place with a damaged front wing. The German, who was blamed for the incident, received a 10-second penalty and 2 penalty points for the collision.

3. Lewis Hamilton vs. Max Verstappen

Their rivalry began in 2017 when Max Verstappen made his debut. They shared some brilliant on-track battles from 2017 – 2020, but nothing can beat their championship battle throughout the 2021 season. A year filled with controversial moments from both the drivers and the FIA. Here are some of their wildest and most discussed moments from 2021.

2021 Silverstone Grand Prix

By the time of the Silverstone Grand Prix, Verstappen was leading the championship with a 33-point advantage over Hamilton. Due to an accident at the Austrian Grand Prix, that advantage didn‘t last long.

Both drivers showed each other at the start of the race that they were ready for a fight. After making contact in Lap 1, the next incident wasn‘t too far away. In Lap 37 the two collided at Copse, a high-speed corner. A crash was basically inevitable. Verstappen hit the tire barrier with 51G at a speed of over 180 mph. Hamilton was able to continue and end his race with a victory, despite a 10-second time penalty. 

After the accident and the handling of the victory, Hamilton got a reputation for having “unsportsmanlike behavior” from Max Verstappen and the Red Bull Racing Team.

2021 Monza Grand Prix

An accident, which again proved the necessity of the halo. In the first chicane on the 26th Lap, the drivers made contact, which took them both out of the race. Verstappen went over the high sausage curbs, and his car got lifted up in the air, with his rear tire ending up on top of Hamilton’s car. Luckily the Halo saved him. Verstappen, who got mainly blamed, was handed a 3-place grid penalty after the collision.

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

One of the most discussed races, conclusions, and ramifications, still to this day. Whether the FIA’s decision was justified or not, it was definitely, a battle to remember. With Verstappen and Hamilton equal points, their championship battle came down to the last race of the season.

  • Lap 52: Hamilton was over 12 seconds ahead of Verstappen. At this point, there were only six more laps to go. It seemed like the championship battle would easily go the way of Lewis Hamilton.
  • Lap 53: Nicholas Latifi crashed bringing out the safety car. Verstappen immediately took advantage of the situation and came into the pits.
  • Lap 57/58: It was pretty unclear whether or not lapped cars would be allowed to overtake the safety car. After some debates, Michael Masi (the former F1 Race Director), gave only half of the lapped cars the chance to unlap themselves. Now Verstappen with fresh tires is right behind his rival Hamilton, with no pressure from behind with lapped cars between him and third. The safety car came in ahead of the last lap. One last lap left to decide who would be the 2021 World Champion. After the race restarted, Verstappen was able to easily overtake Hamilton and crossed the finish line. And then it was official: Max Verstappen was a first-time world champion.
Featured Image Credit: Lars Baron/Getty Images