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Five Best Duels for F1 World Championships

5. Lewis Hamilton-Nico Rosberg 2016

When Lewis Hamilton arrived at Mercedes in 2013, most expected him to dominate Nico Rosberg. Hamilton’s German teammate was regarded as a solid driver, but despite his early dominance over a returning Michael Schumacher, by 2012, the veteran Schumacher was more or less the equal of Rosberg, even despite his advanced age of 43.

Rosberg surprised most by being a lot closer to Hamilton than expected in 2013, but in 2014 Hamilton had a clear edge over Rosberg in the races, and it was only the rotten luck of Hamilton that allowed Rosberg to be in contention in the last race of the season. 2015 was a walkover for Hamilton, who easily dominated his teammate both in the qualifying sessions and in the races. Rosberg had a strong end to the season, but many dismissed his improved form as false and attributed his run of wins to a drop off in Hamilton’s form.

Yet, Rosberg continued his good form in 2016 by winning the first four races. His streak was assisted by some bad luck and starts from Hamilton, but Rosberg’s form was still impressive. An off weekend in Monaco allowed Hamilton to close the gap, while two incidents with his teammate, one at the start at Canada and another in the last lap at Austria, bought Hamilton onto the tail of Rosberg.

Hamilton took the lead from his teammate before the summer break after consecutive wins at Hungary and Germany, and it seemed that the momentum was very much with the World Champion.

Despite the bad omens, Rosberg bounced back with a hattrick of victories at Spa, Monza and Singapore. He won another race in Japan not much later, and an engine failure of Hamilton in Malaysia gave Rosberg a huge lead in the championship.

Such was Rosberg’s lead that all he had to do in the final four races was to finish second behind Hamilton, and the title was his. During the final four races seemingly the pressure got somewhat to Rosberg, as he was easily outpaced by Hamilton in all four races, but 4 second places were enough in the end for Nico Rosberg to clinch his maiden world title.


4. Michael Schumacher- Mika Hakkinen 2000

Michael Schumacher fought Hakkinen for the 1998 world title until the last race of the season. 1999 continued in the same fashion until Schumacher suffered a leg-breaking accident in the British GP.

Before the 2000 season, most expected the patterns of the two previous seasons to continue.

These people were right, as Schumacher and Hakkinen were the main contenders in 2000. Hakkinen started the season in very good form, unfortunately, an unreliable McLaren meant that he retired twice from first place in the first two races of the season. Schumacher picked up these wins and edged his McLaren rival in San Marino at the third race of the season. Neither impressed particularly in the next race, but their duel continued the next two races in Spain and the Nurburgring, with both collecting a win and a second place in these two races.

Hakkinen then had a slight dip in form the next few races in Monaco, Canada and France, while Schumacher suffered reliability issues at Monaco and France.

Hakkinen bounced back in the next few races, and won in Austria, finished second in Germany and won again in Hungary. Schumacher’s bad luck continued as he was taken out at the start in Austria and Germany, though it has to be said that in Germany, his accident was probably as much Schumacher’s fault as anything else. He then finished second behind Hakkinen in Hungary.

After Hungary, Hakkinen was leading Schumacher by 2 points in the championship.

At Belgium, Hakkinen was leading the race on a drying track when he made a small error that sent him into a spin, allowing Schumacher to take the lead. The German pulled away in the tricky conditions, but once the track dried up, Hakkinen closed up to his rival and passed Schumacher for the win.

Schumacher came back at Monza before the Italian fans and won the race from his main rival.

The two were fighting for yet another win at the United States Grand Prix when Hakkinen was forced to retire from second place with an engine failure. Hakkinen’s retirement left Schumacher 8 points clear of his rival and meant that a Schumacher win in the next race would have made him a champion.

Schumacher took pole position from his rival in the next race by 0,009s. Hakkinen instantly passed his rival at the start and started to pull away, but the rain came to Michael Schumacher’s rescue. Schumacher was a better-wet weather driver than his rival, and as it started to drizzle, he closed up and passed his arch-rival during the second pit stop phase. Once he took the lead, Schumacher never looked back and won the race to clinch the title, his third and the first Ferrari title since 1979.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

Scroll to Continue
  1. Schumacher regarded Hakkinen as his greatast adversary.
    • Yes
    • No

Answer Key

  1. Yes

3. Max Verstappen-Lewis Hamilton 2021

The duel between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton for the 2021 title will probably live on for quite a time. Both drivers put in superb performances throughout the season, and the title was decided literally in the last lap of the last race.

Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the Hybrid engine era of F1 since 2014, so most expected him to continue his dominant form in 2021.

It was not to be, however, as Max Verstappen and Red Bull rose to challenge Hamilton and Mercedes. The two had a closely fought duel in the first race of the season which Hamilton just edged. The two were fighting for the win in the next race also when Hamilton made a small mistake that sent him into the gravel and dropped him a long way behind. Luckily for Hamilton, a red flag came out, which put him back in contention. After the race was restarted, Hamilton charged through the field to finish second.

Hamilton took two dominant wins in the next two races, only to have a slightly off colour race in Monaco, where it was Verstappen who cruised to a win. Verstappen looked dominant in the next race, but a tyre failure sent him into retirement, while a lockup from Hamilton after the restart dropped the Brit out of the points altogether.

Verstappen then took three straight wins and looked set to dominate the championship, only to see his lead slashed by unfortunate incidents first with Hamilton than with Hamilton’s teammate Bottas.

Going into the summer break, a somewhat lucky Hamilton was leading the championship.

Verstappen took back the lead after a win in the non-race at Spa and his home race at Zandvoort. The two raced and collided at Monza, which earned Verstappen a penalty for the next race. Hamilton won a chaotic Russian GP, while a recovering Verstappen profited from the late-race chaos to climb up to second. Verstappen finished second again at Turkey, while Hamilton only managed 5th after an engine change. Verstappen then took two wins in America. One closely fought win at Austin and a dominant one in Mexico.

After Hamilton was disqualified from the Brazilian GP’s qualifying session many were already crowning the Dutchman as the world champion. Hamilton was not one of these people, and in a storming drive through the field, he beat his rivals to the win. He followed up his Brazilian win with another one at Qatar and Saudi Arabia to arrive at the last race of the season with 369,5 points, the same tally as his Dutch rival.

Verstappen took pole, but Hamilton passed his rival at the start and easily pulled away from him. Hamilton looked to be on his way to his 8th title when an accident brought out a late-race SC. Red Bull called Verstappen in, while Mercedes failed to bring Hamilton to the pits. This mistake left Hamilton out on much older tyres than his rival.

When the race was restarted on the very last lap, after the race director controversially allowed only the lapped cars between the two leaders to unlap themselves, Verstappen passed his rival and won the race, winning probably the most dramatic and controversial title in the Sport’s history.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. 2006 was the last title of Fernando Alonso.
    • No
    • Yes

Answer Key

  1. Yes

2. Fernando Alonso- Michael Schumacher 2006

Fernando Alonso broke the five-year winning streak of the Schumacher-Ferrari combination in 2005. Thanks to the subpar Bridgestone tyres in 2005, Schumacher and Ferrari never really were in contention for the titles either, as it was Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen who duked it out between themselves.

The unpopular 2005 rules, however, were scrapped for 2006, and most people expected Schumacher and Ferrari to be back in form.

And this is exactly what happened in 2006.

Schumacher took pole position in the first race of the season and raced long battle with Alonso for the win, though the Spaniard succeeded in just edging out his rival. In the next race, Schumacher had to start from 14th after an engine change, so he was never in contention, while Alonso finished second behind his teammate Fisichella. In Australia, Ferrari messed up their tyre choice and they struggled badly, while Alonso took an easy victory. A hard-charging Schumacher crashed out while he was chasing Jenson Button.

Schumacher bounced back with two wins in the next two races, only for Alonso to win the next four. After Canada, Alonso was in a dominant position, but Schumacher was not giving up just yet.

The German took three straight wins in America, France and Germany to slice off a good chunk of Alonso’s lead.

Both of them were penalised for incidents in the Hungarian GP, which left them to start from the middle of the grid. The Bridgestone tyres were not working at all on the wet track, so Schumacher struggled, while Alonso charged through the field to take the lead. Alonso most probably would have won the race, but his pit crew failed to properly fit on his tyres after his last stop, which led to Alonso crashing out of the race. Schumacher gambled on staying out with intermediates on a drying track, which in the end cost him everything.

Schumacher had a rare subpar performance in Turkey and finished behind Alonso in a massively faster car. He bounced back with a victory in Italy, while Alonso dropped out from third with an engine failure.

The next race in China was soaking wet, and Bridgestone once again struggled in the wet. While Alonso took a dominant pole, Schumacher only managed sixth in the qualifying. The Bridgestones worked better in the race, and Schumacher came through to win against all odds. Alonso, who struggled in the drying track with his intermediates, finished second.

Schumacher’s win brought him level on points with Alonso and seeing the performance of the Ferrari he was most people’s favourite at this point.

Schumacher was comfortably leading Alonso in the next race at Japan, but then disaster struck. The ever-reliable Ferrari engine blew up and gifted the win to Alonso.

Reliability struck once again in the final race of the season when Schumacher’s car failed in qualifying, leaving him to start the race from tenth. He had a charging drive, but slight contact with Fisichella caused him a puncture and dropped him to the back of the grid. Schumacher once again charged through the field to finish fourth in his last Ferrari race. Alonso had a much less dramatic race and finished second behind Schumacher’s teammate Massa.

In the end, Alonso won the title from his rival with 13 points, but the point gap is kind of misleading and does not tell the whole picture, just how fierce and close the fight was.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Senna and Prost fell out in 1989.
    • Yes
    • No

Answer Key

  1. Yes

1. Ayrton Senna- Alain Prost 1988

Senna and Prost were the dominant drivers of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The two became legendary figures of the sport, and their duels are remembered even today, some thirty years later.

At the beginning of 1988, Alain Prost was widely regarded as the best driver in F1. He was already a double world champion, and with the arrival of the massively powerful Honda engine to McLaren for 1988, Prost was expected to challenge for the title again.

Prost’s previous teammate Stefan Johanson left McLaren after 1987, and team boss Ron Dennis wanted to bring triple world champion Nelson Piquet to partner Prost. Surprisingly Prost argued that McLaren should rather sign another Brazilian, Ayrton Senna, as he was a better driver than Piquet.

Had Prost known how the future would unfold, he no doubt would have made a different choice, but he didn’t.

As the 1988 season began, it quickly became obvious that the McLaren-Honda was a massively superior car to anything else in the field. It was going to be either Prost or Senna winning the title, as outsiders did not stand a chance of matching the McLarens.

Senna had retched luck in his home race, where he had to start from the back of the pack in the race, only to be disqualified not much later. Senna won the second race in San Marino, but a rare concentration error saw him in the barriers at Monaco, gifting the win to his teammate Prost.

Prost edged his teammate in a straight duel in Mexico, only to be beaten the next two races by his teammate. Prost beat Senna again in France in the next race.

At this point, Prost was easily leading his teammate in the standings, but Senna then went on a 4 race winning streak to take the lead from his teammate. Neither of them finished the next race, as Prost retired with a car problem, while Senna collided with a backmarker.

Senna struggled the next two races with fuel readout problems and only managed a 4th and a 6th, while Prost won both races.

Going into the next race in Japan a victory for Senna would have clinched the Brazilian the title, while Prost needed a win to keep his hopes alive. Senna took pole, but he had a horrid start which dropped him back, while Prost took the lead. Despite his bad outlook, Senna did not give up and fought through the field and eventually caught up with his teammate. He passed Prost for the lead and went on to win the race and the championship.

It was the first time the two legends went head to head for the title, but another three seasons followed 1988. Nonetheless, their first fight was in many regards their best, as they had equal cars and no controversial incidents marked the season like in the 1989 and 1990 seasons, where both times the winner won the title by colliding with his rival.



This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Andrew Szekler

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