From cordial title rivals to all-out war within teams, Crash.net looks back on some of the biggest rivalries and beefs that have defined Formula 1 through the 2010s

10. Sergio Perez vs Esteban Ocon

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon may not have been fighting for race wins or championships during their two-year stint as teammates at Force India – but there was enough of a needle between the pair for it to impact on the team’s fortunes.

Ocon was drafted in as Nico Hulkenberg’s replacement for the 2017 season, marking a shift away from the cordial relationship that had been in place before.

As Force India established itself as F1’s midfield king, Ocon and Perez found themselves evenly matched in all areas. Within half a season, things were beginning to get frosty.

Contact between the pair on a Safety Car restart while running P3 and P4 cost the team a big result in Baku in 2017, before another collision in Hungary left the pair pointing fingers at each other. The final straw – so it seemed at the time – came at Spa, when Ocon and Perez collided twice in the race, prompting Force India to introduce rules of engagement to prevent them from racing.

The rivalry appeared to cool through 2018, only for a clash at the start of the race in Singapore to reignite things. Perez bumped Ocon into the wall as the Frenchman tried a move around the outside at Turn 3, causing him to retire from the race.

Banned from racing each other for a second time, their spell as teammates came to an end in Abu Dhabi as Ocon made his final appearance for the team. Perez conceded their relationship was “never great” – but will have time been a healer for when Ocon returns to the grid with Renault in 2020?

9. Kevin Magnussen vs Nico Hulkenberg

The beef between Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg has bubbled away in F1’s midfield over the years, but was best crystallised in their post-race spat at the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Battling for P11, Magnussen pushed Hulkenberg wide onto the grass, resulting in a five-second time penalty for the Haas racer - and an angry response from the German in the post-race media pen.

Midway through Magnussen’s TV interview, Hulkenberg interrupted to pat the Dane on the back and 'congratulate' him on being “the most unsporting driver on the grid," prompting Magnussen to quip back: “Suck my balls, mate!” - a quote that has now become part of F1's lexicon.

The spat has shown few signs of dying out since then, with their rivalry gaining significant coverage in Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’ series.

There was a chance they could have been teammates for 2020 after Hulkenberg discussed a possible drive with Haas – something Magnussen reckoned he was open to - only for the team to retain Romain Grosjean.

8. Lewis Hamilton vs Felipe Massa

They may have been title rivals in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2011 that any kind of spat between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa appeared to emerge.

A total of six clashes across the course of 2011 left the pair in a strange stand-off, made all the weirder by the fact neither featured in the title race or found themselves battling for race wins.

A collision in Singapore prompted Massa to go up to Hamilton in the media pen, pat him on the back and say “good job bro!” sarcastically. Hamilton snapped back: “Don’t touch me.”

Massa said after a later clash in Singapore that he would not make any effort to fix things with Hamilton, believing he had done all he could, only for the pair to finally patch things up at the end of the 2011 season when they hugged it out after the Brazil finale.

“It was good to have a nice chat with Felipe,” Hamilton said. "I have great respect for him and I'm looking forward to racing him again next year.”

7. Charles Leclerc vs Sebastian Vettel

They may have been teammates for just one season, but there have been enough incidents between Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel to warrant a place in our countdown.

Leclerc was tipped to take the fight to Vettel following his promotion into a Ferrari seat for 2019, but the team made clear that its focus would lay with its more experienced driver in the early part of the season.

Leclerc adhered to team orders in Australia before ignoring them in Bahrain to avoid an accident, but again played second-fiddle in China despite appearing to be far quicker.

As Leclerc grew stronger and Vettel struggled midway through the season, there was a feeling of the momentum shifting at Maranello. Leclerc was left fuming after a strategy error handed victory to Vettel in Singapore. Vettel then ignored team orders in Russia, infuriating Leclerc, before the pair finally made contact when battling for fourth place in Brazil, causing both to retire from the race.

Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto may insist there is no issue between his drivers, but there will need to be clearer rules between the pair if they are to avoid a worsening of relations through 2020. Regardless, the power struggle between Vettel and Leclerc looks set to continue.

6. Charles Leclerc vs Max Verstappen

In the battle to be Formula 1’s next superstar, two of the sport’s youngest drivers have been forging quite the rivalry at the front of the pack.

Leclerc and Verstappen were rivals in go-karting, and found themselves facing off once again in F1 through 2019 for Ferrari and Red Bull respectively.

The two went wheel-to-wheel for victory at the Austrian Grand Prix in June, with Verstappen taking the win following a bold overtake that left Leclerc feeling aggrieved. The Ferrari driver vowed to change his approach as a result, prompting a more aggressive (and spectacular) style through the remainder of the season.

Leclerc and Verstappen put on an incredible scrap at Silverstone as they battled for position, but things spilled over at Suzuka in October when contact at the first corner put Verstappen out of the race and landed Leclerc a penalty.

The pair appeared to be keeping each other at an arm’s length when it comes to suggestions they could one day be teammates – but wherever they may race, this rivalry is likely to define the next decade of F1 racing.

5. Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton

Just as Lewis Hamilton was once the young pretender upstaging the likes of Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher in F1, Max Verstappen’s arrival has marked the start of a changing of the guard on the grid through the second half of the 2010s.

Hamilton has shown few signs of relinquishing his grip on the mantle as F1’s king, but we’ve already seen a number of entertaining battles between him and Verstappen that may be viewed with greater romanticism in the future.

Most notable was their scrap for the win in Hungary this year, where Verstappen produced some stunning defensive moves to keep Hamilton back, forcing Mercedes to switch the Briton to a two-stop strategy that ultimately won him the race. The pair fought it out at the front again in Brazil, with Verstappen winning this time.

There have been some fiery moments between the duo. In Mexico this year, Hamilton commented how he is always conscious of giving Verstappen more space on-track to avoid getting “torpedoed”, prompting the Dutchman to say it was “disrespectful” to make such a comment.

For the most part, though, their rivalry is friendly. Verstappen said after their fight in Brazil how much more satisfying it was battling Hamilton on-track given the respect between them. Hamilton himself called Verstappen “a really funny guy” earlier this year in the wake of his comments on Nico Rosberg. (We’ll get to him in a bit.)

4. Sebastian Vettel vs Fernando Alonso

The early part of the 2010s saw Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso emerge as the two leading forces in Formula 1, twice facing off in title deciders. And both times around, it was Vettel who came out on top.

Alonso and Vettel enjoyed some mighty battles through the 2010 to 2014 period, the greatest of which came in the 2010 Singapore Grand Prix. Vettel tailed Alonso for the entirety of the race in a thrilling two-horse fight for victory, which was Alonso’s by just 0.293 seconds.

Vettel nabbed the title that year in Abu Dhabi as Alonso tried to cover off Mark Webber, but the battle in 2012 came down to just the pair of them. Pop-shots were fired between Red Bull and Ferrari through the year over car legality, possible penalties and driver ethics, but come the rainy Sunday in Brazil, Vettel was able to clinch a third title ahead of Alonso.

That was the peak of their rivalry. Both saw a downturn in competitiveness after 2013, more drastically in Alonso’s case, but there was never a real cordiality between the pair. Vettel even commented earlier this year that he thought Alonso “never really liked me”, something the Spaniard denied, believing they had a “pleasant relationship”.

Vettel versus Alonso was the defining battle of the early 2010s. And Vettel would find himself in the key scrap of the latter stages of the decade – only this time, on the losing side.

3. Lewis Hamilton vs Sebastian Vettel

They may have been the two rising stars of Formula 1 at the very start of the decade, but it was not until 2017 that Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel finally faced off for the championship.

Vettel led the early part of the season before the cracks started to appear in not only his own title bid, but also his relationship with Hamilton. In Baku, Vettel saw red and hit Hamilton’s Mercedes while running behind the Safety Car, marking the biggest flashpoint in their rivalry. A series of mistakes through the remainder of the season handed Hamilton an easy run to the title.

It was a similar story in 2018, in the so-called ‘fight for five’. Vettel started strongly before fading; Hamilton just got better and better as the year wore on, eventually wrapping up the title with two races to spare.

But there was an extra level of respect between the pair through 2018. Hamilton even defended Vettel when facing criticism over his mistakes, while both appear to be adjusting to their roles as F1’s ‘elder statesmen’ well as the likes of Leclerc and Verstappen appear on the scene.

2. Sebastian Vettel vs Mark Webber

Vettel’s fourth entry in our top 10 rivalries is by far his most explosive.

Vettel and Mark Webber became teammates for 2009 at Red Bull, but it was not until 2010 that their rivalry really began to show its teeth as both fought for the title. Their on-track collision in Turkey was then followed by tensions over an updated front wing at Silverstone, with Webber feeling Red Bull had sided with Vettel after it gave him the new part. The Australian had the last laugh, going on to win the British Grand Prix.

Vettel would ultimately snare the drivers’ title away from both Webber and Ferrari rival Fernando Alonso that year, marking the closest Webber would come to a crown. Vettel was a step clear for the rest of their time at Red Bull, but there were still moments were the rivalry sparked again, such as at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix and the ‘Multi 21’ debacle, where Vettel ignored team orders to pass Webber for the win.

Webber retired from F1 at the end of 2013, by which point his relationship with Vettel appeared to have eased, even if it was hardly ever friendly.

1. Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg

As spicy as the rivalries between the drivers in the rest of our entries may have been, none got close to the kind of battle between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes.

Teammates in go-karting and childhood friends, the partnership between Hamilton and Rosberg seemed ideal when they first linked up in 2013 – but that would be where the fraternity ended.

With an F1 title on the line, their friendship went out of the window and quickly soured into a deep-rooted, at times damaging rivalry. Early spats (Bahrain, Monaco qualifying, Hungary) soon spilled over into on-track dramas, first seen at Spa in 2014 when contact cost Mercedes the win.

Hamilton would prevail that year, and then took the 2015 title with relative ease as Rosberg struggled to keep up. The frustration and futility of Rosberg’s championship bid was summed up nicely when he threw his podium cap at the newly-crowned Hamilton in the COTA cool-down room – and didn’t make any meaningful contact. The momentum was now firmly with Hamilton at Mercedes.

But Rosberg had a masterplan in the works. He came back for 2016 determined to get the better of his teammate, no matters what lengths were required.

Collisions in Spain and Austria left Mercedes chief Toto Wolff fuming over his drivers, but Rosberg – the aggressor in the latter, most certainly – was able to put up a greater fight to Hamilton this time around. A run of five races without a win for Hamilton, including his DNF in Malaysia, put Rosberg within touching distance of the title. Four P2 finishes in the final four races would be enough to clinch it.

And that’s exactly what he did, even when Hamilton, in a final Hail Mary to try and deny his teammate, backed up the pack in Abu Dhabi. Rosberg stayed cool, won the title, then dropped the mic five days later by quitting F1 completely.

It was the rivalry that denied the decade. It proved the astonishing lengths drivers need to go to if they are to beat one of the greatest of all-time. And while Rosberg may have left with the reputation for causing so much internal damage to Mercedes, he did so as F1 world champion – which was all he ever really wanted.

Haydn Cobb and Lewis Larkam contributed to this ranking.

 

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