Alain Prost Ayrton Senna

Formula One: Three Fiery Inter-Team Rivalries

2018-06-27
2018 F1 season is well underway

For climactic drama and untold glamour, F1 is unrivalled in the motorsport world. Since 1950, when Giuseppe Farina won the inaugural FIA World Driver’s Championship, legends have come and gone, etching their names into the annals of history.

Certain periods of F1 history have also seen specific constructors dominate the standings, leading to close-fought title battles.

Most recently, in the mid-2010s, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg fought tooth and nail under the Mercedes brand prior to the latter’s retirement.

Even now, in 2018, the Silver Arrows still fly without apparent equal, powered by the successor of the original feared W05 hybrid engine that started a dynasty.

Here, we look at two iconic inter-team rivalries from F1 history, and how they compare to another potential rivalry brewing in F1.

 

Giuseppe Farina v Juan Manuel Fangio

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, these two Alfa Romeo racers were the most captivating talents of their day.

As the first season in which the Driver’s Championship was awarded, the year of 1950 saw this rivalry come to a head, and ensure the place of the iconic Alfa Romeo 158/159 chassis in motorsport history.

In an age before intensive safety measures, those famous red bullets duelled and diced with death on many occasions, but the real drama came in the final race of the season, which enabled Farina to clinch the title by just three points.

The decider: Monza, 3 September 1950

By the seventh race of the season, Fangio had won three races to Farina’s two. In Farina’s home race, the Argentine ace took pole position and looked primed to take the win that would see him become the very first champion of the 1950s.

However, he had not counted on Farina repeating the feat of that year’s Swiss Grand Prix and get a win after starting behind Fangio in pole.

Far from being a duel until the bitter end, fate gifted Farina the championship win, with Fangio retiring after just 23 laps due to gearbox issues. Not to be deterred, he took over Piero Taruffi’s car in the pits to rescue his title bid.

However, it would be utterly in vain, with Ferrari’s Alberto Ascari tearing up the track and enjoying the race of a lifetime on his home circuit – though he never managed to beat countryman, and eventual champion, Farina.

In terms of the Farina/Fangio rivalry itself, F1 historians are split as to whom truly was the better man – although there is little doubt that Fangio was the more relevant driver of the two in terms of how he raced and enjoyed stardom.

Nonetheless, there can be absolutely no doubt at all that (in 1950 at least) Farina showed why class is permanent.

 

Alain Prost v Ayrton Senna

Senna’s dauntless racing style brought F1 kicking and screaming into a modern era, and provided a blueprint for generations of future drivers.

Prost, meanwhile, lived to win and found gaps in the flow of machines, the likes of which only a proud few have ever dared to exploit.

Both men were already electrifying figures on the circuit, and when Prost joined Senna at McLaren in 1988, it seemed as though nothing could stop the Woking outfit.

That proved true, but it was not without its hair-raising moments, which questioned the sanity of the McLaren administration’s decision to pair two racers famed for personal glory at all costs.

Unsurprisingly, it was a short-lived partnership, with Prost joining Ferrari in 1990. However, there were plenty of fireworks in the two years that Prost and Senna shared one banner.

The decider: Jacarepaguá, 26 March 1989

In 1988, the first season of McLaren’s ‘dream team’, the Portuguese Grand Prix proved to be the first clear manifestation of the ugly side of that partnership. During the race, Senna had attempted to make an active stab at preventing Prost from taking the lead.

In the process, Prost was forced close to the pit wall at a dangerous speed of 174 mph, and though the manoeuvre succeeded without incident, Prost’s existing grudge towards Senna reached new depths.

Opening the 1989 season with his home race, Senna (in pole position) was the rampant favourite to succeed on day one, and press on to defend his title.

Yet, having seen his biggest rival sweep to the 1988 title, Prost would assume his ultimate form and show exactly why he was the top dog at McLaren.

From fifth on the grid, Prost went straight for Senna, but it would instead be Gerhard Berger that stopped Senna with a clash that saw the Brazilian immediately fall behind the pack. Merciless as ever, Prost raced through but underperformed by his own standards to finish second.

With Senna going on to finish eleventh, the race turned out to be a frank illustration of how 1989 would go for the McLaren duo. Though Senna would win the next three races in succession, Prost made the podium in two of them.

Senna then suffered three retirements and a seventh-place finish in the next four races, with Prost winning three times. After that, there was no going back, and Prost went on to wrest the title from Senna with ease.

It would be extremely disrespectful to identify a clear ‘winner’ in this rivalry. Both men set the sport alight, but in staying with McLaren, Senna proved that there is always some honour in loyalty by staying with McLaren through his peak years.

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw mixed fortunes for Senna, but he stuck through it all – until the very end.

 

Daniel Ricciardo v Max Verstappen 

On 29 April 2018, Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo once more showed their individual willingness to win, even at the cost of their own team’s reputation.

Their headstrong attitudes culminated in a crash on that day’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and if this wasn’t already a rivalry in its own right, it certainly is now. At 22, Verstappen has already shown tenacity beyond his years.

Even in his debut season, Verstappen was breaking new ground, with a particularly impressive overtake at Blanchimont in the Belgian Grand Prix of 2015 showing the world exactly what he was capable of.

Indeed, it is here that the similarities between Verstappen, and the likes of the aforementioned Fangio and Senna, become apparent.

Shared characteristics include the absence of fear and a willingness to tear up proverbial scripts, even at the cost of inconveniencing respected and better-established teammates.

However, Ricciardo has (unlike Verstappen) also managed two third-place finishes (in 2014 and 2016).

On both occasions, Ricciardo locked out Sebastian Vettel in a Ferrari team seen as second only to Mercedes, and furthermore, the Australian still commands much shorter FIA Driver’s Championship odds than his teammate.

The decider: Sepang, 1 October 2017

What should have been a comfortable win for eventual champion Lewis Hamilton from pole position became a frustrating defeat at the hands of a young underdog.

Clearly, Red Bull’s strategy on that occasion was to go straight for the jugular that was Hamilton’s Mercedes before it built up a head of steam. Combined with the crushing humidity of Sepang, it was a tactic that worked wonders.

Red Bull scored two places on the podium, with Verstappen winning and Ricciardo finishing third.

Where the Red Bull team alone is concerned, it was not the first time that Verstappen had bested Ricciardo on the circuit – far from it.

However, it was a major step towards establishing a case for the young Dutchman being undisputedly seen as Red Bull’s primary driver, regardless of his lesser experience compared to Ricciardo.

If, however, Verstappen is to ultimately be considered the better of the two current Red Bull teammates by future generations, he will have to finish on the podium of a championship table.

He would, also, arguably need to do so inside a Red Bull car – within the current climate of Mercedes dominance – to go down as a true legend in due course.