We knew it would only take one corner. One corner after all the respect, after all the podium smiles and talk of gratitude for each other’s existence. It was gone after that one corner. Anyone who doubted the direction in which the Lewis Hamilton vs Sebastian Vettel rivalry would go got a resounding answer on Sunday at the Circuit de Catalunya.
As Vettel re-emerged on track from his second and final stop of the day it became clear Hamilton had devoured the German’s eight second lead. This was it. Both cars were arriving at turn one at the same time with the same intention.
There were no surprises really. Hamilton hung it round the outside and went late on the breaks, Vettel dived down the inside and blocked off the corner. While Hamilton came off second best, he did go on to win the race because he landed on the right tyre at the critical moment. Regardless of the outcome, the occurrence was the important thing. Both drivers have set out their stall when it comes to their personal on-track exchanges, there will be no compromise.
When compared to their respective teammates, these two stand alone. Kimi Raikkonen can’t put together a clean weekend to become a factor, and Valtteri Bottas is practically tripping over himself (and others) to be a good team player.
The best thing about all of this is knowing how these multiple World Champions have dealt with this in the past. There’s a wide body of evidence when you consider they’ve driven in a Championship winning car a combined seven times in the last nine years.
As we touched on, their teammates shouldn’t pose a problem at this stage, just look at how Vettel dealt with Mark Webber, or even more impressively, how Hamilton dealt with Fernando Alonso in his rookie season, and then Rosberg thereafter. Webber left F1 in 2013 with a bitter taste in his mouth, he felt short-changed by a Red Bull team that, according to the Aussie, had favoured Vettel whenever it came to the crunch. The crunch was Malaysia and ‘Multi-21’. Vettel was already at this point a three time champion, on one of the few occassions that Webber bested him on the track the order came down from the pitwall to hold positions and bring the one-two home with Webber’s number two car in first – multi 21. Instead Vettel engages his raciest engine mode and catches Webber cold on the pit straight, some excellent dicing ensues, ultimately the German wins out. Mark Webber decided that day he couldn’t continue to race against Vettel:
In the end Seb made his own decision today and will have protection [from the team] as per usual and that’s the way it goes.
Lewis Hamilton faced a freshly crowned two-time world champion in his rookie year in 2007. Fernando Alonso had broken the Ferrari/Michael Schumcher duopoly that reigned for half a decade. He would have been short odds to put Hamilton and the rest of the field away in a McLaren that was thought to be the class of the field. A comically young looking Hamilton rattled Alonso through nothing other than prodigous pace. The young Brit made it was clear there was tension from the outset:
I’ve never known anyone as competitive as me and I think Alonso is very close.
It all blew up in Hungary. Hamilton was leading the world championship, however Alonso was fighting back. He beat Lewis at his home track and at the Nurburgring ensuring they arrived at Budapest as the only show in town.
McLaren had promised equality for both drivers and as such they afforded one of their drivers an extra lap’s worth of qualifying fuel at certain tracks on a rotating basis. On this occassion it was advantage Alonso. It’s important to remember that Alonso had been playing double-dutch with the media. He would tow the party line with the British press, then he would turn the knife in the Spanish press. Perhaps stung by the malcontented tone of his teammate, Hamilton had his own dig back. This time on track. With the extra lap of fuel for his qualy run, Fernando should have been first out of the two McLaren’s, Hamilton broke team protocol and went in front. Rarely a shrinking violet in these instances, Alonso famously parked his car in the pitbox in front of Hamilton as the last remaining seconds of qualifying ticked away. This incident signalled the end of the road for Alonso at McLaren (until 2014), and Hamilton remained on to win the world title the next year. He had successfully seen off Fernando Alonso. Nobody else has done that.
So there we are. These guys have form. And now we can sit back and hopefully witness history. The winning of the title is one thing, but it’s the actual fight. The tension and conflict. That’s history.
Roll on Monaco.