Why don't Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel lock horns more often on track? Charles Bradley investigates.
Hamilton and Vettel have been the most successful Formula 1 drivers of the past nine years. In that time, they have each scored 42 Grand Prix wins, with Hamilton edging Vettel on poles (49-46), podiums (83-77) and fastest laps (26-25) but Vettel handsomely outscoring him on points (1854-1788).
In titles, it’s four to Vettel and two (almost certainly three) to Hamilton – so just like Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna then? Er, far from it!
Despite all the stats, can you ever think of them as great rivals like Toto Wolff suggested recently?
I can’t, which I can’t help thinking is really strange.
All the previous greats had amazing rivalries: Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen (earlier Damon Hill, later Fernando Alonso), the aforementioned Senna/Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, Niki Lauda and James Hunt, Jackie Stewart and Emerson Fittipaldi, etc.
Granted, both Hamilton and Vettel have had stout teammate rivalries, with Alonso/Nico Rosberg in Lewis’s case and Mark Webber in Sebastian’s. So it’s not like they’re adverse to getting their elbows out.
But how about their own private battle? Where is their wheel-to-wheel moments inches apart, or the title-deciding collisions, or back-biting to the press about each other?
For two drivers at the absolute top of their game in the same era, it’s remarkable how little they’ve ever butted heads in the 154 Grands Prix they’ve contested together.
In fact, in all the time I’ve been watching them, it’s a Formula 3 Euro Series race at Lausitz (of all places) in 2005 that actually sticks in my mind as the best on-track battle I’ve seen between them…
F1 passing moments
On track this year, Vettel’s Malaysian Grand Prix win featured an outbraking move on Hamilton, albeit after gaining DRS on him, into the final hairpin at Sepang – although Lewis then shot into the pitlane. Vettel overtook him too in Hungary, outdragging him away from the startline, which got quite close as Seb side-drafted past him.
In 2012, Hamilton passed Vettel – again with DRS – to win the US Grand Prix at Austin.
Going further back in time, there was the fleetingly exciting moment when Vettel tried to pass Hamilton around the outside at Turn 1 at Barcelona in 2010. This was complicated by Lewis having just rejoined from the pits, and the fact both were also lapping Virgin’s Lucas di Grassi, but Vettel’s attempt to sweep around the outside failed, and he had to take to the run-off.
In fact, their closest moment together has actually been in the pitlane: Vettel tried to pass Hamilton entering the pits in China in 2010, and then they touched wheels in pitlane as they rejoined.
“A bit naughty from him,” reflected Hamilton. “We had enough room for both of us and he did his best to push us into the lane where all the people were. Quite dangerous but no hard feelings.”
Hardly a Senna-like reaction, he’d have been straight to the stewards – Prost too, for that matter!
Not for the want of trying
Of course, never being teammates has a lot to do with it, as does being in relatively-dominant cars when they were recording their six (surely seven soon) world titles. But if Ferrari can raise its game just a little, and Mercedes slip back...
The point is certainly not lost on Hamilton: “I saw a photo the other day where Nigel and Ayrton were wheel to wheel down the straight with sparks coming out,” he said recently.
“I picture that, I can’t wait for that to be me and Sebastian.
“Imagine if we had a race like Bahrain that me and Nico [Rosberg] had [in 2014], where we were back and forth, back and forth. That would be the most exciting thing ever.”
Bring it on guys…