Why Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel can breathe life back into Formula One

Phil Duncan
Lewis Hamilton is sprayed champagne by Sebastian Vettel on the podium after winning the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix - AP

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both started their F1 journey to stardom in 2007. Hamilton, in a front-running McLaren, sensationally came within a point of winning the title in his rookie year, while Vettel was handed his debut at the sixth round of the championship in America, and, aged only 19, became the youngest driver to score points in the sport’s history after he finished eighth.

Vettel then moved to Toro Rosso, and did his best to thwart Hamilton’s maiden championship triumph after he passed the Briton in the final few laps at the concluding race in Brazil. Hamilton, however, fought his way round Timo Glock at the final corner of the final lap to clinch the title in the most nerve-jangling of circumstances. He joked last month in Australia that he was going to get revenge on Vettel for nearly wrecking his title bid.

‘Best versus the best’

Vettel and Hamilton have shared six of the last seven championships between them, but this marks the first campaign in which their machinery is evenly matched. The prospect of the two leading lights of their generation going hammer and tong until the season decider at November’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is precisely what Formula One needed after the tedium of Mercedes’ recent domination. And both men appear to be revelling in the new dynamic.

“This year you are seeing the best against the best,” said Hamilton after he lost out to Vettel in Melbourne. The remark could also be viewed as a subtle barb against Nico Rosberg, whom he fought against for the title in each of the past three seasons.

The friendly rivalry

In the same fashion in which the Merseyside derby is heralded the “friendly derby”, Hamilton versus Vettel is swiftly becoming Formula One’s equivalent. Hamilton and Vettel hold each other – and their seven combined world championships and 97 wins – in high regard.

Hamilton and Vettel's relationship is far more amicable nowadays Credit: Rex Features

Their relationship is a change in tone to the toxicity of Hamilton’s rivalry with Rosberg which simmered, and then continued to boil over, as they slugged it out for the title. The story of a relationship – first formed as teenagers in the same karting team – falling apart on the global stage was fascinating but grubby in equal measure.

So, the mutual respect shown by both Hamilton and Vettel will leave Liberty Media, F1’s new owners, fawning over the sport’s latest rivalry.

Can it stay this way?

Hamilton, three years Vettel’s senior, is confident it will. “I honestly think it will stay the way it is,” the 32-year-old said.

“Maybe there will be times when we are racing, and we are racing hard together, and of course there could be a scenario where one of us thinks something is unfair. But we are grown men, we have come a long way and we have experienced a lot. The respect for one another is the highest I have felt from another driver, especially of his calibre.”

Vettel concurred. “I have great respect for Lewis. “He’s proven to be one of the quickest drivers on the grid and it is a lot of fun to race against the best.”

Vettel and Hamilton post-Chinese Grand Prix Credit: Getty Images

So, who will win the fight?

Mercedes have dominated en route to winning a hat-trick of consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ titles, but in Vettel and a resurgent Ferrari team, their stranglehold on the sport is facing its toughest test yet.

The early evidence is that Vettel’s Ferrari suits the warmer climate – which will play into their hands here in Bahrain – while Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says his team will fight as if they are the underdogs.

The smart money, however, has to be on Hamilton given his team’s record in recent times. But either way it is a fight worth watching, and that cannot always have been said of the sport in recent years.

RegisterLog incommenting policy

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes