Hamilton and Verstappen, the best enemies

Without a glance for his opponent, Max Verstappen joined the paddock with a determined step. This September 12, on the Italian circuit of Monza, the young 24-year-old driver has just caused a collision with Lewis Hamilton, seven-time world champion. The rear of the Dutchman’s Red Bull is recessed on the front of that of his great British rival. The two top names finish the Italian Grand Prix off track. This spectacular crash – Hamilton’s first retirement in 63 races – is emblematic of a rivalry that has grown steadily since the start of the season, providing the most captivating outcome in ages in F1.

With two races to go, Verstappen has an 8 point lead at the top of the standings. If he is the only one who can be titled from Sunday, December 5, in Saudi Arabia, the coronation could be played in the home stretch of the last Grand Prix, on December 12, in Abu Dhabi. Suffice to say that no error is allowed for the two contenders.

Read also Formula 1: Monza, new theater of tensions between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton and Verstappen opened hostilities from the first corner of the second race of the season on April 18 at Imola. During the Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna (Italy), the rivals had already scrambled, the youngest pushing his 36-year-old elder to the fault to respond to Hamilton’s inaugural victory in Bahrain. On July 18, on his home soil at the Silverstone circuit, the Briton forced his young challenger to retire to win his 99e success in F1.

“The right ingredients to become a classic”

This list – not exhaustive – of incidents is significant, especially for the British star, who never ceased to impose since 2016, the year of his last defeat, an outrageous domination over Formula 1. Lewis Hamilton is no longer alone in the world behind the wheel of his Mercedes. A daring suitor, who has been patient since his early beginnings at the age of 17, is ready to do anything to debunk the idol. Like an impression of déjà vu from the 1980s and 1990s: the duel between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, one of the most legendary in F1, once again appears in the retina of enthusiasts.

Without reaching the intensity of the romantic opposition between the French and the Brazilian, the fight between the two best drivers of the moment arouses renewed excitement. Three former world champions confirm this at the World : “A real and a superb duel”, for Alain Prost, “A duel that has the right ingredients to become a classic”, according to the Briton Damon Hill, crowned in 1996. The Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, world champion 1997, is also fond of these great mano à mano which are the very essence of the queen discipline of motorsport. “F1 is a big arena. When you have pilots who win everything, it becomes boring. What marks is a fight between two pilots, describes the consultant Canal +. When they surpass themselves, emotions emerge and we see personalities better. There are sometimes low blows, it becomes very interesting. Fans tend to become more attached to one or the other. ” For Hill, the Grand Prix designation is already in itself ” a clue “ : “Very few people get the chance to compete in one, and every driver knows that if he wins it will be remembered for a long time. It creates rivalry. “

Despite the twelve-year gap between the two drivers, practically two generations apart in F1, this duel could well last for a year or two.

As in the good old days, the clashes on the track are complemented by projections outside. A few days after Monza, Hamilton had thus poured out his favorite opponent: “We saw it in Imola earlier this year: in this kind of situation, it takes you off the road. And we saw him again last weekend: he’s going to take you off the track. That’s what he prefers. ” A month later, feeling embarrassed by his rival during free practice in the United States, Verstappen replied to his car radio with a resounding “Stupid silly” joined to a well-trained middle finger.

In an F1 that had become sanitized, everyone is starting to hope – or fear, depending on their sensibilities – for the explosive outcome of a rivalry that is growing in a crescendo. Mercedes boss cunning Austrian Toto Wolff has already planned “A scenario à la Senna-Prost, where everything will be decided in the last race and where the one who is passed can lose”. Understand that a Max Verstappen in the lead could lack fair play and get involved with Lewis Hamilton, kamikaze style, to keep his lead.

Portrait: Article reserved for our subscribers Lewis Hamilton, leader on and off the circuits

This does not bring back good memories to Alain Prost: “I understand what Toto is saying, but I wouldn’t have said it that way, argues “the Professor”. It’s almost a kind of incentive, when no, it can be otherwise. We must not think that it will be enough, if we are in the lead in the last race, to create an accident. No one can accept it. That’s what Senna did with me in 1990. ”

In 1989, during the penultimate Grand Prix at Suzuka (Japan), Ayrton Senna did not hesitate, at the cost of an illegal maneuver, to push Alain Prost to retire, before being finally disqualified. The following year, he did it again, without sanction, on the same circuit to establish his title definitively.

Pierre Gasly in ambush

Big boss of F1 for thirty years, Briton Bernie Ecclestone calms the ardor of the most imaginative. “It hasn’t gone that far yet, but it looks like maybe it could. It turns into rivalry, underline to World the nonagenarian. People are like, “Maybe Lewis just isn’t as good as we thought or Max is way better than we thought.” “

Alain Prost argues: “There have been a lot of sporting duels in F1, one-off, without animosity. Niki Lauda / James Hunt, it lasts a season. My story with Ayrton is so long with very strong human sides, we could make a series of it. “ The duels expert has some hopes for the posterity of the 2021 duel: “The crash at Silverstone was very hot. If there are several like this over two or three years, it can turn into a story that sparks the crowds. ”

Read also Alain Prost: “Senna told me that, in a way, I was his primary motivation”

Only one other duel in recent history has marked the spirits. The rivalry within Mercedes between Lewis Hamilton and his fifteen-year-old friend, Nico Rosberg. With, for climax, the surprise title of the German, in 2016. “Hamilton felt stronger than Nico and didn’t respect him. It took him out of his comfort and it took him a while to react “, Jacques Villeneuve analysis. The Canadian tempers the analogy with the current fight: “Verstappen and Hamilton are not at the same level in their careers. Lewis would have to be hungry like he was hungry against Rosberg. “

Despite the twelve-year gap between the two drivers, this duel could well be extended by one or two years, the remaining duration of Hamilton’s contract. The regulatory change in 2022 is not expected to sweep everything away. “This duel has everything, suspense, clashes and maybe more at the end, summarizes Pierre Gasly, 9e global pilot. Even with the new rules, we will review them at the forefront. Until Lewis decides to change his life. ”

At 25, the French driver has the ambition to one day appear, too, on the poster of one of these duels for the title, “Facing Charles [Leclerc], Lando [Norris] or Max [Verstappen] “. And like Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, write a page of the Formula 1 legend.

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