Is this really ‘F1’s most venomous rivalry since Senna and Prost’?

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Are Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton locked in a bitter grudge match, or two professionals who fundamentally respect one another, while pushing their rival to the absolute limit?

McLaren CEO Zak Brown, whose knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport can be gauged by his enviable car collection, believes the enmity between the title contenders is real.

“I don’t remember venom between two drivers and teams like this since the [days] of Senna and Prost” he said, recalling the pair who twice collided in the controversial showdowns of 1989 and 1990. Others have drawn similar comparisons previously this year.

But following the qualifying session which set the grid for today’s title-decider, the two spoke appreciatively of each other and the most riveting championship contest F1 has seen in years.

“Lewis has won already so many championships,” said Verstappen. “But also, this year I think we have been pushing each other, certainly in some races… to the limit.”

Flashback: 1989 Japanese Grand Prix – Prost’s Suzuka chicanery denies Senna the title
“We’ve been really basically trying to get everything out of our cars, tyres, to the last lap, to the last corner,” Verstappen said. “And that’s very exciting – especially when it’s between two teams as well because when it’s team mates it’s always a bit different from when there are two teams fighting.

“So it has been really enjoyable for most of the time.”

Hamilton agreed with his rival. “It’s been an incredible year, an amazing battle, and I’m grateful to have had such a close battle with Max and his team.”

The seven-times champion is facing his first final-round decider for five years, having won every title since then. “They’ve done an exceptional job and shown true strength,” said Hamilton. “So it’s pushed us to the limit and in ways that we needed. We, I think, have grown stronger as a team in ways we didn’t know we could grow.”

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These are two elite drivers who each have a ruthless streak when it comes to wheel-to-wheel racing. Verstappen and Hamilton have crossed swords on-track several times. Opening skirmishes in Bahrain, Imola and Spain were later followed by more contentious episodes at Silverstone, Monza, Interlagos, and Jeddah last week.

The competitive heat that exists between the two drivers is constantly stoked by Toto Wolff and Christian Horner, the team principals of Mercedes and Red Bull respectively – two people that Brown says “definitely have a true dislike for each other.” Even so, the pair mustered a ‘pre-match’ handshake on Friday.

The team bosses managed a handshake on Friday
Beyond the teams’ spheres the rivalry is hyped by the partisan and increasingly tribalistic supporters on social media, not to mention conventional media including broadcasters and, yes, journalists. At times it has threatened to sour the perception of a dream championship showdown that many have been waiting to see since the day Verstappen stepped up to Red Bull while Hamilton was starting to amass titles with Mercedes.

Hamilton too has yearned for a competition like this. Sebastian Vettel came close on occasions with Ferrari, but could never quite finish the task of mounting a proper championship challenge at the height of their powers until they fell out.

For all the acrimony of recent races, Hamilton appreciates the fight he’s had from Vertappen. “It’s been amazing. I hope that we have many more seasons like this,” remarked the driver who could become the sport’s only eight-time world champion today.

For Verstappen, it’s the chance to finally validate the potential that was seen in him when he was a teenage racing prodigy, by becoming the first Dutch driver to win a Formula 1 title.

“In probably 10, 20 years time, people will look back at it,” Verstappen said. “And even myself – and you,” he said to Hamilton, “will remember this year, for sure.”

It may have come under the controlled environment of a press conference, but from their responses, any ‘venom’ between Hamilton and Verstappen, if it truly exists, was at least temporarily absent.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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31 comments on “Is this really ‘F1’s most venomous rivalry since Senna and Prost’?”

  1. No, since Hamilton/Rosberg. Hamilton alluded to this during the post-qualy presser.

    1. Yeah, and I think that the bad feelings between the two of those were far closer to the Senna/Prost thing than this can ever be, since they actually were close at the beginning, both felt somewhat betrayed by the other they were fighting within the same teams @ryanoceros.

      This – it is just the classic close racing between two drivers of two competing teams with both throwing all they can to the support of winning both titles. A great fight this year with close battles and interesting on track battles so far. Certainly one to remember. But not really comparable with the years long acrimony between Senna and Prost, even though certainly Red Bull (through all their own media channels), and recently Toto as well, have tried to put that same kind of vibe into their supporting fans

    2. No, it’s mainly media driven. American owners love this narrative, this season feels somewhat engineered, a bit WWE.

  2. No i skipped all the article

  3. Nah… The most toxic was Lewis-Nico.
    Lewis-Max still fist bumped each other. The bandwagon fans, Toto-Horner, inconsistent steward, the way FIA release its decision, and Netflix made it far more dramatic than it was.

  4. As for me it is what rivalry between Schumacher and Senna could be like if…

    1. This would’ve taken place in 1994-1998 or so by which time Ayrton was already too experienced and too accomplished to be as tenacious as versus Prost. Although due to other players involved – like Flavio Briatore – sparks may have been flying :)

  5. It’s felt venomous at times, but not really from the drivers. They’ve said the odd comment about each other but have mostly been respectful to each other with fist bumps and congratulatory words after qualifying etc.
    What has been quite toxic at times is some members of the fan base of both drivers and a complete lack of respect for their favourite drivers opponent. The team principals have stoked the flames at times as well and I think with the introduction of F1 to a wider audience via the likes of Drive to Survive, its a slightly more (for want of a better term) uneducated fan base as well which I think has been evident in the comments section of this website during this season compared to past years as well. The media have some blame in this as well, the open letter to Max this week by Autosport was a bit over the top.

    1. Rather than ‘uneducated’ @djarvis (I think this has described most F1 fans generally anyway for as long as I’ve been watching) – I would probably use the term ‘partisan.’
      Many people now seem to have little or no passion for the holistic ‘sporting’ competition – only a one-sided interest in how their favourite competitor fares against the ‘evil villian.’
      A very tinted or one-dimensional view of things, sadly, which is all too often expressed as unappreciative bias and hostility.

      1. José Lopes da Silva
        12th December 2021, 9:09

        Indeed. And a sign of the times.

        1. Blame ‘social’ media and the need for clicks.
          Easier to be angry than to try to see a situation through the eyes of the other person.

  6. Most, if not all drivers become different characters once they are behind the wheel. If there is any ‘venom’ they’ll save it for the heat of competition, because that’s where they need it most
    We know Lewis often shines under pressure, and Max is showing incredible composure to go with his innate talent, at such a young age. The old guard and the new. Here it is indeed.
    Will it be a changing… Soon we will see. Epic season.

  7. Most of the venom can be found in the internet not between these two. The media with their clickbaits stoke it more.

  8. Off the track, Hamilton and Max get on just fine. In fact, most of the current grid does. On track is a different story.

  9. 90% LibFlix soap opera “hype”.
    10% Rhubarb journojingo bs.
    The war of words on this site, from both “camps” was amusing.
    Now down in the gutter with all of the other gib gib gib me me me,
    of the “entitled ones”. If any one disagrees just shout louder bs!!!!

  10. RandomMallard
    12th December 2021, 8:39

    I don’t think there has been that much tension between the two drivers off the track. Obviously you’ll get the heat of the moment annoyance and insults (and swearing) but I don’t think the two drivers dislike each other off the track. It hasn’t ended up like Hamilton vs Rosberg (yet), in my view.

    The team principals though, that’s a different story. Nice to see them at least shake hands.

    1. RandomMallard
      12th December 2021, 8:40

      Can’t wait for Netflix to portray these two as best friends while creating a fake rivalry between Mick and Seb over who’s the better German.

      Oh wait Max isn’t doing Netflix I forgot

  11. Lol, no of course it isn’t. Compared to Senna/Prost this is a Sunday School picnic.

  12. Since the Senna-Prost showdown, the Schumacher-Hill 94-96, Hamilton-Alonso 07, Hamilton-Massa 08-11 and Hamilton-Rosberg 13-16 relations come to my mind as escalated rivalries, but all of them seemed to be more out-of-control than the current one, which is I believe on-the-edge-hard and controlled but still fair ontrack. Offtrack is a different story with many more disturbing factors involved.

  13. I feel like this is more like what we were hoping to see between Senna and Schumacher but were robbed of at Imola ’94. Definitely an instant classic which will live long in the memory.

  14. Eh. Their approach to media is different. Lewis being more political and pandering and Max being more outspoken and tactless, sure. Their approach to racing is actually somewhat similar, Lewis being a bit more experienced aside, they are both pretty relentless. Team radio might get feisty, but come on, nobody can blame an adrenaline fueled driver from speaking out harshly in the heat of the moment.

    But all in all, I still feel there is a great respect between the pair and I am sure that whoever wins, will have nothing but respect for the loser and vice versa.

  15. It seems to me that this isn’t personal for the drivers in the same way as some other rivalries. I think both drivers are frustrated with some of the stewarding this year but recognise their rival isn’t to blame for the choices stewards are making. Silverstone felt manufactured by Horner to try and get Hamilton disqualified rather than a real issue for Verstappen with Hamilton.

  16. Maybe the most venomous since Prost-Senna, but not as venomous. Not yet. Let’s see how they get along after we have another year or two like this.

  17. So we’re pretending Schumacher vs Hill never happend?

    1. I think it wasn’t Schumacher vs. Hill thing, it was Schumacher against disqualifications that made him feel being robbed by the FIA. In terms of driving Hill never was a threat for Schumacher, too weak.

  18. The venom is inserted mainly by press and headlines meant to produce clicks.
    Between the two only Lewis sometimes vented a stab at red bull or max. And max often speaks out his thoughts without filleting them. ( most people like him for that).
    A bad boy and a Saint is a typical British approach.
    The toxic atmosphere is a created one. After the season both just go on with their lives and both are professionals.

    1. Filtering…

      1. Although filleting would be funnier

  19. I really don’t see any venom between the drivers at all. That seems like projection by others. It’s the most intense inter-team rivalry in decades but that’s because it involves two of the best Formula 1 drivers ever, which is quite an exceptional circumstance. At the same time the age difference seems like a positive factor with Lewis sometimes acting as mentor to the young protegée (as after Max’s crash with Ocon in Brazil) and Max undoubtedly motivated by seeing Hamilton drive while he was still a kid, though obviously keen to be even better (and believing he already is). Max is still at the early stage of his career where his father and team managers dominate what he has to say and think. And that’s where I think some of the poison seeps in.

  20. The Dutch Lion vs The Stevenage Saint. Will it go the distance or end in the wall on lap 48? Or will it go down to a nail-biting penalty shoot out?

  21. Yes, totally is! Worst rivalry ever in history, too.
    Hamilton-Rosberg best rivalry ever, 100%.

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