F1's greatest rivalry on the rise

Lewis Hamilton after winning the Russian Grand Prix last weekend. On the brink of a third world title, he and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari could become the most dominant rivals in F1 annals, while Nico Rosberg must regroup nex
Lewis Hamilton after winning the Russian Grand Prix last weekend. On the brink of a third world title, he and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari could become the most dominant rivals in F1 annals, while Nico Rosberg must regroup next season.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Hamilton-Vettel duel poised to become the main contest while world title eludes Rosberg

LONDON • Lewis Hamilton gleefully joined the celebration breakfast with his Mercedes team on Monday but still had time to look over his shoulder at what may become one of the greatest rivalries in the history of Formula One.

Tasty as the bacon sandwich was, the real mouth-watering treat could come next season if the form book established by the Russian Grand Prix means anything.

Hamilton sauntered to victory in Sochi but in his wing mirrors was Sebastian Vettel.

The Ferrari driver overtook Nico Rosberg, Hamilton's team-mate, for second place in the world championship and the Briton wondered out loud if that meant that the two are set for a duel next season.

They are the leading drivers of their era. Vettel is a four-time world champion and Hamilton is on the threshold of a third title.

The parallel routes of their careers are astonishing.

They are both from humble backgrounds in backwater towns.

Vettel hails from Heppenheim, near Wiesbaden, while Hamilton is from Stevenage.

And they were born within a couple of years of each other, in 1987 and 1985 respectively. They both lucked into teams enjoying a period of extreme domination (Red Bull and McLaren) and are tied on 42 grand prix victories.

When Vettel swept all before him to become the youngest world champion at 23, Hamilton could not hide his frustration, even marching down to Red Bull to ask to be the German's team-mate.

Vettel walked out of Red Bull for Ferrari last year to discover a Scuderia bouncing back after seasons of disappointment.

Hamilton left McLaren to gamble that Mercedes were ready to win.

The gamble has paid off.

Mercedes were crowned the constructors' world champions on Sunday for the second time and Hamilton joined his team at their Brackley headquarters to celebrate the triumph.

He loved the adoration but there were no premature celebrations of a second consecutive world championship. Even so, he could not resist looking forward to next season as a three-time world champion and facing up to an old foe at F1's most famous team.

"Sebastian is an original," he said with a grin. "What you see is what you get - a great driver and a good personality. He's a fun lad.

"I'm looking forward to racing him for many more years."

Head of Mercedes Motorsport Toto Wolff is also relishing the contest between a world champion in the Silver Arrow against an opponent driving the famous Prancing Horse.

"It could be one of the great rivalries in the sport - in different teams," he said. "It is great for the sport and it is going to push us, as Ferrari are the team you want to be battling with. We expect them to be very strong next year."

The one man left out of this excitement was Rosberg, with his car failing him in Sochi after he had won pole position. He stands 73 points behind his team-mate with four races left this season.

But Wolff revealed that Rosberg has already set his sights on renewing his challenge next season - and becoming the third man in the 2016 world championship.

"As gutted as he might be now, Nico is realising that he's going to switch on to 2016 mode and try to bounce back next year," he said.

However, it will be a monumental task for Rosberg to muscle his way back between the two leading drivers of their generation.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'F1'S GREATEST RIVALRY ON THE RISE'. Print Edition | Subscribe