Lewis Hamilton-Sebastian Vettel: Why have they never gone head-to-head for the F1 world title before?
The disjointed history of Hamilton v Vettel in Formula 1
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 01/04/17 9:44am
The Australian GP was the 179th time Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have shared a Formula 1 starting grid, yet one curious anomaly surrounds their rivalry: the absence of a head-to-head, season-long battle for the world title.
They are the 2017 grid's most successful drivers, but Hamilton and Vettel have still never yet finished first and second to each other in the same Drivers' Championship after 10 seasons apiece in F1.
And that's despite winning six of the last seven championships between them.
"It's been a privilege to be racing in an era with him and now finally at a period of time when we can actually have a real race," said Hamilton in defeat to Vettel in Melbourne last weekend, as the 2017 season-opener offered up the tantalising prospect that two of the sport's greats could finally be set to slug it out in comparable machinery on a regular basis.
But why hasn't it happened before?
A glance at the record books would suggest the last decade of F1 has been all about Vettel and Hamilton, but Lewis v Sebastian has certainly not yet produced the same intense duel as Ayrton v Alain, Mika v Michael, or even Lewis v Nico.
Hamilton and Vettel in F1
|Races in the same field||179|
|One-two on grid||24 times|
|One-two in race||13 times|
|One-two in championship after race||11 times|
|One-two in championship at end of season||0 times|
Of the 10 seasons they've each contested, seven of the world titles have been won by one or the other - four for Vettel and three for Hamilton.
And of the 189 races which have taken place since the start of 2007, when Hamilton's record-breaking rookie year began, the Briton or Vettel - who made his race debut three months into that season - have won 96 of them, just over 50 per cent.
In qualifying they've been even more dominant: Hamilton or Vettel have been on pole 57 per cent of the time over F1's last decade.
"He's proven to be one of the quickest drivers on the grid and for sure I would love to have a close battle," remarked Vettel last weekend.
"Obviously right now it looks like we have equal machinery. I hope it stays that way and then we will see how it turns out but it's obviously a lot of fun to race for victories and a lot of fun to race against the best."
F1 supremacy often runs in cycles and Vettel and Hamilton have each found themselves in the right place at the right time: the German with Red Bull between 2010 and 2013, and Hamilton at Mercedes over the subsequent three years.
Hamilton v Vettel season-by-season
|Lewis Hamilton||Sebastian Vettel|
|2007||2nd||14th (eight races)|
In the first of those years, 2010, they both headed to the Abu Dhabi decider in contention for the championship as the two mathematical outsiders in what remains the sport's only four-way title decider.
But Hamilton's prospects were only ever remote. He finished second to Vettel in both qualifying and the race, but it was the German who overcame a points deficit to Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber to claim his first drivers' crown.
The prospect of Vettel v Hamilton intermittently returned between 2011 and 2013 but with Red Bull generally enjoying a car advantage, and Alonso, Webber, Jenson Button and latterly Nico Rosberg also taking race wins, it never took off.
Hamilton against Rosberg and the fight for supremacy at Mercedes then claimed almost exclusive top billing when a 2014 rules change brought Red Bull's dominance - and therefore Vettel's - dominance to an abrupt halt.
But that's not to say Hamilton and Vettel haven't crossed paths to significant effect when the world title has been on the line before.
After all, Vettel, then making a big name for himself with Toro Rosso, nearly scuppered Hamilton's 2008 title bid when he overtook the then-McLaren driver with two laps to go in the heart-stopping conclusion to the Brazilian GP.
Felipe Massa would have been champion had Hamilton then not passed Timo Glock at the final corner in F1's latest of late title victories.
Hamilton v Vettel career stats
|Lewis Hamilton||Sebastian Vettel|
Recalling that very race last weekend in Melbourne while sitting next to Hamilton in a jovial post-race press conference, Vettel said: "I think it was a matter of time before he won the World Championship which I tried to stop him doing in Brazil, as hard as I could, in my Toro Rosso.
"Great memories - but I don't remember the last 10 years. Roughly we've been racing each other but if I have the same outcome as you had on that day..."
To which Hamilton replied: "I'm going to get you back."
So is this finally the season when two of the sport's greatest drivers finally get to duke it out in a generational duel?
With mutual respect between the multiple champions seemingly growing all the time, and Hamilton and Vettel both into what are traditionally regarded as a Formula 1 driver's peak years, it appears the pair want it just as much as the fans.
After an Australian appetiser, F1 2017 now has to deliver.
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