Comparing drivers from different eras is not something I like doing, largely because it’s an entirely futile exercise. The cars, the tracks, the challenges and the circumstances differ so greatly that comparisons carry very little merit. The racing was entirely different in the 1950s for example, to that of today. So how could you compare Fernando Alonso say, to Juan Manuel Fangio? Or Jenson Button to Sir Stirling Moss?
All the recent talk of intra-team rivalry however, invariably turns to comparisons with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, the most visceral and intense rivalry of them all. I shudder at the comparison; Prost/Senna, I feel at first thought, was in a different league compared to today’s hot topic of Nico Rosberg versus Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-Benz’ blessing in disguise.
As an individual Nico is cleaner cut than his world champion father Keke, less physically robust with his car and perhaps he is similar in ways to Alain Prost; likeable and articulate away from the track but calculating and unforgiving on it. Lewis though, I’d say if pushed, is more Nigel Mansell-esque – both men are fearless, feisty and strong handed at the wheel, divisive and controversial away from it.
As a pair – as a rivalry – however, do Lewis and Nico compare with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna as many are suggesting?
As an increasingly bitter rivalry the Prost/Senna episode’s intensity has perhaps developed further since it’s conclusion upon Prost’s retirement at the end of 1993. It happens that way often; as time passes and sporting tales turn to legend, they often become embellished and revered more than at the time of their happening. Taking that into account, looking beyond the exaggeration and embellishment, 2014’s bitterest rivalry isn’t perhaps all too dissimilar to that of Prost versus Senna after all.
On one side of the garage stands an emotionally driven contender, equipped with a deep-rooted belief in his own ability as well as an unshakeable faith in a higher being. God won’t protect him from harm, he knows that, but God will shine a light on the path to success, he knows that too. Through his veins runs an unprecedented talent. In his mind exists a fragile nature, sometimes shaken easily by his emotions, but all this is forgotten when driving flat-out, quicker than all comers. His fame transcends the sport; he creates headlines across the globe as the world’s most sought-after and often misunderstood sportsman.
Across from him, preparing himself for the next race, is an intelligent, articulate and calculating man. Sifting through data he is fully focused on the race ahead, analysing all he can and learning constantly. He has no doubt about his own ability; he knows what he needs to achieve and what’s more he knows how he’s going to achieve it. He drives with his head, methodically, decisively and flawlessly. Perhaps he’s less popular than the other man, receives less press coverage but winning is all that matters, nothing else can shake the focus.
The pair may be branded with the same colours, perform for the same paymaster and they may have seen eye-to-eye in years gone by, but now the thorn of a world championship has come between them. Sure, they’ve made contact before and received criticism for it, but a world championship is at stake! It’s all out war!
Representative of Prost/Senna or Rosberg/Hamilton? You tell me, it could very well be either. So perhaps I’m wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time. Perhaps the comparison does carry some merit.
This latest rivalry may need time to develop in the same way as Prost/Senna, but there are signs it will. Could we be on the verge of witnessing the sport’s greatest tale, repeated?