Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel: F1 rivals on favourite rivalries, animals and Max Verstappen

15 April 2021, 16:57 | Updated: 16 April 2021, 06:10

Lewis Hamilton has said his title battles with Sebastian Vettel were his favourite from Formula 1 history, as the generational rivals spoke about the past and present in the sport.

As part of a revised drivers' press conference line-up at the start of the Emilia-Romagna GP in which team-mates were separated, Hamilton and Vettel were selected by the FIA to appear alongside each other and fielded a wide range of questions - from the exciting Bahrain GP last month to F1's historic rivalries to, most unexpectedly of all, which animal they would each like to be.

One such question was about what driver duel they remembered with most fondness.

"I've got a really bad memory, but I'm going to go and say mine and Seb's battles were my favourite up until now so far," replied Hamilton.

Although at 36 Hamilton is three years older than Vettel, the pair have raced against each other since the junior categories and both started their F1 careers in 2007.

Their two direct title duels came in 2017 and 2018, when Vettel and Ferrari challenged the dominance of Hamilton/Mercedes and led the championships at mid-season before twice being overhauled.

While there were some on-track flash points - most notably Baku in 2018 when Vettel drove into Hamilton and earned a penalty - it was clear that the mutual respect only grew during this period.

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Elaborating on his reasons for calling it his favourite duel, Hamilton said: "Growing up and seeing some of the other battles, the one particularly that we lived through was watching Michael [Schumacher]'s dominance and his racing.

"I was so young watching the Senna era so I didn't get to remember too much of it. Of course, we saw the battles with him and Prost and you can see those today on video.

"But it's just knowing how hard it is to be where we are today, knowing that I was racing against an incredible driver and, not only that, a great man in Seb, a four-time world champion.

"And as we're racing against another team at the same time when he was at Ferrari, who were very strong at the time. It took a lot out of both of us I think in that period of time to remain focused, to deliver weekend in weekend out. Whilst it was a difficult period for us, it probably brought us closer as well because the respect we have between us is huge."

Vettel: Hamilton was 'smarter' in Verstappen battle

For the time being at least, Vettel is operating away from the absolute front-running limelight at the start of a new career at Aston Martin. Instead, Red Bull's Max Verstappen is emerging as Hamilton's latest big rival.

Vettel, underlining his respect for Hamilton, gave his verdict on how the seven-time champion overcame Verstappen's faster Red Bull at the Bahrain season-opener three weeks ago.

"I saw the highlights after the race and I think Max was faster, he had the better tyres at the end of the race, but Lewis was smarter and drove well, kept his head down and did what he had to do," said Vettel.

"I think he had in that regard nothing to lose and everything to win, and he came out and won, so it speaks for him. Max was faster and should have won the race and didn't win the race, and Lewis won the race. So, it's really Lewis who won the race."

Nonetheless, while round one in 2021 went the defending champion's way, the challenge posed by Verstappen and Red Bull is set to remain fierce all season.

Comparing the brewing battle with the 23-year-old Verstappen to those with Vettel, Hamilton added: "It's different now if I'm racing with Max. He doesn't have the background that Seb has but he's obviously got the chance of being a future champion.

"Whether that's now or later depends on the job that ultimately the team and I do."

Hamilton expressed hope "it is exciting for the fans and it's all it's cracked up to be" through the campaign, which continues at Imola this weekend.