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At the risk of overusing the dankest meme from 2012: it’s happening!
It’s may have taken ten years to get here, but we finally have the career-defining battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel that we’ve waited so long for.
Just as Senna had Prost, Ali had Frazier, Federer had Nadal and James Hunt had cocaine, so Hamilton now has Vettel – a challenger to his greatness equally as formidable.
As much as Nico Rosberg was pushed as a legitimate foil for Hamilton over the past three years, you’d be hard-pressed to find an impartial observer who placed the German on par with him when taking into account the totality of their careers.
Sure, Rosberg had enough pace to win the 2016 championship, but even that took a string of reliability woes for Hamilton, and doesn’t cancel-out the memories of ’14 and ’15, when it was readily apparent he was of a lower calibre.
The same can’t be said of Vettel, who with four world championships to Hamilton’s three can make his own claim to being the greatest of this generation.
At Red Bull, he established a reputation for pure pace, dominating proceedings off the back of his myriad pole position starts. A difficult 2014 against Daniel Ricciardo certainly dented his reputation, but his stint with Ferrari – where he has been forced to display more of his supreme wheel-to-wheel skills – has proven his run of dominance was not simply a case of being in the right car at the right time.
Undoubtedly, it’s a challenge Hamilton relishes, admitting after Shanghai he was “looking forward” to the prospect of a Vettel/Ferrari challenge after splitting the first two races. The two both possessed race-winning cars in 2010 and 2012, but with the benefit of hindsight, we know they weren’t always matched for speed and reliability.
The 2017 season is our first chance to see them tested by each other – and by the looks of it, only each other – with the outcome inevitably colouring how we perceive them in the pantheon of all-time greats.
More than most other sports, the rarity with which such a clash of the titans comes about makes this a season to savour, regardless of what else happens on-track.
In just two races, we’ve seen enough evidence to launch a thousand arguments, and with 18 to go, expect things to grow even more heated. A hotly contested championship that ends with a decisive blow for either man would go a long way to deciding the matter, and thankfully, we just might get it.