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Head-to-head: 8 of the best battles on American soil

17 Oct 2016

This weekend the best gunslingers on the grid will face off in another Texas showdown. In anticipation, we present eight of the best battles from Austin's Circuit of The Americas and beyond...

Lewis Hamilton vs Fernando Alonso, Indianapolis, 2007

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Thrown together at the start of 2007, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton were supposed to form a new McLaren dream team: the double world champion and the home-grown starlet. But by June the relationship was already showing serious signs of strain, and nowhere was this better exemplified than at Indianapolis where a week after claiming his maiden Grand Prix win in Canada, the apprentice once again defeated the master in a race-long battle - much to Alonso’s chagrin. Fastest in every practice session as well as Q1, Q2 and large sections of the race, the Spaniard had no answer as Hamilton coolly controlled matters from pole, the key moment coming on lap 38 as the rookie bullishly kept Alonso at bay into Turn 1. A subsequent swerve towards the pit wall on the following lap was explained away by Alonso as an attempt to cool the car by getting out of his team mate’s slipstream - but it looked for all the world like a gesture of frustration from a driver increasingly at odds with both his team and the situation in which he found himself.

READ MORE: Alonso and McLaren the first time around 



Jean Alesi vs Ayrton Senna, Phoenix, 1990

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As season-openers go, the 1990 United States Grand Prix was a bit of a belter, and the undoubted star of the show was Jean Alesi. Competing in just his ninth F1 race, the Frenchman, buoyed by his Pirelli tyres' single-lap pace, qualified fourth before exploding off the line and into the lead at the first corner - the first time his Tyrrell team had led a race for almost seven years. But as Alesi held onto P1, and team owner Ken Tyrrell smirked in delight, so McLaren’s Ayrton Senna, who’d started directly behind him, began to move to the front. By lap 34 the vivid red and white machine was right on the Tyrrell’s tail and a lead change seemed inevitable - but no one could have predicted what would come next. Into Turn 1, Senna dived inside his Cosworth-powered rival, but to his (and the watching world’s) great surprise Alesi audaciously squeezed back through at the following left hander - behaviour Senna certainly wasn’t accustomed with. The great Brazilian would make the same move stick a lap later, this time wisely covering the inside, but by then Alesi - who would eventually finish a fine second - had already created a major career-propelling buzz.

 

Verstappen vs Raikkonen and Vettel, Austin, 2015

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Speaking after last year’s Grand Prix in Austin, Max Verstappen described it as his ‘most complete race so far’ - and it was easy to see why. It wasn’t simply that he finished fourth, it was the manner in which he did it, fearlessly scrapping with faster cars in tricky conditions and barely putting a foot wrong. Kimi Raikkonen was the first to be brushed off by the teenager, the Iceman struggling to find a way through before complaining bitterly about the Dutchman’s tactics over team radio - a familiar refrain in 2016. Incredibly, Verstappen then passed the other Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel with an opportunistic move into Turn 11. He would quickly relinquish the position again after running wide, but by then his performance had been noted. “Max did an extraordinary job,” was Toro Rosso chief Franz Tost’s assessment, and it was hard to argue.  

 

Villeneuve vs Rosberg, Long Beach, 1982

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As far as heavyweight contests go, Gilles Villeneuve’s street fight with fellow swashbuckler Keke Rosberg at Long Beach in 1982 was right up there. Over the course of several laps the duo staged a fierce (albeit fair) fight over fourth place, with each leaning on the strengths of his respective car: massive horsepower for Villeneuve in his turbo-powered Ferrari; nimble handling for Rosberg in his normally-aspirated Williams. Rosberg initially nosed ahead on lap 19, ducking under Villeneuve in one of the twistier sections of track, but the Canadian quickly undid the Finn’s hard work by booting back past again on the long drag of Shoreline Drive. Denied once, Rosberg made the same move a lap later, and this time Villeneuve’s dogged attempt to get back in front resulted in him taking a spin. The Canadian, who would sadly lose his life just two races later, eventually finished behind the Finn in third, only to lose that position when Tyrrell protested his Ferrari’s double width, split section rear wing - an unusual solution which the Scuderia had ironically only introduced to make a point about unfair interpretations of the technical regulations. 

 

Coulthard vs Schumacher, Indianapolis, 2000

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Given past history there was a certain irony to Michael Schumacher commenting on driving standards at the business end of a championship campaign, but after taking victory in the 2000 race at Indianapolis the German believed he had a legitimate gripe. Passed off the line by David Coulthard’s jump-starting McLaren, the Ferrari star accused the Scot of then driving deliberately slowly in order to back him into the other McLaren of title rival Mika Hakkinen. After several laps of squabbling Schumacher eventually passed Coulthard, but only after an extremely close moment at Turn 1. "David ran in such a way where something could have happened - he didn't try to avoid the problem,” fumed Schumacher. “As he is not fighting me for the championship, I don't know what his thoughts were.” But Coulthard, who served his jump-start penalty shortly after the incident, was unrepentant. "I could have easily pushed him off the circuit, but I didn't and I won't in the future because it is not sporting and it is not the way I do things,” he said. "I tried to give him as much room as I could and, considering he is not fighting me for the world championship, it was a ballsy move…”

 

Senna vs Mansell, Detroit, 1986

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The 1986 Detroit Grand Prix - held on the twisting, concrete-lined streets of Motor City - is best remembered for Ayrton Senna’s mesmeric fightback to victory from an early puncture, but in the early stages of the race it looked like he’d be hard pressed to beat Nigel Mansell’s Williams. The Brit had passed Senna’s black Lotus at the start of lap two after the Brazilian had uncharacteristically missed a gear, but after building a decent lead Mansell eventually fell back into Senna’s clutches when he began to suffer brake issues. “I'd really been taking it easy and at first I thought I must have glazed the rear pads by not using them hard enough,” said Mansell. “After that I sometimes had brakes, sometimes not, which is a bit nerve-wracking at a place like this with walls everywhere…” For a couple of laps Mansell bravely hung on to his lead under increasing pressure, but at the beginning of lap eight Senna slipped past, thereby ending an increasingly titanic lead battle prematurely. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted…

 

Hamilton vs Rosberg, Austin, 2015

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The battle for supremacy has swung back and forth between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg over the past three years - but rarely has it swung as much in one race as it did at Austin last year. It was Rosberg who claimed pole, but Hamilton who took the lead in slippery conditions at the start, forcefully squeezing his team mate wide at Turn 1. But as the track dried, so Rosberg reclaimed the ascendancy, passing Hamilton on worn intermediate tyres before racing into the lead. But there was to be one further twist in the tail: with just seven laps to go, Rosberg, under pressure from Hamilton, picked up wheelspin out of Turn 12 and slithered off the road. In an instant Hamilton went by: the win - and the world title - was his. “I can't explain it - it's unbelievable,” said Rosberg. “To nearly spin by myself coming off a corner - I don't understand it. My mistake cost me the win.”

 

Rubens Barrichello vs Michael Schumacher, Indianapolis, 2004

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Finishing second to Michael Schumacher was something that Rubens Barrichello became accustomed to in his days as the German’s ‘number two’ at Ferrari - but some second places were harder to take than others. “More than ever, I thought I had the win in my hands," the Brazilian rued after losing out to Schumacher at Indianapolis in 2004 - and he was right. Starting from a hard-earned pole position, Barrichello led until making a mistake and being jumped by his team mate on a safety car re-start - a move which meant Schumacher was serviced first when the duo pitted together under a subsequent safety car. With the Brazilian having lost time, fans might have expected normal service to be resumed, and for Barrichello to diligently follow Schumacher home, but for once the duo duelled for supremacy, with the former brilliantly catching and attacking his team leader. "Today was a hard work-out," admitted Schumacher afterwards. "Rubens pushed very hard, he was quick all weekend and I wasn't really expecting the win today. I thought I would have to settle for eight points."

 

Main picture: LAT Archive