Over a decade on from Sebastian Vettel’s first title winning season, the four-time world champion enters a new chapter with Aston Marin and is eager to uphold his reputation. Meanwhile, his old rival Fernando Alonso is making a return to the sport with the newly rebranded Alpine team after two years away racing at the Indy 500, Le Mans, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Dakar Rally.
Racing Point and Renault were part of a titanic midfield battle in 2020. A similar story is expected for the upcoming 2021 season, meaning Vettel and Alonso will be fighting for the same part of the track once again.
Vettel was the driver who stopped Alonso winning two titles during Red Bull’s four consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championship wins.
The first big duel between the champions came on the streets of Singapore in 2010. Alonso aggressively withstood Vettel’s challenge at the start of the Grand Prix before the pair traded fastest laps.
They left nothing on the table on one of the trickiest circuits on the calendar. Vettel pushed Alonso all the way in a 61 lap classic, intense tussle, finishing just 0.293 seconds behind the Spaniard.
Come Abu Dhabi, Alonso was favourite to win a third world championship. Vettel went into the finale in third place, 15 points behind Alonso. However, Ferrari opted to pit Alonso early to cover off Mark Webber, who was sitting in second in the standings.
Alonso and Webber came out in traffic after the one and only pitstop of the Grand Prix, while Vettel pitted later and had a relatively straightforward drive to victory. Alonso failed to overtake the Renault of Vitaly Petrov and finished seventh, handing the title to Vettel by four points. It was the first time the German led the championship that year, a feat matched by only two drivers who led the championship only after the final round – John Surtees in 1964 and James Hunt in 1976.
Ferrari were less of a threat to Red Bull in 2011 but Alonso fought back with arguably the best season of his F1 career the following year.
It looked like Ferrari would be uncompetitive in 2012 as Alonso regularly qualified more than a second behind Vettel. However, Alonso’s performances behind the wheel gave him a shot at the title, and he led the majority of the championship through consistency and maximising results despite having an inferior car.
The biggest on track scrap that season came at Monza. Alonso attempted to go around the outside of Vettel at the flat-out Curve Grande, a role reversal of a similar move 12 months before with Vettel overtaking Alonso, except this time Vettel forced Alonso onto the grass at over 300km/h.
Alonso avoided a big accident and managed to eventually get through three laps later whilst Vettel was given a drive-through penalty for his robust defending.
The rivalry between Red Bull and Ferrari was brewing as the title fight got closer and closer. Vettel was accused by Ferrari of blocking during qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix and Ferrari tactically triggered a gearbox penalty for Felipe Massa at the Circuit of the Americas to move Alonso one place up the grid and onto the cleaner side of the track.
A dramatic finale saw Vettel break Alonso’s heart again. A spin on the opening lap for Vettel put Alonso in a championship winning position, but the Red Bull driver nursed his damaged car up the order and did enough to win a third world title.
The shock in Alonso’s eyes post-race will go down as one of the most emotional moments in F1 history.
Alonso played the bridesmaid once more in 2013, watching Vettel claim a fourth title, but in 2014, the pair abruptly found themselves racing in the midfield.
At the British Grand Prix, Vettel and Alonso put on a show with an epic wheel-to-wheel battle. The Ferrari driver made Vettel’s life difficult and it was the first time Alonso defended particularly hard against Vettel.
There is a clear mutual respect between Alonso and Sir Lewis Hamilton- but the same cannot be said for Alonso and Vettel. Losing out on two titles by such narrow margins hurt Alonso, which is why his attitude towards Vettel has differed compared to other drivers.
In 2018, Alonso had more incidents with Vettel. Driving for McLaren, he aggressively squeezed Vettel onto the grass at the Chinese Grand Prix when overtaking the German.
Later in the year at Paul Ricard, Alonso spun after a close encounter with the Ferrari driver. Alonso said he “hoped Vettel had damage” after what he saw as a “stupid move” from his rival.
It’s been a long time since Vettel and Alonso had cars with similar performance levels, but 2021 should see these two greats battle it out over 23 races once more. Things could get feisty, and expect the intensity to rise if the champions find themselves near each other on the race track.