Where one grudge match ended, another one started. If the latter part of the 20th century's racing history had to be condensed into one race and one movie, this should be it. Equal cars, equal chances of winning, 17 (!) shared (future or past) F1 World Championship titles and much more. The 1984 Nürburgring Mercedes-Benz race.
Rivalries make racing interesting and a stuff of legends. You could cite spectacular battles on track, but they would not necessarily tell a story. A rivalry progresses, builds up, reaches a climax, explodes and slowly everyone rides into the sunset. One race, though, sticks out as the perfect cross-section to the greatest conflicts in racing.
On the 12th of May, 1984, Mercedes-Benz pulled a publicity stunt by entering 20+ W201 190e saloon cars to race at the rebuilt Nürburgring and invited a good deal of past F1 champions to close the old era and start a new one.
The old era - in fact - closed a few years earlier when Niki Lauda crashed his Ferrari and almost died to his burns on 1st August, 1976 while chasing James Hunt "like an asshole". The 14 miles of the 'Green Hell' had been much criticised even up to that point and as a result to the crash, F1 never returned to the treacherous circuit due to safety measures.
Lauda and Hunt - both of them World Champions now - found themselves on the same spot but at a vastly different track to revive some of their rivalry in equal cars, but they weren't alone on the grid.
One of the entrants - Emerson Fittipaldi - pulled out of the race as he was preparing for his first Indianapolis 500 entry, two weeks away from the Nürburgring event. Instead, a young fellow countryman, a newcomer to Formula One was entered - one Ayrton Senna de Silva.
The young gun had to pick a fight with eight other former World Champions and other legends - including his future arch-rival, Alain Prost - in a 12-lap sprint, beating all of them - battling Niki Lauda for the lead - taking aggressive lines at the damp track, finishing first.
John Surtees remembered the rising star quite vividly:
Three weeks later, five people of the same grid lined up for the start of the Monaco Grand Prix in torrential rain. Senna rushed through the field in his unworthy Toleman car, passing Lafitte, Lauda, Rosberg to battle Prost for P1 until the very last moment when the race was called off - while James Hunt was sitting in the commentary box - starting another great chapter in Formula One history.
Only if the organizers of the Nürburgring race knew what the importance of their event was, they would have stuck cameras everywhere - in retrospect being one of the most important races in all of motor sports.
images are of Creative Commons licence (except the timesheet - of unknown source, taken from here)