Prost and Senna looking more cheery than usual on the Aussie Grand Prix podium in 1993. Pictures: Reuters.

London - I love the smell of napalm in the morning, as Bill Kilgore famously says in Apocalypse Now. It was a similar, strange whiff that Formula One awoke to yesterday after Sebastian Vettel threw a match on his rivalry with Lewis Hamilton.

Much as there was genuine outrage at the German’s behaviour in bashing Hamilton’s Mercedes in a fit of anger during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, there was also guilty relish in seeing the return to the kind of mano a mano contest that has provided grand prix racing with its most spellbinding narratives.

Up until Sunday’s conflagration, Hamilton versus Vettel had been nicey-nicey, two multiple champions cooing about the other, honoured to be pitted together at the head of the pack for the first time.

But suddenly we are looking at a hostility with echoes of Ayrton Senna-Alain Prost, Hamilton-Fernando Alonso, Nelson Piquet-Nigel Mansell - the list is long. Here are five of the biggest.

1. Ayrton Senna v Alain Prost

The standard by which all rivalries are judged. The pair, at the height of their remarkable talents, clashed in the final and penultimate races of 1989, when team-mates at McLaren, and 1990, Prost taking the title the first time, before Senna gained revenge a year later.

Nothing has quite matched the toxicity of Senna and Prost in the late eighties. "He has no value as a man," said Senna of Prost. "Ayrton’s problem is that he thinks God drives with him," retorted the French ‘Professor’.

2. Lewis Hamilton v Fernando Alonso

The new boy Hamilton against the reigning double world champion at McLaren in 2007 was a fiery affair. Alonso felt slighted by the team’s supposed favouritism towards the Brit. Alonso left at the end of the season, their relationship taking years to heal.

3. Michael Schumacher v Jacques Villeneuve

Locked in a to-and-fro battle in 1997, Schumacher turned his Ferrari sharply in on Villeneuve during the final race in Jerez. Schumacher was in the gravel and Villeneuve nursed his Williams home to the title. Schumacher was disqualified from the championship.

4. James Hunt v Jochen Mass

A tempestuous year at McLaren which saw Hunt collide with Mass in Canada. Hunt was out of the race. A marshal attempted to calm him down, but Hunt punched him. The Englishman yelled and waved at Mass every time the German went by.

5. Alan Jones v Carlos Reutemann

The Williams drivers despised each other. Reutemann refused to give way to Jones in Brazil in 1981. A few months later Reutemann sought to bury the hatchet, prompting Jones to reply: "I’d be happy to bury it - in your back."

Vettel-Hamilton feud "good for F1" says Bernie

"What happened in Baku is good all round," said Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One’s chairman emeritus, who has always understood the value of controversy.

Last year’s dynamic between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg mostly simmered behind the scenes. Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, recently lifted the lid on the antipathy by calling Rosberg the "vicious one".

Vettel has so far maintained he did nothing wrong in Baku - displaying a bit of the entitlement, if not derived from divine inspiration, that Prost accused Senna of showing. However, not everyone agrees Vettel was in the wrong on lap 19, when Hamilton, the race leader, drove slowly behind the safety car. Vettel ran into the back of him. Angered, waving his hands, Vettel then steered into the left side of Hamilton’s car.

Ecclestone, who watched the incident live in Baku, said: "I am certain Lewis slowed down to try to damage Sebastian’s front wing. Sebastian was understandably frustrated and he just gave Lewis a little message."

Niki Lauda, the Mercedes chairman, takes the opposite view. He knows more about heated rivalries than most. His one with James Hunt was immortalised in the film Rush. On top of that Lauda could not stand Ferrari team-mate Carlos Reutemann, whom he revelled in destroying on the way to claiming his second world title in 1977.

"It is simple," said Lauda. "Lewis did not brake. We looked at the data and he did not. He slowed, as he is allowed to do and Vettel was not alert to what was happening. Then Vettel did what he did. It really is not good.

"He deserved more than a 10sec penalty. This is not acceptable. Then he gets out of the car and says it is not his fault. He may look at it again and change his mind, but why will it have taken him so long?

"Lewis is unhappy. They should talk and sort it out like men. If they can’t do that, it will go on."

What depths will the animosity reach? Will it again go beyond verbal jousting and gamesmanship - such as when Piquet called Mansell an "uneducated blockhead" and hid the garage loo roll in Mexico in 1986 when his Williams team-mate had a stomach bug - and flare up at a higher speed than the virtual walking-pace brush on Sunday?

Wolff believes the rules of engagement have been changed radically. "What happened does not help their relationship," he said. "The gloves are off."

Notwithstanding Ecclestone’s reading of Sunday’s incident, Hamilton has rarely played dirty on track during his career. The triple world champion, who trails Vettel by 14 points in the title race, said: "This was obviously a different Sebastian from the one we saw in the first seven races and I like to think that I remained respectful. I will continue to do so. I want to do the talking on the track. I want to win this championship the right way."

Vettel always wanted to emulate Michael Schumacher and now he has - in a bad way. One of the traits that lies behind the cheery persona was hinted at when Mark Webber sarcastically nicknamed Vettel "Princess Petal" after the German ignored team instructions to turn down his engine in Malaysia four years ago during their Red Bull days.

Damon Hill was apparently deliberately driven into by Schumacher during their title decider in Adelaide in 1994, a precursor to Schumacher versus Jacques Villeneuve in Jerez three years later. "The 1994 incident was not too dissimilar to Sunday’s," said Hill. "I was told correctly by Barry Sheene, commentating on TV, not to say anything. 'Everyone could see what happened' Barry told me. I kept my powder dry.

"Lewis was circumspect after the race, but then said some more outspoken things later on. I think you should fight hard and be able to look each other in the eye and shake hands afterwards.

"We aren’t even halfway through the season and we have had a tension point. When it gets towards the end of the championship, there may well be more."