A week ago at the Malaysian Grand Prix, We had the very famous Vettel-Webber saga. Numerous assumptions, and conclusions were made by the pandits, and the die hard fans ever since, it’s something that has been talked about for a plenty of time. A clash with the teammate is considered as a biggest sin of any Team Sport. However, the way it’s handled by the Team is pretty different, especially if they are fighting for a championship. A small Team with no championship ambitions, always manages to calm down the situation, but the same Team, if they are fighting for a championship, and if there are clashes between the Teammates, it all goes haywire. Things like these show that, we are mere humans, blinded by ego, lust and the quest to achieve the fame. Only with experience, We seem to overcome the needless desire, and then calm down our ego, that arises at unforeseen circumstances...
It’s considered as a biggest sin of all, to clash with your teammate on track. Very Recently (No, Not that Webber-Vettel Saga again), Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta when both were teammates at Force India had a contact at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2012, where Di Resta had a puncture, and Hulkenberg suffered a suspension damage because of the contact, the team stressed on the fact that, they don’t want animosity between their drivers, and that they have to move on from the incident. Both, Di Resta and Hulkenberg are an exciting pair of drivers, and are future Champions of the Sport, the situation has been calmed down by the team, and they were back to racing again within no time.
"The thing to do is to find out what happened, who squeezed what where, shake hands and make sure it doesn't happen again. From a team point of view it's obviously the ultimate sin to have contact with your own team-mate. It's happened, we'll put it behind us, and there should be no animosity, that's the key thing. It's one of those things. We won't be the first team and we won't be the last team that happens to. But it's obviously regrettable because I think we could've had a reasonable race with both cars, whereas I suppose we have to be reasonably pleased we've recovered anything at all from that."
That’s a prime example of an situation that can be controlled, when of course, not being on the spotlight or fighting for an glory. It was ‘done and dusted’ kind of story. Both the drivers, have moved on from the incident, and this season Hulkenberg has left the Anglo-Indian Team for Sauber. But for sure, they made an exciting pair at Force India.
It’s not the first of the kind, We have seen many battles in the long history of Formula 1. But eventually, battle between the teammates is pretty important, it adds so much of spice to a story. A Teammate is someone who is an ideal benchmark, and defeating your Teammate will add more feathers to your cap, as you have sought an immediate recognition of being better than someone in your own backyard.
But wait, our morale, our ambition, and sometimes, even our attitude changes with our performance. Right?
Sometimes, plenty of us feel that, Formula 1 is actually a two tier sport. The midfield and the backmarkers, is all about acting ‘United’ as a Team, but then the Top 2 Teams blaze it for individual glory, and it becomes individual decisions, as they battle their own targets. No, it’s not only the Vettel-Webber saga, that showed us this form of attitude, the Prost/Senna saga was also a case of individual ambitions coming forward then the Team’s ambitions
“It would be a personal victory for me to convince Ayrton that there are more things in life rather than just racing” - Alain Prost (March 5th 1992)
This was one of the many incidents, where Prost and Senna took a dig at each other. The battle between these two drivers, who were arch rivals, and also a bitter teammates made headlines in the late 80’s and early 90’s. We have seen a lot about this never exhausting duel, and we have heard about it many times. But unlike the Webber-Vettel saga, which we might be bored in few days if not months, the duel between Senna/Prost had its own story, and added more spice every time they were out on track. Some would recall that, Prost had insisted Ron Dennis to sign Senna, the two had an amazing admiration, and a lot of mutual respect. With the championship on line, the relationship turned sour, they fought hard, sometimes clashed, but again went all guns blazing for the glory. The 1988 season was all about the dominance of McLaren-Honda partnership where they won 15 of the 16 races, but with the ‘Best of 11’ point system where the best 11 results of the championship, counted towards the world championship, it was Senna who edged out Prost by a mere 3 points, it would have been Prost edging Senna by 11 points had all the results counted towards the championship. The 1989 season saw the relationship turn even more sour, The Japanese Grand Prix saw the two teammates clash with each other, leading them towards an escape road, while Prost climbed out of the car, Senna with the help of marshalls rejoined the track, as they were trying to take out Senna from a dangerous position that he was into, as a result of that crash. In the end Senna won the race, only for the result to be turned down by the stewards who punished him for missing a chicane during that crash. This led to Senna making a harsh statements on Prost, where Senna stated that Prost was favored by all especially the F1SA President.
"As for the accident between us at the chicane, yes, I know everybody thinks I did it on purpose. What I say is that I did not open the door, and that's it. I didn't want to finish the race like that - I'd led from the start, and I wanted to win it. I had a good car; I'd been very bad in qualifying, compared with Ayrton, and I concentrated entirely on the race. In the warm-up I was nearly a second quicker than him, and for the race itself I was quite confident, even when he started catching me. I didn't want him too close, obviously, but I wanted him close enough that he would hurt his tyres; my plan was then to pus hard over the last ten laps. As it was he tried to pass - and for me the way he did it was impossible, because he was going so much quicker than usual into the braking area. I couldn't believe he tried it on that lap, because, as we came up to the chicane, he was so far back. When you look in your mirrors, and a guy is 20 metres behind you, it's impossible to judge, and I didn't even realise he was trying to overtake me. But at the same time I thought, 'There's no way I'm going to leave him even a one-metre gap. No way'. I came off the throttle braked - and turned in." - Prost
However, soon after Prost announced his retirement, Senna did his best to show the respect they have for each other. At Adelaide, In 1993, when Prost won the race, with Senna clinching the second spot, Senna put his arm around Prost, and shook hands with him on the podium ceremony. Prost later revealed that, he suggested the idea to Senna, a race before, as Prost had announced his retirement by then, and Prost thought that it would be a noble move to show a solidarity in front of the people, and the press
"Then we went to Adelaide, and finished first and second again. On our way to the podium afterwards, already he was starting to talk a little bit, and he said to me, 'What are you going to do now?' I was very surprised! 'I don't know yet', I said. 'You're going to be fat,' he sad, and he smiled. Then on the podium he put his arm round me, shook hands, and everything. Why? Because now it was his idea, and it was on his terms. OK, in any case, that was nice. But that was Ayrton - if it was his idea, fine; if not, forget it." - Prost
Prost also revealed later that, he and Senna would have plenty of conversations on the phone ever since his retirement, and Senna wanted him to be an active member of the sport to promote the Safety standards. Prost confessed that, both of them have an great respect, and it wouldn’t have been possible for them to be friends, but if they were to have an rivalry yet again, it could be so different
"Actually, I think it's not impossible that in time we might have become friends. We shared an awful lot, after all, and one thing never changed - even when our relationship was at its worst - was our great respect for each other as drivers. I don't think either of us worried too much about anyone else. And there were those times we did have fun together, you know. Not very often, but...”
If you look back now, it was a touching story, the saga of Prost/Senna would go on and on, it was all about sheer passion for racing, with no respect lost due to each other’s moves. As Prost says, we do lack that amount of excitement, and intensity now.
Around the same time, We had another exciting duel, it was between two other legendary drivers, Nelson Piquet Sr. and Nigel Mansell. Ironically, both the cases of Prost/Senna and Mansell/Piquet are related to Honda. Maybe we can go an extent and say, Honda caused severe displeasure between any two teammates, while fighting for the championships. Not literally though..
The origins of Mansell/Piquet saga started in 1986 when Sir Frank Williams had a severe accident, which left him paralysed. Williams already down from the major blow, that Frank Williams is not in a position to attend the races, tried to maintain peace, and harmony inside the team, with Patrick Head taking the helms of Frank Williams. The Williams Team won 9 Grand Prix over the course of the season, and was on the road to clinch the drivers championship at the last race, but unfortunately, Nigel Mansell suffered a puncture, and as a precaution, Piquet took the extra round of pitstop, which meant that Alain Prost won the Championship inspite of being in an inferior car. The 1987 season saw an inspired performance from Nelson Piquet, who went to win the championship, with his teammate clinching the runner up spot. Over the course of this season, Williams scored 137 points which was 61 points clear of second placed McLaren. But then, over the course of winter, several developments happened, as Piquet and Honda left the Team, leaving Williams to find a suitable replacement in the Turbo era, only to find a Naturally Aspirated Engine Supplier in the form of Judd.
No, that’s not the way this saga started. There were two versions of the story, as you would normally have, on one simple part, it was reported that Piquet was signed as the Number uno driver at Williams. It was evident that Williams had a far superior car in the 1986 season, and Mansell who was on a strong run, was favored by Williams as the Number uno driver. The absence of Frank Williams from the pitwall proved to be a big turning point of this whole scenario, as Patrick Head and co. couldn’t really do anything to defuse the tensions. Piquet who was sponsored by Honda, was upset with the scenario as Mansell was preferred for the Wins, and if the Team had favored Piquet as the Number one driver, they could have won the drivers championship as well. When situations turned sour in the following season, Piquet quite early in the season announced that he would be leaving the team to join Lotus, as their number one driver, Similar contract as to Williams that was not honoured. It is widely believed that Honda left the Team to the same reason as well.
On Mansell’s defence, it was Piquet who started the needless mind-games ahead of the season, by swearing at Mansell, and his family. Mansell went on to record 5 Grand Prix wins over the course of the 1986 season, the 1987 season was all about more emotional, and more exciting encounters between the duo, including a outstanding drive at the Silverstone Grand Prix. But in all, Mansell’s equal driver status was more of a favourable option, then favoring Piquet as the Number Uno driver, although the team could have done more in these two seasons.
Prost meanwhile reveals that the Japanese Supplier has its way of favoring a single driver over the course of the season.
“For '89, though, I was worried about Honda. And I think my biggest problem was that I never had the relationship with them that Ayrton did. From the beginning, it was something I never felt I had under control. I wouldn't have cared very much if they'd simply preferred one driver in the team - but the way they handled the situation was very difficult for me, because Senna and I had very different driving styles."
Imagine this, If Honda didn’t favor Piquet Sr. so much as they have done, would the results be so different, to what we saw during those times? We have to think that, it might be the case!
Piquet Sr. was such a hot aggressive driver, and by the records, he knows to play these mind games as well. If he didn’t had the backing of Honda, there was no way, he would have been so adamant at the Number uno status that he was demanding from a team, that was approaching his services.
We also wouldn’t be looking at the classic duel of Senna/Prost as well. But then, these things happened, and many of us would even look at their on track duels for plenty of times all over again.
There is also a case of individual pride within the Team, If a Team or a Teammate doesn’t follow the prior agreement that was in place, drivers that are affected with that scenario normally leaves the team, or tries to rewrite their lost fame. This sort of scenario is normally dangerous, as seen from the case of Gilles Villeneuve’s death. At the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix, due to other incidents, win for Ferrari was a guaranteed affair, the team ordered both the Ferrari drivers to slow down. Villeneuve’s Teammate Pironi, instead of opting to maintain position (as was believed by Villeneuve would be the situation), paid no heed to the order, and took the win. Villeneuve was furious with the whole fiasco, that he tried to prove a point at the Belgian Grand Prix, where aimed to defeat his teammate’s laptime. What followed was history, the death of Villeneuve could have been avoided. Pironi stated that the cars were ordered to slow down, and not to maintain position.
In an interview to AutoBlid, Jacques Villeneuve said, “It’s easy to make excuses but in the end, Vettel’s got the win and the points. Mark has nothing. It was a deliberate decision by Vettel.”
It was not the only time, when Ferrari was in a situation like this, Way back in 1966, When Ferrari could only build two cars for the 24-hours Le Mans race, John Surtees who was leading the championship at the time was omitted from the line up. Under the 1966 Le-Mans rule, only two drivers could drive a car, which meant that line up of Ferrari consisted of everyone else other then Surtees. Surtees was later told that, the injuries he sustained during the previous seasons, meant that he wasn’t physically fit to drive at Le Mans. Surtees decided to leave the team which didn’t value his efforts, and having lost his pride, he took up driving opportunities elsewhere. Ferrari who were sure of winning the championship, needlessly lost it.
No, We are not going to end the Ferrari’s ‘favoritism’ without mentioning the Michael Schumacher/Rubens Barrichello saga. The 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, where Barrichello was ordered to let Schumacher passthrough in the final lap, always echoes in our hearts. Schumacher tried to do a noble gesture by giving away his trophy to Rubens, but the team, and the drivers were fined heavily for disrupting the podium ceremony, and Ferrari were fined and criticized for the team orders.
Well again, lot of people have their own take at this story, Several people say that Michael was clearly a preferred driver, and that Rubens wasn’t given his due by the Italian Team. While some people hit back at Rubens and state that, Rubens is always number 2 because of his ‘lack of talent’, when compared to Schumacher.
“Without Schumacher there, Ferrari is a team that is worthwhile going to” Rubens Barrichello
Several other incidents have rocked the F1 world, where certain drivers have emerged as a clear favorite to a Team, and in favoring that person, his teammate is often highly degraded, and his performance is criticised. Several people still have claimed that, they haven’t got their due while being looked down under in circumstances where their teammate was preferred. Drivers leaving the team due to these ‘Hot circumstances where common even in early 2000’s. Jarno Trulli was a prime example of one such person, who in recent times, have quit a team for needlessly favoring a particular driver, and not getting a ‘on par’ driver status.
Jarno Trulli’s one last corner incident at French Grand Prix in 2005 wasn’t the reason for his departure from the French team, It has to be seen in a way that Alonso was faster then Trull on many occasions, Trulli was unable to digest this fact. His relationship with then team boss Flavio Briatore soured. This meant that, it was impossible for him to retain a contract for the 2005 season. But wait, Alonso was faster then Trulli in 2003, did Trulli had a go at Alonso in 2004? Yes. Podium at Spain, and Win at Monaco was the example of his improved performance. Was he able to maintain the performance in the second half of the season? No! The reason for his underperformance in 2004 is yet to be cracked.
For the last two races of the 2004 season, Trulli moved to Toyota Racing after deciding to leave the Renault Team prematurely. Probably his best stint in Formula 1 was at the Toyota.
When a team decides to go all out in supporting a driver, they really go to all extent, while some prefer to give their support to their number uno driver by offering improved wings, some decides to go to an even more extent, by just ordering their number 2 driver to throw away the race. By deliberate crashing. This saga was known as the ‘Singapore Crashgate scandal’, and Alonso’s team was involved in this famous saga. Nelson Piquet who was unable to keep up to the pace of Alonso, was reportedly in trouble at the end of the 2008 season, According to the Team boss and Technical Consultant Pat Symonds, it was Piquet’s idea to throw away the race. But later, both of them confessed their involvement, and Piquet who couldn’t cope up to the pressure, decided to plead guilty to his offense, and thus was offered immunity by the FIA. Piquet Jr. was never seen in Formula 1 ever again, although he reported, to have held talks with few teams ever since that incident.
In 2007, When Lewis Hamilton made his debut in Formula 1, it wasn’t just the case of any other rookie driver. Lewis was straight into the championship fight, and he was one of the contenders until the last race. But that was by no means an easy season for McLaren. Apart from the ‘Spygate Scandal’ that shook the Formula 1 world, McLaren were forced to deal with Alonso/Hamilton issues. After the Monaco GP, Lewis complained of the Team’s driver status, and that Alonso was being preferred as the Number 1 driver, and that he was playing a supporting role. FIA who were strict on team orders, ever since the 2002 incident, launched an inquiry, only to rule the case in the Team’s favour with the following statement. (Read Complete Info Here)
“McLaren were able to pursue an optimum team strategy because they had a substantial advantage over all other cars. They did nothing which could be described as interfering with the race result."
McLaren were dating with danger after each race, they ran into needless questions about the duo, and it was understood that Alonso’s contract wouldn’t be renewed at the end of the season. One major incident during the course of the season, was at the Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying, where Alonso held Hamilton deliberately during the pitstop, which meant that Hamilton couldn’t be back to do a timed lap. Alonso was served at with a grid penalty. These incidents dampened the mood at McLaren, who were already suffering from huge losses. It turned out to be a season to forget for McLaren.
When we look back at that incident, we have to wonder how these drivers, who are now regarded as the best of this era, messed up everything. For sure, the respect that Hamilton, and Alonso share is at the peak now. Both of them have moved on from that ugly spate of incidents.
(We have to wonder if the common enemy Vettel/Red Bull played a part in developing the relationship between these two drivers, the logic of enemy’s enemy is a friend logic, could have worked out here). Now, we are not talking as if both these drivers would even consider to be the teammates, but for sure, they understood each other’s character.
Over the years, when we look back at these incidents, the characters of the drivers involved, changed over the period of time. When they were at the peak of their time, they certainly were adamant to admit that, their teammate was faster, but things have changed when drivers moved on to other teams, or retired from the sport. The classic case of Prost/Senna is an example. The ego of many of these drivers, were boosted/altered by the team or an external agency like the Engine suppliers/Team’s Chief Advisor and so on. It’s not only to the driver’s trait, that they are reluctant to admit that their teammate is fast. These third person involved in the whole affair, has changed the dynamics of the duel between the teammates. If Piquet didn’t have the backing of Honda, We are not sure if he would have been so adamant, or would he have cooperated for the Team’s cause.
We are not trying to justify the actions of any particular Individual or a Team, but there are few things, that can be looked upon, and personalities associated with this sport should be better prepared, when they handle the crunch scenarios.
All over the years, there were teammates who bowed down to the Team’s cause, or understood the fact that, their teammate is better then them. David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen were an exciting combination during those times. On several occasions, Mika was slower or coulthard was faster, but in all, both played their own part for the Team’s cause. Of course, there was tensions within the Team, but it was sorted out, and moved on. During his last season in the sport, Mika Hakkinen showed a noble gesture by letting his teammate, to clinch a third position at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2001. This showed the amazing bond that the two shared during those tough seasons.
In the end, battle of the teammates is an never exhausting affair, Generally those drivers who are talented and quick do not have a problem, but when a driver is slower then his teammate, it becomes a problem if there are no prior contractual agreements in place. Although equal driver status is much appreciated by one and all, the top teams won’t find this practical enough. It’s always better to let one of your drivers enjoy the leadership, while the other collects points for the team, and plays a crucial role in building team’s success.
The problem arises, when there is no prior contractual agreements, and the team does it best to satisfies both or tries to act in that phase. Theoretically, its possible for a team to have two drivers with equal status, but then practically, if the Team isn’t capable enough to handle the tensions, there won’t be a point with this affair. The Team should be sound enough, to handle the tensions that may arise on driver equality, there shouldn’t be any external sources (Like the Engine Supplier or Chief Motorsport advisor for a team, and so on) who interfere in team’s affairs. The reason why the midfield teams, are often successful in diffusing tensions, is for the same reason as well, they need not please anyone, and the bosses do not have conflicting opinions. Thus, the drivers will normally move on from the incidents.
The drivers need to be sound in their opinion as well, lots of drivers do not get that they are Number 2, Yes, they are racers, and that’s why they are here, To Race with one and all. But if they aren’t fast enough, as compared to their teammate, they need to accept this fact. Normally, no Team tries to favour a driver at the start of the season (Unless specified), this is probably the best time for the driver to assess the pace, if they are slow when compared to their teammates, it would be better for them to understand then this, then fight their ego. For sure, we wouldn’t forget Barrichello, or Massa or even Coulthard. They were the better Number supportive drivers, and played for the team’s cause. It’s not that, they have never got their due, some of the drivers like the above trio, have got their chances at the championship, and are faster then the Number 1 driver, if the team realises this, this driver gets elevated to a special position, and spotlight is on them. We don’t need to go far back, Massa’s case in 2008 is an example of how an entire team, backs a driver for being supportive at various other stages of his stint in the team. Even when his form dropped, Massa was still supported, and various chances are given to him to ensure he fights back.
Yes, we all fight for glory, but the real person, and the real character is shown when they put their personal differences aside, and fight for a Team’s cause.
And for those drivers, who are treated unfairly by a team, it’s better for them to quit if they feel so, instead of sticking around, and waiting for an odd chance. Several others have done it in the past, but why are certain drivers sticking to their team, inspite of knowing that they are treated unfairly in this era?
For those, who stand by Webber, This is for them..
Yes, it’s been an amazing fact that Webber has discovered that Vettel is the clear favorite in the team. Well, some others know this, a couple of seasons back itself. So this is no news for them. But Yes, people like Webber deserves a lot more respect. I am not denying that the Team is trying their best to infuse equality within the team, but practically when someone as powerful as Helmut Marko backs a driver within the team, We are not sure how the others in the team will try and give equality status.
I am not sure, if Webber would have been a world champion by now, if he was in another team, but maybe, he could have been given an equal opportunity? (More then just on paper?)
But then, We have to understand that Webber has some flaws within him, that he needs to overcome as well. (Read More here)