Keeps your friends close...
“There is no I in team” is an oft quoted expression that many F1 drivers could be reminded of, particularly when on the home straight of a hard fought season. Trouble is, no matter how hard team managers might try to remind them, it seems to falls on deaf ears.
Last year the lack of brotherly love twixt Rosberg and Hamilton was there for all to see and the mind games that came with it only added to the tension between the two Mercedes protagonists. As every driver is keen to remind one, the first person you want, no need to beat, is your team mate. Then you can set about the rest.
This year things are slightly less fractious among the Silver Arrows. Bottas keeps his counsel and his cards close to chest as all his fellow Finns do. And Lewis generally seems super chilled and a man seemingly on the top of his game, that’s no surprise. But you can’t help wondering if a couple of victories for Bottas and some DNFs for Hamilton might reveal the true man, one that even the likes of Messrs Lauda and Wolff would be able to temper if Valterie scents a world championship coming within his grasp.
In contrast, the desire to win at all costs seems more acute within other teams on the F1 grid. Christian Horner is of course no stranger to fractious racers. Keeping the lid on the volcano of the Vettel/Webber relationship was no easy task, though no doubt he was ably assisted by the menacing shadow of Helmut Marko looking over his shoulder at the recalcitrant duo. Yet even the threat of fire, brimstone and other forms of retribution that must have be pointed in their direction seemed to do little in damping the flames. And now Horner’s sense of deja vu might be beginning to haunt him…
In the red corner we have Verstappen. Young. Impetuous. Fearless. And not without a large lump of talent behind the wheel. And focused in way that is way beyond what one might normally expect of an eighteen year old.
Then in the blue corner we have another feisty Aussie (what do they feed them on?). A seemingly charming young man by the name of Ricciardo. Except, despite a smile that is wider than the bite radius of a great white, there hides a man who is definitely not a good loser. And especially not to his precocious team mate. Of course this year the stakes aren’t so high for the Red Bull duo as the best they can probably hope for is a fifth and sixth at the end of the season. But the fight for who takes the top spot will still be hard fought with no quarter given. In fact the intensity with which Verstappen races puts us in mind of a certain Brazilian who also mesmerised us with his talent.
Remember 1993 and Donington in the wet? On the first lap Senna overtook Michael Schumacher, Karl Wendlinger, Damon Hill and Alain Prost and drove onto to victory in conditions that even had ducks heading for cover.
Now think of Verstappen’s drive on Senna’s homeground in the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix which was, as Toto Wolff described it “a redefinition of the laws of physics”. Not content with that performance the the young pretender repeated that performance this year in the Chinese Grand Prix where on the first lap he moved from 16th to 7th in similarly atrocious conditions. No doubt to the chagrin of young Daniel Ricciardo.
But one senses that maybe Daniel is a slightly more complete package than his compatriot or at least his ability to put his off days in box and firmly close the lid helps him handle the ups and downs of racing more effectively. But maybe we’ll only be able to judge that when there’s a Championship title at stake.
Elsewhere on the grid, the festering feud between Force India team mates (did we say mates?) Ocon and Perez has become downright ugly. Some might say even dangerous. Banging wheels and walls at 180 plus heading into Eau Rouge is hardly the way to chum up to your team mate. As it says on the ticket “Motor Racing can be dangerous”, but you don’t normally expect it to be an inside job that threatens your good health!
The fact is that the road to victory can often leave a trail of ill feeling blowing down the finishing straight. The incredible antagonism between the aforementioned Ayrton and Alan Prost is the stuff of legends. Their coming together as team mates at Suzuka in 1989 was none to helpful in fostering friendships between them. Then when Senna repeated the offense at the very same track a year later, Prost was to say the least justifiably upset…
So as tension mounts and the opportunities to score points reduces race by race, many eyes must turn to the Ferrari duo of Vettel and Raikkonen. Vettel we know has form when there is the threat of being turned over by a team mate and Kimi too can play hard man with the best of them. But somehow one senses a fairly easy truce amongst the pair. Or maybe it’s a case of chequebook diplomacy? After all who wouldn’t turn down the opportunity of topping up your pension fund by playing tail end charlie to a multiple world champion. For sure it didn’t do Barrichellos bank balance any harm.
And maybe that is where Ferrari are a better strategists. Concentrate on getting one man across the line first rather than dividing your efforts across two. It certainly worked with Schumacher, so why not with Vettel? Whether this season will prove the case waits to be seen. But remember Hamilton ceding third place to Bottas in Hungary? Somehow can’t imagine Vettel or indeed Ferrari agreeing to such a move.
Right or wrong? Not sure anyone is in the right place to judge. After all morals and Formula One have never been comfortable bed fellows and brotherly love might prove very expensive come the end of the season. Perhaps putting our faith in that other saying of “may the best man win” will resolve the championship with a satisfactory outcome for all?
Published on 31st August 2017