Overtaking your team-mateby Andrew Frankel on 1st April 2014
Of all the things making me smile in 2014-spec F1, what’s spreading my grin furthest across my face, is the resurgence of Williams the year after the worst in its history.
I know that having a Mercedes powertrain has played a big role and I fear that the money, technology and other resources of bigger teams will start to tell over time, but for now Williams lies fourth in the constructors’ championship. And if it can cling to that position to the season’s end, it will match their best finish in the last decade.
Briefly however towards the end of the Malaysian Grand Prix I feared Williams’ happy start to the season might be shattered into a thousand fragments of carbon fibre as the young Valtteri Bottas tried to pass his not so young team-mate Felipe Massa to enable him then to have a crack at Jenson Button.
Bottas was clearly quicker than Massa – he’d started five places further down thanks to a grid penalty – but when towards the end of the race his team-mate was the next car up the road, he swiftly closed the near 10 second gap between them. He arrived on Massa’s tail to find his team-mate closely shadowing Button, but never really looking like getting close enough to pass.
Then and as you will know, Massa was told rather bluntly to clear out of Bottas’s way, an instruction he ignored. What stopped the potential for it to end in tears was Bottas being told not to try to overtake an uncooperative Massa, an instruction the young Finn duly heeded.
Instinctively my sympathies lay with Bottas. He was clearly both quicker than Massa and had during the course of the race been better at overtaking. If either of them had a chance of getting past Button and earning a further four championship points (one fewer than Williams accrued in the entire 2013 season), that chance lay with Bottas. And while I didn’t care for the manner in which Massa was told to step aside, I thought his refusal to do so was almost as inelegant.
With the best will in the world, Massa is not Vettel, whose pace and record makes his team tolerate his refusal to abide by team orders that do not suit him. Nor is Williams exactly Red Bull, even now. Massa is a driver seemingly some seasons past his potentially championship winning best, driving for a team just starting to rebuild after a simply catastrophic season. He should remember who’s paying his salary, be mindful of his stature as the senior driver and set an example.
In short he should have pulled over. Or so I thought.
I tweeted something to this effect and was roundly turned upon. ‘Call yourself a racer, Mr Frankel?’ raged one to whom the rather obvious reply of ‘no’ seemed somewhat redundant. Certainly among that small constituency of enthusiasts kind enough to follow what I post, this was one call I had clearly got wrong.
Puzzled not so much by the reaction as its strength I pulled out a card it is my happy lot to be able to play once in a while. I called Sir Stirling Moss.
Stirling hails from an era where the term ‘team-mates’ meant exactly that: you worked for and for the good of the team. He would understand. So I suggested to him that surely if he’d been in the same situation he’d have moved across. “Not a chance, boy,” came his unequivocal reply.
He was good enough to elaborate. “If it’s not written into the contract that you must let your team-mate through, you’re racing him as much as anyone else on the track – and if it were in the contract I wouldn’t sign it. I only made an exception for one person and that was for Fangio and out of respect.”
He continued: “There might be other grounds, later in the season if only one of you has a shot at the title but this was race two! In his shoes I’d have done exactly the same as Massa.”
Which really did put me back in my box. Even so, I have been impressed by Bottas so far this year and I’ll back him now to finish the season with not only a stack of points, but a stack more than his team-mate – whether he moves over or not.