Nigel Roebuck

Reflections
– Why team-mates rarely co-exist in harmony
– Max Mosley’s “last big project” in Formula 1

Bernie Ecclestone was ever to the point.

“I remember years ago, when Senna and Berger were team-mates at McLaren, I sat down with Gerhard once, and he was nearly in tears. He said to me, ‘I’m going to stop’. He said that if he closed his eyes, and dreamed the most incredible lap of his life, he knew he’d come in and they’d tell him he was 1.4 seconds slower than Senna. I said, ‘Look, this is what you do. Ignore Senna – he doesn’t exist. Get on and race – in your mind it’s for first place, even though actually it’s for second. Forget him, and worry about the other people. Maybe you’ll get lucky – sometimes he won’t finish, or whatever, and then you’re in good shape. But if you start thinking about him, then you’re history – you’re bloody good, but you’re not that good. He’s better than anybody else, and that’s it. Forget the guy…’”

As anyone who has ever done business with him will tell you, Ecclestone is not one to waste time on niceties. Years ago, for reasons that made sense to Bernie while escaping the rest of us, Formula 1 ventured to Aida, a privately-owned circuit in the middle of Japanese nowhere, so small and tight it was considered unsuitable even for the local F3000 series. We went there in 1994 and ’95, after which it disappeared into the ether. Why, I asked Flavio Briatore one day, did we never go back?

Briatore, a close friend of Ecclestone, shares his knack of getting quickly to the point: “Mr Tanaka very rich man, then he meet Bernie, now not so rich…”

When Ecclestone told me of his advice to Berger, clearly he saw it as no more than commonsense. “Business is like blackjack,” he said. “Half the secret is knowing when to fold.”

A gambler by nature, Bernie doesn’t fold very often, as history shows, but he insists that it is vital to recognise when a situation is irretrievable. Hence his words to Berger, his suggestion that he simply face reality.

And in time Gerhard took his advice. When first he joined McLaren from Ferrari, he admits today, he was so intent on beating Senna that he tried to ape him in every way. Always the consummate party animal, with a keen eye for the ladies, now he concentrated on his fitness like never before and began to live – by his standards – like a monk.

“He’s a McLaren driver now,” one team insider murmured. “We’ve changed his chip…”

In his first Grand Prix for the team, at Phoenix in 1990, Berger took pole position six-tenths faster than Senna. But long before half-distance Senna, who had done no winter testing whatever, was into the lead, gone.

It continued that way, and Berger became increasingly depressed until the day came – perhaps after the pep talk from Ecclestone – when he faced the fact that Senna was simply better, and that was the end of it. Once he had done that, he went back to being Gerhard again, to living as he had before, and his driving was all the better for it. Over time the team benefited, too, for he taught Ayrton how to laugh – “It was as if he’d had a sense of humour all along, but never used it before” – and ultimately the two became close friends.

“The older I get,” goes the old joke about racing drivers, probably originated by Frank Gardner, “the faster I was…” Invariably such is the way of it, but Berger’s attitude to life enabled him to accept reality and, unusually, to do it while still an active F1 driver.

Retired drivers, I have long thought, are so much more entertaining than current ones. For one thing, freed of the shackle of contracts, PR obligations and the like, they speak without fear, and will happily confirm that, yes, so-and-so was an unscrupulous bastard, and so on. For another, they have a tendency to rewrite history.

Thus, I was more surprised than I should have been to read a comment by Alan Jones, interviewed by Simon Taylor elsewhere in this issue:

“All the stories that [Carlos] Reutemann and I hated each other are bullshit. He was no different from any of my team-mates…”

It’s a fact that drivers tend to mellow as they get older, but Jones, blithely unaware of political correctness, has retained more of a feisty edge than most. Hence I was taken aback by his recollection, nearly 30 years on, of life and times with C Reutemann.

I went back to my tapes, and found one recorded that same season. At one point Alan discussed his disappointment at Frank Williams’s decision to drop Clay Regazzoni, whom he replaced with Reutemann.

“I never wanted Reutemann there in the first place,” said Alan. “We’d had a great year in ’79 with Clay – he won a race, and got a bundle of points for Frank, plus he was quite content to be number two and fun to be with. When you’ve got a good picture on the TV, why change it?”

Jones and Reutemann went through their first year together, 1980, with a certain coolness, but no real animosity. Early the following season, though, they went to Rio, and there on a wet afternoon the Williams ran 1-2 throughout, Reutemann in front. Under the terms of his contract, Carlos should have been second to Alan, but in the closing stages he thought it through and decided he wanted to be first.

Jones was highly unimpressed. “I’d like to think that, when you shake hands and sign contracts on a cold December morning, the other bloke doesn’t pretend a couple of months later that it never happened. If he didn’t like his contract, he shouldn’t have signed it. If the same circumstances arise again, well, I wouldn’t want to be Frank Williams, that’s all…”

To his credit, Reutemann was disarmingly candid when he spoke of that day in Rio. “Jones had reason to be upset – I can’t disagree with that. I knew the terms of the contract, but still I was in a dilemma, because always I’d started a race with the intention of winning. ‘If I give it away now,’ I thought to myself, ‘I stop the car here and now and leave immediately for my farm in Argentina. Finish. Not a racing driver any more.’”

We got to the last race of the season, in Las Vegas, after which Jones was due to retire, and I asked him which of the World Championship contenders – Reutemann and Nelson Piquet – he favoured to take the title. “Couldn’t care less, mate,” he grinned. “Can’t stand either of them…” And with that, he dominated the Grand Prix and took his leave.

The study of team-mates in Formula 1 is endlessly fascinating, and essentially never changes. In these days of pasteurised press releases, never a harsh word is publicly said, but tricky situations – and night follows day – can only be manicured to a point. One wonders how a contemporary PR would have coped with post-race events at the 1937 Tripoli Grand Prix, when Luigi Fagioli, having signalled his discontent with Mercedes team-mate Rudolf Caracciola by hurling a wheel hammer at him, had to be wrestled to the ground and restrained by, among others, team manager Alfred Neubauer.

In many ways, it is unrealistic to expect team-mates to get along on more than a superficial level, for in how many professions, after all, is your performance instantly compared, most days of your life, with someone else’s? Back in 1961, when he and Ferrari team-mate Wolfgang von Trips were fighting for the World Championship, Phil Hill summed it up like this: “Face it, it’s not a normal situation. You try to beat the other guy on the circuit all day – and then at night you’re supposed to forget all that…”

It’s a fact that Jones got along well with Regazzoni, but perhaps the real clue to his enthusiasm for him as a team-mate lay in his remark that Clay was ‘quite content to be number two’.

Undeniably, that was the case. I can think of few racing drivers – none, in fact – who loved the sport more purely than Regazzoni. “You must understand,” he said to me once, “that, for me, it’s not a matter of winning all the time – I’m quite happy just to be part of Formula 1, to drive racing cars. I consider myself a good professional, but if I have a big fault, it’s that I am not ambitious enough.”

Regazzoni always stood high in the affections of Frank Williams: “Not the greatest driver, but superb on his day, more than just a number two, and a happy, uncomplicated man. Clay was very different from most racing drivers – an absolute gentleman, who loved the sport for its own sake.”

True enough, which was perhaps why none of his team-mates – from Ickx to Lauda to Jones – would have a word said against him. As John Hogan, the marketing guru of Grand Prix racing for 40 years, puts it: “If you’re going to sit next to a racing driver on a flight from London to Sydney, make sure it’s a number two – that way you just might talk about something other than him...”

For a team principal, selecting drivers is a perennially ticklish problem. At first glance, the obvious answer is to go for the very best pair you can afford, so that you have two absolute top-liners, each well able to win Grands Prix on merit.

Colin Chapman, however, was one who didn’t quite see it that way. For him the ideal was to have a true ace – a Clark, an Andretti – and a second driver not quite on that level, yet capable of stepping up to the plate when the need arose.

In the 1980s Frank Williams several times tried to run a couple of superstars, first Jones and Reutemann, then Keke Rosberg and Nigel Mansell, then Mansell and Nelson Piquet, and he thinks Chapman may have had a point.

“The first thing you have to keep in mind,” he cheerily said a few years ago, “is the top drivers – the great drivers – have one thing in common: they’re all bastards…”

It was said without malice, and was to Francis a straightforward statement, a matter of simple logic, perhaps. “I suppose what I mean,” he said, “is that it’s probably a mistake to put two bulls in one field…”

Maddeningly, though, it can work, which is why, I suppose, some team principals persist in trying. Perhaps the only way in which it can be straightforward is a master-and-pupil arrangement, as with Fangio and Moss at Mercedes in 1955, but Stirling was well aware of the opportunity on offer, not only in terms of driving the most competitive car, but also of learning from the great Juan Manuel. Already he had the edge on Fangio in sports cars, but in F1, even had he been able to beat him, he would never have presumed to do so.

At Aintree, his home race, he won, but to this day suspects that the maestro allowed that to happen.

Although, following the death of Alberto Ascari, Fangio and Moss were discernibly the two best drivers of the time, their partnership worked because there was a firm pecking order in the team, even if it were never voiced. Stirling knew what was expected of him, as did Ronnie Peterson when he rejoined Team Lotus in 1978.

Mario Andretti was team leader at the time, and didn’t hide his displeasure when Chapman told him he had signed Peterson: “Tell me where it’s written we need two stars in this team…”

Chapman, however, was only too aware of Andretti’s pivotal role in restoring Lotus fortunes. In ’77 Mario had won more races than anyone else, and, with better reliability, would have won the World Championship. That being so, Colin insisted to Peterson that 1978 was to be Andretti’s year, that the title was his due, and Ronnie, his career at that time becalmed, unhesitatingly agreed: in normal circumstances he would not try to beat Mario.

Initially Andretti’s misgivings remained, but he later admitted he had reckoned without Peterson’s complete honesty. Ultimately, they became firm friends, so it can work to have two bulls in one field, but probably only when one has first pick, and the other knows it.

Pride is a powerful emotion, and a degree of ‘edge’ is almost inevitable between team-mates of equal standing. It’s a desirable thing, too, for constant competition is the enemy of complacency, and keeps both drivers sharp. Such close friends were Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins, team-mates at Ferrari in 1957 and ’58, that each was as happy for the other’s success as his own. As Roy Salvadori has pointed out, that was not necessarily something that worked to the advantage of their team.

Chemistry has much to do with it. Some people get along, and some do not, and relationships cannot always be predicted. At different times, for example, Andretti, Piquet and Alain Prost all had their problems with Mansell, and you might have expected the same of Rosberg.

“I absolutely did not want Mansell to come to Williams in ’85,” said Keke. “Elio de Angelis was a friend of mine, and I knew he didn’t enjoy being Nigel’s team-mate at Lotus. I made my feelings clear to Frank, but he didn’t seem to be taking any notice, so I thought of other ways of getting his attention. When we did a Brands test, I deliberately drove like an old lady – six or seven seconds off the pace. Frank says, ‘Keke, I know what you’re doing, but you’re wasting your time – we’re still having Mansell...’

In 1985, therefore, the two were team-mates – and they had no problems whatever. “At first,” said Nigel, late in the year, “Keke didn’t want me at Williams – at all – but I think now we actually like each other. And I’ll tell you this, he did me a big favour: when someone has such strong opinions about you, you start to soul search a little bit and think, ‘God, there’s not much he says that’s good, is there?’ Keke is completely honest. If he thinks you’re a rat, he’ll call you a rat. The great thing about him is that you know where you are.”

At that point in their careers, though, Rosberg was the established star with a World Championship to his name, and Mansell was new to Williams, just starting to win races, so there was an element of master-and-pupil in the arrangement. The only subsequent team-mate with whom Nigel would have no problems was Riccardo Patrese, a man, like Regazzoni, who was happily apolitical, and knew his place.

Since the days of Jones and Reutemann, Frank Williams admits to a tough attitude towards drivers, and has little interest in intra-team rivalries: “To be honest, all I care about is the team and the points we earn. I don’t care who scores them...”

Williams has long worked on the principle of allowing its drivers to race, but the policy of ‘absolutely equal treatment of both drivers’ is hard and fast at McLaren to a greater degree than anywhere else. Some might suggest to Ron Dennis that it has cost him dear over time, but he is immoveable. Lauda and Prost were McLaren team-mates for two seasons, he points out, and there were no problems at all.

True enough, but the feud between Senna and Prost, together at McLaren in 1988 and ’89, has gone into folklore as the bitterest ever known in the sport – and look at what happened last year, when Fernando Alonso partnered Lewis Hamilton.

On the face of it, the pairing should have worked out fine, for not many anticipated that the rookie would immediately be a match for the reigning World Champion. As it was, a few days after the first race, another team principal was gleeful about the events in Melbourne: “There’s going to be trouble there…” And, lo, there was.

Ever since Heikki Kovalainen was announced as Hamilton’s new team-mate, the two have passed up no opportunity to stress how long they have known each other, how they have always been friends, how they are sure there will be no problems in their working relationship at McLaren.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of either man. After all the problems with Alonso, Hamilton will be relishing a situation in which he is the de facto number one, and there’s no doubt, either, that Kovalainen will be an easier-going proposition – as team-mate – than Alonso. Hamilton will also be hoping he will be a slower one.

“The ideal team-mate?” Berger once said. “Anyone two seconds a lap slower…”

Kovalainen will assuredly not be that – indeed, I expect him to be way closer to Hamilton’s pace than some suggest – but if Lewis sometimes has a clear edge, Heikki is unlikely to spit his dummy, as Alonso was prone to do. McLaren is running two ‘second year rookies’ in 2008, and the vexed questions of pride, of loss of face, will be of less concern than to a double World Champion. Kovalainen has little to lose, everything to gain, just as Hamilton did last year.

While the hostility between Senna and Prost at times grew so intense that one feared for them, Michael Schumacher – who had looked and learned – maintained a strictly pragmatic attitude to team-mates: if they were going to threaten him, jeopardise his chances, they weren’t coming through the door. Throughout his career Schumacher never had a fellow superstar (save a fading Nelson Piquet) alongside him, and you’d have to say the policy served him well.

“I didn’t like that about Michael,” said Prost, “but I tell you what, if I had to start my career again, that’s what I would do! If you really want to win and win and win, it’s obviously better to have another driver just to help you. I mean, I could have said no to Ayrton coming to McLaren…”

Maybe Lauda should have the last word on this subject. Early in 1977 I asked him how he felt about his new partner at Ferrari, Reutemann: did he see him as a team-mate or a rival? Niki didn’t hesitate in his reply: “Neither…”

*******

The rules in Formula 1 appear to multiply at about the same rate as the laws of our land, which is to say that, with every passing year, there are umpteen things you can’t do which previously you could.

Just as this is the era in which, for example, binge-drinking has been discouraged by the liberalising of opening hours (I think I’ve got that right), so, in this time of energy conservation, we in F1 have lately been treated to the spectacle, towards the end of each qualifying session, of 10 cars cruising round for a quarter of an hour, ‘burning off’ fuel, preparatory to a five-minute blast at pole position.

Max Mosley is a man who takes decisions, and while we may not always like them, we can never accuse the FIA president of being a ditherer. The problem has been addressed.

“When qualifying was revised,” he said, “the intention was that all the cars should run throughout the hour, so that the spectators had something to watch. The problem arose in the final segment, in which the 10 remaining cars were committed to a fuel allocation for the start of the race, and therefore had to ‘burn off’ most of it before going for a quick time. Apart from being fairly boring, it was also sending the wrong message, so we’ve decided to cut that last 20-minute segment to 10, which should be pretty exciting…”

As things stand, the teams do not reveal the pre-race weight of their cars (thereby concealing the amount of fuel on board), but Mosley feels there is a case to be made, in the interests of the fans, for publishing them.

“I’m privileged to get the weights before the race, and it adds enormously to the interest, because you know when they’re going to stop – although often they don’t when you think they’re going to. Sometimes that’s because they’re using too much fuel, but sometimes it’s for strategic reasons, too.

“At the moment it’s in the rules that we won’t publish the weights, so we’d have to get the teams’ consent – but I don’t see why they shouldn’t agree. Of course it would mean they were revealing when they were going to stop, but it seems to me that once they’ve fixed the fuel – and they can’t change it – then there’s no harm in publishing it. The only thing they might not like is that it’s sometimes quite evident that some people’s fuel consumption is a lot better than others, and that’s a very sensitive area.”

In the recent past the FIA, not least its president, has come in for a fair amount of stick from the British press, notably in connection with the punishment meted out to McLaren following the ‘Spygate’ affair. In an effort to put us straight on one or two matters, Mosley recently hosted a dinner in London, and gave, as we expected, a command performance, by turn witty and solemn.

‘Restrictions’, though, were never long out of the conversation, and it’s a fact that the covers of the F1 rule book grow ever farther apart. Already we have engines which must last two Grand Prix weekends, and gearboxes four, a limitation on the number of sets of tyres which may be used, and so on. Now Mosley, in his quest to reduce expenditure in F1, is speaking seriously of imposing regulations to achieve it.

In this – as in many other respects, it must be said – NASCAR has got in first, former driver Brett Bodine rejoicing in the title of ‘Director of Cost Containment’. When I heard that, my first flippant thought was that, given in my experience most drivers are more than adept at ‘cost containment’, it should be the work of a moment to find one, recently retired, who could take up a similar appointment in F1.

There is a widespread belief in F1 that, however big a team’s budget, a way will always be found to get through it: if restrictions are placed on some fatuously expensive avenue of technology, fine, we’ll spend the saved millions on drivers or whatever.

“It’s been a huge lesson, at least to me,” said Mosley, “that the ordinary rules of rational thought don’t apply with these people: if they’ve got the money, they will spend it – even for a thousandth of a second.”

Given that stock cars are rather less technologically sophisticated than Grand Prix cars, and that NASCAR edges ever closer to being a ‘spec formula’, Brett Bodine’s job may be seen as relatively simple compared with the task of ‘containing costs’ in F1.

I must confess that I’ve always gone along with Frank Williams’s contention that F1 is, and should remain, a meritocracy, FW pointing out that in the days when he was strapped for cash, no one came to his aid, and nor did he expect it.

Mosley thinks that unrealistic in today’s world. “Personally,” he said, “I’d like to see all the teams paid the same amount of money – or, at the very least, the people at the back paid more than they are at the moment. The people at the front get the exposure, whereas those at the back get very little: Super Aguri and Toro Rosso get perhaps five per cent of the exposure McLaren or Ferrari get – but they can’t get by on five per cent of the budget.

“The big sponsorship is always going to go to the teams at the front, and therefore my view is that the money which you control – TV money, and so on – should go more to the ones at the back. None of the big teams agree, of course…”

No surprise there, but was Max seriously proposing to put a system in place whereby every team’s expenditure was minutely investigated? He said he was.

This sounded scarily Orwellian to me, and I asked him what might be involved in the policing of such a scheme.

“Well, I don’t actually know,” he replied. “It might be as extreme as having three people per team, recruited from the United Kingdom tax special office, and their equivalents in Germany, Italy, France and Japan, and moving them constantly round the teams, so they never go ‘native’.

“All I can say is that we can spend relatively a great deal of money on it, but whatever we spend will be tiny compared with what’s saved, and from our investigations into McLaren last year we know that if you’ve got the proper resources it’s surprising what you can find.”

‘The proper resources’, I suggested, would surely be prodigious…

“Well, yes,” said Mosley. “We – the FIA – couldn’t afford it, but supposing a team’s budget is $200 million, and we tell them that now it’s going to be capped at $100m. They’re going to save $100m, aren’t they? So if we charge them $1m, or even $2m, they will still save $98m…

“Therefore I think we could do it, and although it would be very intrusive I don’t think the teams would mind that – so long as they were absolutely sure that the other teams weren’t spending more than they should. The thing is, all the teams are being told they’ve got to cut down.

“I think the principle would probably be that everything was priced at normal retail cost, so if, say, Ferrari got their prosciutto free from a supplier, we’d say, ‘Well, that’s worth X thousand dollars a year – and that’s part of your budget. The fact that you get it free means you make a profit – but you shouldn’t have an advantage over the people who have to pay for it…”

One wondered at times if Mosley were being facetious, but apparently not. Just as one began to picture great swathes of accountants marching through the paddock, asking for receipts, conversation turned to other matters, notably Max’s enthusiasm for KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), to be introduced in F1 in 2009.

“My last big project is to try to get the search for extra horsepower away from making the engine run faster and faster, and towards things like KERS and similar systems. When history comes to be written, the KERS is going to be seen as probably the most important thing that F1 has done in the last 40 or 50 years.

“The reason I say that is that the fact of bringing KERS into F1 has accelerated development out of all recognition, which means that these things will be available on road cars many years earlier than they otherwise would have been. They’re going to be absolutely crucial in the future. If you put an F1 system – of the kind they’re going to have next year – in an average 1.5-ton road car, it would enable you to slow down from 50mph to zero for the traffic lights, and then back up to 50mph again, without burning any petrol to speak of.

It will make ‘hybrid’ road cars like the Toyota Prius look like something from the Stone Age. The system will probably weigh 20 or 30 kilos – very small, very light – and it will take in 80 horsepower, and give out 80 horsepower, for six seconds, and do that every lap.

“In the end you depend on society to pay for F1, usually through big sponsors, all of whom have got their environmental committee. I know of two major sponsors in F1 who’ve been very significantly influenced by the fact that we’re going with KERS – one of them has actually stayed in because we’re doing it.

“It’s not so much a matter of being idealist as recognising that F1 is at risk of becoming a sort of dinosaur activity, unless you can tie it in with what’s going on in the world. There are dozens of really clever engineers in F1, and if you can turn them away from things that are useless (albeit incredibly clever, like making an engine run at 21,000rpm, which is what they would have done if we hadn’t put the rev limit on), and put them on to something like making a KERS smaller and lighter and more efficient – and doing it quickly – then that surely has to be the right thing to do.”

Enough, for now, of Brave New World. As coffee arrived, Mosley spoke again of the privileges – very few, he claimed – of his position. “I’m able to listen in on the radio conversations between the teams and drivers, and it used to be fascinating to hear Michael [Schumacher] and Ross [Brawn] talking in Monaco: Michael was quite capable of having a sensible conversation, while going flat through the swimming pool area – unbelievable! They’d say to him things like, ‘Lean off number four exhaust’, and he’d do it, and then he’d be making jokes through Casino Square – whereas other drivers would be saying, ‘Which button? The red button? Grey?’”

Pleasingly, Max had little time for those dismayed by the ban on traction control, which comes into force this season. “People have said that wet races will be more dangerous, and so on, but all these remarks are a non-issue. The whole point is that when it’s wet and slippery, you mustn’t floor the throttle, and if people have got used to doing that – because they could do it free of charge, so to speak – then they’ve got to learn new skills, haven’t they? The drivers who’ve just come from GP2 obviously won’t find any difficulty, because they’ve never had traction control…

“It’s all such rubbish, this. F1 is a highly skilled thing, and they’re the best drivers in the world – if they can’t drive round in the wet, then it can’t be done. People have said that at Fuji last year we would have had more drivers off the road – without traction control – than we did, and in the case of the lesser skilled ones, that’s probably true. But somebody would have won the race, and that would have been the best driver that day…”

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