Team mates

Is he best friend or mortal enemy? Do you follow your leader or push him off the track? Shaun Campbell investigates the curious world of the F1 team-mate

We call men who drive for the same marque ‘team-mates’, just as we do players in a football eleven or a rugby fifteen. But there the similarity ends. For motor racing is a team sport only in the sense that a large number of people are required to prepare the cars for action. When the flag drops (or rather, when the lights go out) the essential triumph of victory can be enjoyed by one person alone – the driver of the winning car.

In top-level motorsport a driver’s team-mate is the man, above all, he wants to beat. Losing to the driver of another car can be explained or justified by any number of equipment-related factors. But being beaten by a driver with the same car, engine and tyres leaves the finger pointing in one unmistakable direction.

So it’s hardly surprising that the history of our sport is littered with examples of drivers ostensibly working for the same team, but who have been intense and sometimes bitter rivals. Team-mates have collided on the track, traded punches in the pits and stolen victories from one another by disobeying pre-arranged orders. With mates like these, it’s tempting to ask, who needs enemies?

And yet there are also are examples of team-mates who have helped each other with technical information, sacrificed their chances of winning for the benefit of the other, and even become close friends.

So what makes a good driving partnership? What should a team manager be looking for when he selects the two men to drive his cars? Clearly it’s foolish to generalise, because it depends on so many things but the history of our sport, combined with an understanding of what makes racing drivers tick, provides some valuable clues.

One of the earliest – and most effective – instances of team-mate co-operation was demonstrated in the 1914 Grand Prix de l’ACF at Lyons. The prerace favourite, Peugeot’s Georges Boillot, was lured into pushing too hard too early in an attempt to stay with Mercedes’ Max Sailer, sent out by the German team as the ‘hare’. Mercedes guessed shrewdly that Boillot would do practically anything to prevent one of the white cars leading, let alone winning and although the big end bearings of Sailer’s Mercedes failed after only five of the twenty 24-mile laps, the damage had been inflicted. Boillot’s Peugeot practically collapsed around him in the closing stages leaving Christian Lautenschlager to head a crushing Mercedes one-two-three.

The highly charged political atmosphere of the time (the Great War was only a month away) no doubt played its part in Sailer’s willingness to subjugate personal glory for the greater good of the team. Certainly when Mercedes returned to the sport in the mid-1930s, it found it harder to impose the same sense of discipline and co-operation in its drivers.

In 1934 a shortage of top-flight German drivers prompted Mercedes to sign up Luigi Fagioli from Italy. Fagioli made his Mercedes debut at the Eifelrennen and immediately shot into the lead followed by team-mate Manfred von Brauchitsch. Fagioli was easily the quicker of the two but an Italian winning the first race of Mercedes’ comeback, and in Germany, too, was not part of the master plan. Team manager, Alfred Neubauer signalled Fagioli to make way for von Brauchitsch and although the Italian obeyed there was furious argument between driver and manager when he made his first routine pitstop. For the next few laps Fagioli harried von Brauchitsch mercilessly, making it quite plain that only team orders were holding him back. More angry words passed between the Italian driver and Neubauer at the next pitstop and this time Fagioli had had enough. He parked his car at the side of the track and walked back to the pits.

Mercedes’ internecine strife didn’t end there. Fagioli and Rudi Caracciola came to dislike each other so much that, in 1937, shortly before arthritis temporarily forced him out of the sport, Fagioli attacked the German ace in the pits at Tripoli with at a hammer. There was also much bad blood between Caracciola and Hermann Lang, a former mechanic whom both Caracciola and the arrogant aristocrat von Brauchitsch treated with contempt. By 1938 Lang had shown that he had the beating of both his team-mates, but he was rarely allowed to prove it.

When racing resumed after World War II it did so with a less nationalistic and class-ridden flavour. That didn’t remove all areas of conflict between all team mates but certainly there was rather less political interference. Indeed, the ’50s witnessed a number of striking examples of selflessness.

The 1951 British Grand Prix at Silverstone is a case in point. Until then Alfa Romeo had ruled the post-war Grand Prix roost, but that day Ferrari’s Froilan Gonzalez was in a class of his own. Yet with the race in his pocket Gonzalez offered his car to team leader Alberto Ascari, who had retired with a broken gearbox. It was a remarkably generous gesture, which Ascari paid back by declining the offer, allowing Gonzalez to notch up Ferrari’s first Grand Prix victory.

It’s impossible to look at the history of motor racing team-mates without acknowledging the role played by Enzo Ferrari. With the possible exception of Ascari, who generally didn’t need the help anyway, Ferrari didn’t like his drivers having favoured status. If they were good enough they would win without help from team-mates was his reasoning, and for Ferrari it was always more important that one of his cars won rather than who was driving it. What complicated this was that although he chose the drivers himself, he practically never turned up for the race, leaving the team’s strategy to be decided by the manager on the spot.

There were times when this resulted in something pretty close to anarchy and the 1956 Italian GP was certainly one of those times. Ferrari had no fewer than five of his Lancia-based cars entered for this race the concluding round of the World Championship driven by Juan Manuel Fangio, Peter Collins, Luigi Musso, Eugenio Castellotti and Alfonso de Portago. Fangio was leading the title chase and the only man with a chance of beating him was team-mate Collins.

The early laps were marked by some pretty wild driving by the two Italians, Castellotti and Musso, both determined to win on home soil. Fangio retired on lap 19 with a broken steering arm, a problem that afflicted several of the Lancia-Ferraris that day. Musso was asked to hand over his car to the Argentinian, but refused and as the race continued Fangio watched Collins move slowly up the leaderboard to the point where the English driver was in with a shout of snatching the title.

Collins made a routine stop at two-thirds distance and, spotting Fangio in the pits, spontaneously handed over his car. Today it’s rightly regarded as one of the sports most unselfish actions, although it must be said that Collins needed to win to take the title and at that stage in the race that didn’t look likely. Nevertheless, Collins’ generosity ensured Fangio of his fourth World Driver’s Championship and he was to thank his lucky stars that he hadn’t taken over Musso’s car when the steering arm on that failed three laps from the end.

In 1957 Ferrari’s team included Collins and Mike Hawthorn, perhaps as close a pair of friends as any team has known. Whether this made them a truly effective partnership is open to doubt, though. At the German Grand Prix that year they spent much of the race cruising around at the front, swapping places and waving to each other, oblivious to the fact that Fangio was reeling them in hand over fist after a disastrous mid-race pitstop. That race has gone down in history as Fangio’s finest, but it’s a pretty safe bet that Enzo Ferrari didn’t see it that way. The Old Man had a soft spot for both the Englishmen, but by the following year pressure was being exerted to drive a wedge between the two. It ended in tragedy when Collins, perhaps trying too hard, crashed and died at the Nürburgring in 1958.

If there was something distinctly Machiavellian in the way Ferrari chose and handled his drivers, it also cannot be denied that he often applied sound psychological practice to his methods. Top racers are no different from leading lights in other sports in that they are unusually competitive and singleminded. But the particular demands of racing require further personality traits that suggest cooperation between drivers of the same employer is an unlikely and even undesirable state of affairs.

The pioneering work in this field was carried out by Dr Keith Johnsguard of San Jose State College in California during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Johnsguard’s research, which included interviews and questionnaires with many of the top drivers of that day, concluded that racing drivers generally confirmed to a common psychological profile.

The characteristics of the are an are an high need to succeed in tasks that require great skill and effort, together with a strong capacity for leadership – indeed dominance – and the acceptance of heavy responsibility. On the other hand, Johnsguard reported, drivers have a below average capacity for guilt or the need to punish themselves and that they are below the norm in their need for emotionally sensitive relationships. Most racing drivers, it seems, are aggressive, independent, self-reliant individuals who tend to externalise their hostilities verbally, and who will argue their point and attack contrary opinions. It is well worth remembering this when you hear Schumacher or Villeneuve blaming each other for their crash in Jerez. They’re just doing what comes naturally.

Now, Enzo Ferrari probably never read a psychological tract in his life, but it’s hard to believe that he didn’t understand the essential truth that it was a waste of time getting aggressive, super-confident characters to work together in perfect harmony. Conflict, the need for each driver to prove himself the superior, is the natural order of things and the trick to the creation of a successful partnership is to play on these factors, not try to squash them.

It could, of course be argued that Ferrari took these things too far and what happened between Ferrari team-mates Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi in 1982 illustrates the point At the San Marino GP, with the Ferraris running one-two at the head of the field, the signal came from the pits to hold position. The race was won and Villeneuve backed off, believing his position secure. Three years before, when running behind team-mate Jody Scheckter in the Italian GP, Villeneuve had obeyed a similar signal even though it meant forsaking a shot at the world title. Pironi didn’t play to the rules, though. On the last lap he turned up the boost on his Ferrari and whistled past Villeneuve.

The Canadian was by no means alone thinking it a pretty low way to win a race. Yet Ferrari never censured Pironi for the move, which can’t have helped Villeneuve’s peace of mind. Two weeks later, in a bid to outdo his team-mate qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, Villeneuve clipped the rear wheel of Jochen Mass’s March; the Ferrari flew off the track and the fastest driver of his age, a man the Ferrari fans worshipped, was killed. It was the unacceptable face of inter-team rivalry.

The practice of pinching a Grand Prix win at the expense of a team-mate and contrary to team orders seemed pretty prevalent in that era. Carlos Reutemann did it to Alan Jones in the Williams team in the Brazilian GP in 1981, Rene Amoux pulled off a similar stunt against Alain Prost for Renault in the French GP the following year.

It all seems a world apart from the US GP at Watkins Glen in 1967 when Lotus team-mates Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill tossed a coin to decide who would win. This was the first year of the Ford Cosworth DFV and a win on home soil was sufficiently important to the executives of the Blue Oval badge that they wanted no inter-team battling to upset the plan. Hill won the toss but when his car started ailing towards the end, Clark slipped past rather than risk them both being beaten and took the chequered flag with Hill second. Admittedly, there was no world title at stake, but there was not a murmur of dissension from Hill afterwards and Clark’s first action was to rush over to his team-mate and apologise. Strange days indeed.

Nowadays there’s little attempt to impose team orders on drivers. It remains a cardinal sin for drivers of the same team to fight so hard that they take each other out, though Jordan team-mates Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella are today’s proof that it can still happen, but the general rule is that once a race starts each driver is expected to do his best. Williams – perhaps in the wake of the Reutemann-Jones shenanigans in 1981 has made a practice of giving its drivers the same equipment and actively encouraged competition between the two. Sometimes this has backfired – as it did with Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet in 1986 – when they were so busy fighting each other that Alain Prost was able to snatch the title for McLaren.

Williams has taken an alternative route on some occasions, notably with the extremely effective 1991-92 partnership of Mansell and Riccardo Patrese. Mansell was the team’s star, the man expected to do the winning, but Patrese was quick enough to pick up the pieces when things went wrong, and, rather unusually in the current scene, enough of a team player to be happy with his lot.

The Schumacher/Irvine combination at Ferrari is the only contemporary example that can stand comparison. Schumacher’s talent has shredded the reputation of several good drivers including Patrese’s when they drove for Benetton in 1993 but Irvine seems to have the strength of character to cope with, and talent to assist, his senior partner as demonstrated in Japan this season.

The big problems tend to arise when a team goes for two number ones, and the mother of all teammate battles must be that which raged between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in 1988 and 1989. It cannot be denied that it was a successful partnership: they won a world title and between them took 25 wins out of 32 Grands Prix. But amicable it wasn’t and there was some considerable relief when it all ended in the farce of their low-speed collision in the 1989 Japanese GP rather than the tragedy that sometimes seemed to threaten.

We still call the men who drive for the same marque team-mates, but it’s a misnomer really. They just happen to be driving the same make of car, though with their own dedicated race engineers and back-up crews. The days when drivers would help one another were never as common as the rose-tinted spectacle wearers would have us believe and now they’ve practically gone for ever. Niki Lauda made the point better than anyone. Asked if he saw his 1977 partner at Ferrari, Carlos Reutemann, as a rival or a team-mate, he replied witheringly: “Neither.”

Why having the toughest job in the world is no problem for Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine

When Eddie Irvine signed for Ferrari in September 1995 he knew exactly what he was getting into; he was to be number Iwo to Michael Schumacher in all respects. But it was still the chance of a lifetime, and the long term financial rewards were certainly a motivating factor…

But being team-mate to Schumacher didn’t help the careers of Riccardo Patrese, Johnny Herbert and Martin Brundle and during Irvine’s First season it often seemed that Ferrari brought a second car along purely because the rules required them to do so. Eddie’s driving duly suffered. The situation has improved this year. He’s had more testing and say in the car’s development; and, perhaps most importantly, Michael trusts Eddie’s judgement.

However, he still loses out in many areas. For example, it’s Eddie, rather than Michael, who’s been charged with evaluating tyres on Fridays this year, which has cost him valuable set-up time. And invariably Eddie gets told to do PR jobs which Michael wouldn’t even consider…

At Suzuka Eddie qualified third, and was in a position to help in the battle with Jacques Villeneuve. Despite what was reported, Eddie was not supposed to storm into the lead; that had never figured in any prerace plan. However, when he made his opportunistic move Michael certainly didn’t make it hard for him.

Later Eddie gave up a 12sec lead to let Michael through, and then the team insisted he try to delay Villeneuve. In doing so he sacrificed second place, and earned himself a fair amount of criticism. But he was only following orders…

So what’s it like being Schumacher’s team-mate? “It’s difficult because you’re racing against the world’s best, and he never has an off weekend. He’s always there, he’s always fast. But it’s good because it’s the ultimate challenge, and I get to see where he’s so fast, and I get to work on my driving. I’m a faster driver now than I was, that’s for sure.”
Adam Cooper