Two at the Top

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Ayrton Senna bears the responsibility for prompting this particular article! When Team Lotus’s number one driver decided to veto the recruitment of Derek Warwick as his team-mate at the start of the year, his attitude provoked a wide-ranging debate amongst the Formula One fraternity. But, aside from questioning whether it is prudent in the long term for a team to allow its number one driver to dictate terms, Senna’s strategy set me thinking about the pros and cons involved when two star performers come together, side-by-side, driving for the same manufacturer.

Over the years there have been many examples of this phenomenon. Some combinations have grown into positions of strength, such as Stirling Moss with Juan-Manuel Fangio at Mercedes-Benz in 1955, or Francois Cevert with Jackie Stewart from 1970 to 73. Others have been put together with a calculated confidence, such as Colin Chapman’s pairings of Jim Clark/Graham Hill and Emerson Fittipaldi/Ronnie Peterson, while others have come about almost by accident in the way that Mario Andrefti and Ronnie Peterson found themselves paired together at Lotus in 1978 or Niki Lauda inherited Alain Prost as his driving partner at short notice when the Frenchman switched from Renault at the end of 1983. The purpose behind having a strange driving team is to ensure that if one drops out, the other car has a near-equal possibility of winning. But the other side of this coin sometimes involved dealing with thinly-suppressed hostility, lack of trust between the two drivers and an air of suspicion with both men keeping an eagle eye on each other’s equipment to make sure that neither is afforded an unfair advantage.

Of course, there has been a major shift of emphasis in terms of loyalty over the past 30 years. In the three and four car squads operated by Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Vanwall in the 1950s, a strong team spirit prevailed and, to a large extent, the individual ambition of a particular driver was often subjugated to the overall good of the manufacturer. Over the past three decades, an increasing amount of all-round interest in the World Drivers’ Championship has tended to imbue drivers with a more selfish point of view. Often, they become individuals who just happen to drive for the same team, spurred on by as much competitiveness (even antagonism) to their nominal team-mate as to any driver in a rival team.

Enzo Ferrari, of course, added another dimension to the task of running two or more top drivers in a team. The Grand Old Patriarch of Formula One has never denied that his ambitions are always focussed towards winning the Constructors’ Championship but that has never prevented him allowing a free-for-all on the circuit, where team driver is set against team driver. Sometimes team orders have been invoked, but on other occasions the contest has been left open for the drivers to squabble all the way to the chequered flag.

At Monza in 1956. a spontaneous sense of generosity and respect for his elder colleague prompted Peter Collins to relinquish the cockpit of his Lancia-Ferrari, thus enabling Juan-Manuel Fangio to clinch another World Championship title. By that stage in his career the Englishman was widely regarded in some quarters as a World Champion in the making himself, but that did not prevent him from giving up an outside chance of taking the title. Of course, Collins and his teammate Mike Hawthorn epitomised the post-War breed of enthusiastic amateur racers — amateur in the sense that they enjoyed their driving with an obvious gusto and zeal — and Peter reckoned (wrongly, as it tragically transpired) that there was still plenty of time left for him to do all the winning he wanted.

Always anxious to maximise its chances of winning races, the highly professional Mercedes-Benz team did not shrink from signing that other British rising star, Stirling Moss, to run alongside Fangio throughout the 1955 season. The Argentinian ace was at the absolute zenith of his Grand Prix achievement, mid-way through a career which would bring him a total of five World Championships. More importantly, he was shrewed enough to appreciate Moss’s star quality and obvious promise. But there has never been any remote hint that Fangio ever felt anything but totally confident in his position as team leader. He was certainly not paranoid about the presence of a brilliant new boy racing with him — a problem which would afflict several top names in the years that followed!

Of course, the Fangio ‘Moss partnership at Mercedes-Benz was highlighted by that great day at Aintree when Moss won the 1955 British Grand Prix, slipping ahead of his team-mate on the last lap to win by barely a length. Much has been written about this historic moment and Moss has frequently gone on record as saying he has never been quite certain whether or not Fangio handed him the race. Stirling reckons that if that was the case, then Fangio did it with an almost magical sleight of hand, not in any way wishing to detract from the Englishman’s great day on home soil.

Again, Fangio was a team man. If, as has been suggested, the Mercedes-Benz management was keen for Moss to win in Britain as a gesture towards placating the anti German feeling which remained following the Second World War (only ten years past in the history books, remember) it is inconceivable that the great Argentinian ace would have even murmured any objection. Nor would he have made it public.

You might like to contrast that sunny afternoon in Liverpool, almost 31 years ago, with the events that took place in the closing stages of the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard as recently as 1982. Despite suffering a recent run of bad luck, Alain Prost still retained an outside chance of winning the World Championship, and the Renault team management was anxious for him to be given the maximum assistance to achieve that ambition.

Rene Arnoux, by no means a slouch, had qualified his Renault RE30B on pole position fractionally ahead of Prost, but had agreed that he would allow Alain through to win should the two cars find themselves running in 1-2 formation at the head of the field. This is precisely what happened, although in the closing stages of the race Prost dropped back some 20 sec, grappling with understeer caused by a broken ground effect side skirt. Arnoux clearly thought that this changed the game plan and, despite receiving signals from the Pits instructing him to drop back, speeded up and won the race. For Renault, the tense atmosphere which reigned in the paddock afterwards detracted from the achievement of a 1-2 finish in front of the marques home crowd. It was a classic example of a driver putting personal ambition ahead of team priorities, although many people sympathised with Arnoux in his dilemma.

Frank Williams never made a more cogent remark than stating that a driver was merely an employee of the company for which he races. “I have almost eighty people working for me,” said Williams a few years ago, “and my number one driver may be my most important employee — but he is still an employee.” Ironically, at the start of 1981, the Brazilian Grand Prix at Rio de Janeiro saw Carlos Reutemann win against team orders from Alan Jones, a performance which earned him a “fine” from the Williams team when it came to paying out the prize fund. Carlos simply could not reconcile himself to “Throwing” a race when the moment came to do so. Wins don’t stare you in the face very often, certainly not for the Formula One driver of the 1980s, and again, many people sympathised with Reutemann. Not Alan Jones, though, the man he beat across the line that afternoon…

In Ronnie Peterson and Gilles Villeneuve, Grand Prix racing had two of its most honourable drivers ever. Back in the summer of 1973, Peterson tried to help Emerson Fittipaldi win his second consecutive World Championship. Ronnie had been recruited by Colin Chapman at the start of the season and quickly proved himself probably the fastest man of all in the Formula One firmament. But at the Osterreichnng, he deliberately deferred to Fittipaldi in order to help keep the Brazilian’s title chances open. Victory in this Austrian Grand Prix fell into Peterson’s lap after Fittipaldi’s Lotus 72 dropped out with a broken fuel line but that in no way detracted from the spirit of the gesture. But when the Italian Grand Prix at Monza came round, it was every man for himself. Peterson was generous, but not that generous! He wasn’t prepared to concede another victory, and led his team-mate over the line to win!

Just over four years later, Ronnie’s career was in a decline. He spent a frustrating 1977 season grappling with the troublesome Tyrrell P34 six-wheeler, then anxiously cast around tor a fresh opportonity the following year. He found it in what looked like the least likely place — Lotus. Colin Chapman signed him up as number two to Mario Andretti. Ronnie had attracted some personal sponsorship which, in effect, enabled him to “buy” his seat at Lotus — the funds thus realised enabled Chapman to pay Mario ‘s driving fee, by then getting pretty expensive!

Andretti admits that he was apprehensive about the arrangement when he first heard about it feeling that Ronnie was too good to have to take a step backwards in this manner. Privately, he was worried that Ronnie might go against his word and try making it a race to the World Championship. He need not have been concerned: Ronnie spent most of the year following in Mario ‘s wheel tracks and the combination of their driving talent and Chapman ‘s sensational Lotus 79 will long be recalled as one of the great Grand Prix racing partnerships. Sadly, Peterson died from injuries sustained in an accident at the start of the 1978 Italian Grand Prix and an heroic chapter was closed for good. Andretti described him as one of the most honourable, thoroughly good guys I have every met …”

Some partnerships look doomed from the outset, yet flower unexpectedly and productively. Such was the situation at Ferrari at the start of 1979 when Jody Scheckter joined the team, replacing Carlos Reutemann as partner to Gilles Villeneuve. Jody was a little World-weary by this stage in his career anxious to have one last big shot at the World Championship which seemed to have eluded him so consistently over the previous five years. People worried about how his sometimes-grumpy manner would mesh into the Maranello way of doing things.

In this case everything worked out famously. Scheckter and Villeneuve got along wonderfully well, emerging as close friends by the end of their first season together. Jody had an almost paternal affection for the French Canadian new boy, recognising in his uninhibited driving style some of the qualities which he himself had displayed as a novice back in late ’72 and early ’73. For much of the year they were rivals for the title, yet it says much for Scheckter’s nerve and personality that he refused to be ruffled after Villeneuve won at Long Beach and Kyalami early in the year.

After Scheckter won at Zolder and Monaco, Ferrari’s efforts were concentrated on making the South African World Champion. The crunch came at Monza in the Italian Grand Prix. Lap after lap, the two Ferrari 312T4s circulated in nose-to-tail formation at the head of the field, Scheckter ahead of Villeneuve. Gilles knew that all he had to do to win the Championship was to pass Scheckter, a task he feels he could have achieved. But he had given his word that he would play a supporting role and that’s just what he did. “I was praying that Jody would break down. though!” he winked as his only comment after the race.

At the start of 1982, unfortunately, Villeneuve discovered that not everybody behaved in the same way as he did. When team-mate Didier Pironi slipped past to win the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola — against team orders — Villeneuve was consumed with inner fury. He was adamant that Pironi had cheated him and he vowed he would never speak to the Frenchman again. “From now on, when I see his car out on the circuit, I will treat it just like a Brabham, a Lotus or a McLaren,” he insisted. Alas, two weeks later, Gilles was killed during practice for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. The two men never made their peace . . .

Villeneuve was one of those drivers imbued with a high level of self-confidence, an inner conviction that he was the best. Like Peterson, he was worried about no other driver and did not feel challenged by anyone nominated as his partner. By the same token, the late Jim Clark had no reason at all to object when Graham Hill was signed to on Team Lotus at the start of 1967.

Chapman’s new Lotus 49 was to re-write the parameters of Grand Prix car performance in the second half of that particular decade and the Ford Motor Company, which financed the manufacture of the Cosworth DFV V8 engine, was anxious that another prestige “name” should join Clark in the Lotus line-up. The twice World Champion Scot did not take exception to this decision, confident that he could beat Hill anyway. But, when one thinks of his status within the motor racing World at the time, he might well have been forgiven for trying to object to Hill’s nomination. That he didn’t provides another insight into the man’s true quality.

It is nice to see a new boy developing under the tutelage of an experienced Champion, but so frequently such partnerships are torn asunder when one or other moves off to another team. Either the new boy feels his progress is being thwarted by the more experienced driver who he thinks is keeping him down, or the older driver feels he should be off to collect his pension elsewhere before the new lad begins to make a fool of him. Happily, it is not always like this!

Ken Tyrrell was lucky to have a fine “teacher/pupil” team between 1970 and 73 in Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert. Stewart had been instrumental in selecting Cevert from the Formula Two maelstrom and the young Frenchman was a willing pupil throughout their time together in Ken’s team. Tyrrell admits that Francois absolutely idolised Jackie in every way, wanting to emulate his achievements in every respect. Stewart, in turn, felt in no way threatened and came to look upon Cevert as his protégé.

By the middle of 1973, Stewart not only knew that he would be retiring at the end of the year, but also appreciated Cevert was getting to the point that he could run quicker than him in some circumstances. The intention was that Francois should assume the team leadership in 1974, sliding into the number one berth logically and unobtrusively in the wake of Jackie’s retirement. Sadly, it wasn’t to be: a brutally destructive practice accident at Watkins Glen on the eve of the United States Grand Prix left the racing World mourning the man who looked likely to become France’s first World Champion.

For sheer philosophical resilience, three times Champion Niki Lauda takes some beating. He has been paired with some extremely high calibre team-mates during his decade at the top of Formula One — and has never batted an eyelid about any of them! He got on well with Clay Regazzoni between 1974 and 76, sustained a healthy disdain for Carlos Reutemann in 1977 and then switched to Brabham where he worked with John Watson and Nelson Piquet, both of whom became good friends.

After his “interregnum”. Niki returned to the cockpit with McLaren at the start of 1992. Here he met up with John Watson again and the two men formed a mature, sensible partnership. When Watson was replaced by Alain Prost at the start of 1984, Lauda held his peace but seemed slightly concerned that the Frenchman had arrived on the scene. Yet Frost praises the Austrian as being absolutely honest, open and direct. “If he thinks you are an idiot, Niki will tell you to your face,” said Alain admiringly. Seasoned and experienced hands who have accumulated more Grand Prix wins between them than anybody else racing regularly in 1985, Prost and Lauda conducted themselves as adults. And when Lauda took off the gloves at Zandvoort last summer and administered a rare beating to Prost, the Frenchman simply applauded his team-mate’s performance once the race was over. They were both Big Boys operating in a Big Boy’s World.

It is unlikely that Prost will feel slighted by Keke Rosberg’s position in the McLaren International team this coming season, nor Nigel Mansell by Nelson Piquet’s recruitment by Frank Williams. But Grand Prix racing drivers can be complicated individuals, unpredictable and frequently volatile. Many of them are true thoroughbreds of their chosen calling — and display the temperament which also sometimes goes hand-in-hand with that star quality.

It is the dream of many a team manager to have the World’s two top drivers starting from the front row of the Grand Prix grid in his own two cars. But it is not always plain sailing by any stretch of the imagination and, just as Nelson Piquet objected to Ayrton Sensa’s inclusion in the Brabham team at the start of 1984, so Senna has now tried to protect his position at Lotus — before the first car has rolled out onto the circuit at the start of the New Year.

By the time these words are read, we should know whether he has been successful in keeping Warwick out — or whether the Lotus management has decided that two top drivers are better than one. A.H.