It is a truth universally acknowledged (except by some of the F1 drivers themselves) that the man you most want to beat is your own teammate. He has the same horsepower, the same aerodynamics, the same tyres. So when you’re sitting comfortably in a No 1 seat and you’re outqualified, or outraced, by the young hotshoe who has been drafted in as your apprentice, it does your career no good at all. If you’re the youngster, and you can shine alongside an acknowledged superstar who has the same equipment, everyone will sit up and take notice. Of course, if there are supposedly joint Number Ones fighting for supremacy, the pressure becomes even greater.
When Formula One has been dominated by one team in the past, the racing has often been kept alive by battles between fellow drivers — right back to the beginning, with Farina versus Fangio in Alfa 158/9s. The McLaren-Honda reign, when Ron Dennis’ team won 25 out of the 32 grands prix in the 1988-89 period, was made far more entertaining by the rivalry and growing antagonism between Ayrton Senna (14 wins) and Alain Prost (11 wins).
Williams was indubitably top team in 1986/87, but its two drivers, Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell, heartily loathed each other. Piquet wound up Mansell with a succession of public and private insults, while Mansell became ever more petulant off track, and ever more determined on it. Had Williams forced team orders on Piquet or Mansell in 1986, they would have taken another drivers’ title as well as the constructors’ championship: but Sir Frank, always and for ever a racer, scorns such strategies. That wonderful move of Mansell’s on Piquet in the closing laps of the 1987 British Grand Prix might not have happened if Jean Todt had been in charge.
But this year, when Barrichello beat Schumacher at the Nürburgring and in Hungary, and even with his brilliant drive at Monza, we’ve always been aware that Todt and Ross Brawn were pulling the strings — as they were, of course, in Austria, when Rubens had Michael well and truly beaten, but was obliged to move aside.
In their enquiry into the Spielberg scandal, the FIA was forced to concede that team orders have always been a part of F1: but one suspects that the off-the-record raspberry delivered by FIA President Max Mosley to Ferrari head honcho di Montezemolo went something like: “Do what you’ve got to do by all means, Luca, but for God’s sake don’t make it look so bloody obvious.”
In fact, making it less obvious has almost made it worse. For a while Ferrari tried a bit harder to make their demonstrations look like real racing: and so we will never know if that flawless drive by Rubens at Monza was enough to beat Schumacher fair and square, or not. And then came the absurdity of Indianapolis.
This, we were told, was going to be the race when Schumacher and Barrichello would finally be allowed to race each other. And indeed they seemed to do so, with Rubens winding in Michael after the first stops, until Michael’s brilliance through the backmarkers settled the matter. But after the second stops, with a 1-2 in the bag, the Ferraris’ revs were reduced by telemetry from the pits, to be sure of reliability: so, no more racing after that, no battle to the flag. Pity.
Until, on the final lap, that extraordinary display of naivety and arrogance from the world champion: a fumbled attempt to stage a deadheat. It was the worst possible way to demonstrate to the American crowd — who are used to real racing at Indianapolis — what F1 is actually about. Once more the most sophisticated level of motorsport in the world has shown itself to be staged, a put-up job, a fix — rather like all-in wrestling. It will be interesting to hear what President Max thinks about that.
If F1 is more boring on the track these days, it’s also more boring off it. Press conferences consist mainly of platitudes, and drivers are nervous of expressing a frank opinion for fear of upsetting their team bosses. Overt squabbling between drivers, let alone team-mates, is frowned upon. Eddie Irvine, bless him, continues to do his best to remain politically incorrect: David Coulthard is the usual target for his Irish scorn, but his own team-mate Pedro de la Rosa has had the treatment recently, too. Pedro, one of F1’s nice guys, has done a remarkable job all season of putting a brave face on Jaguar’s difficulties — meanwhile outqualifying his team leader seven times. But now Eddie has lambasted Pedro: if he’d complained more loudly, says Eddie, Jaguar might have got their car right more quickly. Actually, I suspect Eddie was doing enough complaining for both of them.
Coulthard has never been one to shoot his mouth off, preferring to do his talking on the track. It can’t have been easy for him this season. In his seventh year with McLaren, he has been outqualified by team rookie Kimi Raikkonen almost two-to-one. But in the races Kimi has clocked up most of the retirements, and McLaren’s finest achievement in 2002 has been down to David on that brilliant weekend at Monaco, where the solid experience of more than 130 GPs helped in his successful defence of the lead ahead of Schumacher’s Ferrari. The undoubtedly hugely talented Kimi has occasionally shown his lack of experience: had he circumnavigated the oil from McNish’s expired Toyota, he could have won the French GP. But there is no doubt that his day is certainly coming.
Of course, rivalry between teammates is nothing new. Enzo Ferrari encouraged rivalry and even downright enmity between his drivers, because he thought it would make them drive faster. During that vintage Vanwall-versus-Ferrari season of 1958, Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins enjoyed a close but jokey friendship as Scuderia team-mates which would have been fairly unintelligible to those unfamiliar with the English boarding school system. Certainly Luigi Musso felt excluded by it.
Meanwhile, at Vanwall, Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks and newcomer Stuart Lewis-Evans all seemed to get on well in an atmosphere of friendly mutual respect. Out of five Vanwall poles in 1958, Moss had three, Brooks and Lewis-Evans one each. Moss won four races, Brooks won three (although each of these was after Moss had retired). By the end of the season Hawthorn had beaten Moss to the title by one point, Vanwall had won the first constructors’ championship — and tragically Musso, Collins and Lewis-Evans were all dead.
When Nild Lauda joined Ferrari in 1974, the experienced Clay Regazzoni was ostensibly the team leader. But from the start Lauda set about gathering the team around him, taking the initiative in testing and development, and gradually Regazzoni was overshadowed. And many good drivers have suffered from being team-mate to the truly great: ask Martin Brundle. The only time in his 13-year F1 career he had a properly competitive car, he was team-mate to Schumacher.
Having little truck with team orders, Frank Williams and Patrick Head have always enjoyed seeing their two drivers fight it out — although after Monza and Indianapolis this year they may have modified their view. Just as there was no love lost between Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann in 1980/81, today’s Williams pairing of Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya is fraught with tension. At Monza, when Juan Pablo was on pole with Michael’s Ferrari alongside, a journalist suggested to Montoya that he’d probably prefer to have the other Schumacher next to him. Montoya replied that he would rather have Michael there than Ralf, because Michael was more trustworthy. That speaks volumes — particularly as, come the race next day, Ralf came barrelling through from the second row, left his braking too late in a manoeuvre that could have taken him and his teammate out at the first corner, and took the lead by short-cutting the chicane.
Two weeks later Ralf was at it again. At Indianapolis, as Montoya got a decent run on him down into Turn One, Ralf tried so hard to hold off his team-mate that he went in too deep, and spun backwards into him. Indy’s TV cameras briefly caught Patrick Head’s enraged face, and we didn’t need to be able to lip-read to divine the import of what he was saying on the radio. In 1997, in his third-ever grand prix, Ralf collided with his Jordan team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella By his 99th, he should have enough experience not to do things like this. But it’s the same old story: he is desperate to beat his own team-mate.
Perhaps therein lies the answer to Bernie Ecclestone’s concerns about F1’s falling TV audiences: hidden cameras in the paddock. Schuey’s charade on the last lap at Indy was a real turn-off, but the sweet nothings between Ralf and Juan Pablo in the privacy of their own motorhome would be a real ratings-booster.