F1's other guys: the crushing reality for team-mates of the greats


Comprehensively outraced by Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas' face said it all in Portugal. As previous team-mates to Schumacher, Fangio and Clark have found, there's rarely glory in partnering the greatest driver of the era

Lewis Hamilton gives the thumbs up to a defeated Vatteri Bottas after the 2020 F1 Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring

Hamilton acknowledges Bottas while celebrating a record-equalling 91st F1 victory at the Nürburgring

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

Jeez, who’d be the other guy?

Neither basking in reflected glory nor withering in the shade is a good look/outlook for an ambitious Formula 1 driver.

Imagine spending another long, dark winter hot-housing ideas about how to improve before emerging with body refreshed and mind uncluttered ready for renewed battle – only to plunge yet again into an ice-cold lake of reality.

According to a former driving coach of his, the young Valtteri Bottas had only to be told once for it to be absorbed and then implemented immediately and effectively before storing it for future use.

Smart enough and quick enough to (politely) elbow his way into the best F1 car/team, he knew that it’d be tough alongside Lewis Hamilton – but he can’t have expected it to become increasingly tougher.

A mask could not hide his bewilderment – he’s long past the disappointment stage – on Sunday. Chatty for a Finn, his answers trailed away and the interviewer kindly moved along rather than dwell.

The most successful F1 driver was just out of shot with his uplifting story to tell.

Valtteri Bottas stares into the distance after being beaten by Lewis Hamilton in the 2020 F1 Portuguese Grand Prix

Bewildered? Bottas after a dominant Hamilton win at the Portuguese Grand Prix

xpb via Getty Images

The eternal motorsporting conundrum of having to beat your team-mate becomes ever more stark when said opponent happens to be your era’s benchmark. How best to deal with it/him? Get mad? Even? Shrug it off or soak it up, cash the cheque and bank the occasional win?

Eddie Irvine did the latter at Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari with a public curl of the lip while privately explaining the German’s drip-drip-drip relentlessness on the track – a tenth here, there, just about everywhere, and on every lap, too – allied to a restless, seeking mind off it.

The warmer, more open Rubens Barrichello – with hope in his heart and a tear in his eye – garnered the greater sympathy, not that he asked for any, but was arguably the more scarred. Those wins for Brawn Grand Prix were clearly cathartic.

So is it better to earn your opportunity to be measured in such a brutal fashion – albeit with comforting compensations – or never to know?

Cowed or cowardly is not the happiest of choices.

That’s not to say one cannot grasp the nettle (firmly enough) without getting stung.

McLaren team-mates Mika Hakkinen and Ayrton Senna

Beating a legendary team-mate – even once – can make your name, as Häkkinen discovered

Patrick Behar/Corbis via Getty Images

When Michael Andretti realised that being Ayrton Senna’s team-mate at a wobbling McLaren was a mug’s game, replacement Mika Häkkinen, with less to lose admittedly, out-qualified the Brazilian at the first time of asking. That memorable confirmation of his potential would carry this Finn through almost four more seasons without a win.

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Senna in turn had made beating Alain Prost his life’s priority – via superior speed and by whatever else he deemed necessary.

There have been gentler – albeit rare – examples of this process.

Felipe Massa’s relationship with Schumacher was more teacher/pupil than those that had gone before.

Stirling Moss sat attentively in Juan Fangio’s wheel tracks at Mercedes-Benz by way of a tacit yet explicit master class which, when combined with an ability to pull away at will, coalesced Moss’s lifelong conviction that there has been no one better than the Argentinean.

Stirling Moss with Juan Manuel Fangio

After driving alongside, Fangio, Moss decided that there was nobody better

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

François Cevert was schooled – not in the pejorative sense – by a selfless Jackie Stewart seeking to assure Tyrrell’s hegemony beyond 1973; he was being handed the keys to the timber yard – its only secret kept from him being his tutor’s imminent retirement. The handsome Frenchman’s death in practice for what would have been Stewart’s 100th and last Grand Prix is perhaps F1’s cruellest twist.

And Jim Clark would in all innocent wonder query why everyone else was going so slowly. Stewart wisely resisted offers to join his compatriot and friend at Lotus in 1965 and instead signed for steadier, more conservative BRM for his rookie season.

Jim Clark gives Mike Spence a lift to the pits on the back of his Lotus 25 at the 1965 French Grand Prix

Learning at close quarters: Spence takes a spin with Clark at Charade in 1965

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

Playing second fiddle to Clark was a thankless and dangerous task, the team unable to provide a car strong enough for those not blessed with Clark’s gossamer touch. Trevor Taylor, a match for Clark in their Formula Junior days, suffered and somehow survived sufficient terrifying crashes in F1 Lotus to grind even his Yorkshire grit; unassuming Mike Spence went about his business perhaps too quietly and was overlooked as a result; and Formula Junior king Peter Arundell, adamant that he could beat Clark given equal equipment, made a promising start before injury robbed his chance and reportedly left him somewhat bitter.

Stewart’s maiden F1 campaign was a triumph – ‘Grandpa’ Graham Hill proving an excellent teacher in many ways without revealing the entire contents of his fastidiously kept ‘little black books’.

Lewis Hamilton talks to his McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso

Who’s schooling who? Hamilton has now far exceeded Alonso’s two F1 titles

Franck Faugere/DPPI

Only Hamilton has bettered Stewart’s opening salvo – his performance in 2007 remarkable even before factoring his internecine punch-for-punch battle with Fernando Alonso, at that time reckoned the best by most counts.

Jenson Button made a good fist of upstaging a wobbling Hamilton at McLaren – and Nico Rosberg landed sufficient body blows to achieve the feat once in their four seasons together at Mercedes-Benz.

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In truth, however, we are waiting still for a definitive change of dynasty: Fangio, Moss, Clark, Stewart, Lauda, Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Hamilton…

Max Verstappen is the heir apparent with sufficient time on his side to become the next guy without having to risk becoming the other guy.

Besides, Bottas has signed for another season with Mercedes-Benz. If he’s been told once, he’s been told four times – so, hey, why not five? He doesn’t warrant a cuddle like a Barrichello, and can’t do ‘eff you’ with the swagger of an Irvine, but one cannot but admire his fortitude.

For being the other guy is the most onerous gig in F1: lofty ambition and low confidence are incompatible.

They do say that it’s lovely once you’re in, but it must be increasingly tempting to give the lake a miss and stay in the sauna – even for a (usually) cool, calm Finn.