|Alexander Law, Australia|
Team sports. Be it in any shape or form, we seem to have a play in one during our lives.
Encouragement to participate in sports that involve more than one person is encouraged from the day you begin school. All those compulsory sports that some, like myself, did not enjoy were designed to encourage cooperation and bring esprit de corps in a team.
Ever since I was a child, I never liked team sports. I dislike the co-dependence of others and the pressure on you to perform well. Thus, I never performed well in team sports, and was called a loner. I found passion in swimming and tennis and gymnastics, and excelled accordingly.
Reading various articles in motoring magazines describes Formula 1 drivers as addicted to dangers, thrills and loners. Indeed, Ayrton Senna was sometimes seen as distant, cold, aloof and heartless. His driving and actions (Suzuka 1990) showed that the victory is the paramount goal in Formula One, and anything less than what you can best achieve is not acceptable, given the equipment at the driver's disposal.
In most teams, there is usually what is designated their "Number One" drivers and "Number Two" drivers. Most people are familiar with this idea, and in 1997, Arrows, Ferrari, Prost, Sauber and Stewart have their "Number One" drivers. Williams, Jordan, McLaren, Benetton and possibly Minardi don't have fixed team orders. The order is decided on the track.
Williams, Jordan and McLaren have won championships with this, but taking this path is wrought with danger. Williams and McLaren have been witness to ugly battles within the team when the question of Number One came into question.
Back to 1986 and 1987, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet fought within Williams for glory and the result was Prost winning the 1986 Drivers Championship, and a finish to the 1987 Championship that Piquet "didn't want to end in that manner." At McLaren, when in 1989, the Championship came to a head at the famous chicane at Suzuka between Prost and Senna. Even if there is a designated Number One driver, this doesn't always work. Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann at Williams are a prime example of this in 1981.
But, anyway, back to reality.
After watching Suzuka 1997, I'll say that I've seen one of the most unbelievable acts of teamwork and sacrifice in Formula One ever. It has been the first time that I've seen two drivers work together to a common goal. Irvine was leading in Japan by twelve and fifteen seconds and then slowed up to 6 seconds a lap to let Schumacher pass and then balk Villeneuve while Michael ran away with the victory. The goal was simple - Victory for Schumacher to enable him to stay in the championship.
At Jerez, it happened again, only this time for Williams. After both Schumacher and Villeneuve pitted, the order was Frentzen, Hakkinen, Coulthard and the Villeneuve. While the two McLarens pitted in quick procession, Frentzen held up Schumacher long enough to give Villeneuve a chance to catch up to Michael, and eventually put that move that sealed the fate of the 1997 Championship.
I'm not one to question team roles, but doesn't it seem better to have just the two contenders dice it out like in Jerez rather than the blocking role that Irvine played in Suzuka? Not necessarily. How much is Formula One a team sport? Very much so in my opinion.
Let's start with the pitstop. As a driver comes in, you have eighteen or more mechanics swarm over the car, changing tyres, refueling, wiping visors, cleaning radiator ducts. There have been a number of races where the pitstop has had an influence.
Monza 1997. We see both Coulthard and Alesi come into the pits line astern. They leave line astern, albeit in the reverse order, all because of the McLaren pitstop being just a little faster than the Benetton one. Silverstone, and Villeneuve lost multiple places when his wheel nut was damaged.
Murray Walker said very correctly during the ITV Jerez telecast that Formula One is not just about the drivers and the engines and the chassis, but about the mechanics, the designers, the team as such. Then, does that mean the roles that both Irvine and Frentzen served (at the respective races) were right? Alan Jones thought not in Suzuka, when Irvine blocking Villeneuve allowed Schumacher to get away. He seemed to approve more of Frentzen's tactics at Jerez, though, although he was not questioned about it.
Anyhow, it made for a great end to 1997, and a new champion.
Alexander is 18 years old and currently studying first year Arts/Science at Monash University in Australia. He loves all forms of motorsport, especially Rallying and open-wheeler racing. His goal is completing my Psychology Doctorate in 7 years time and work in amateur and professional theatre.
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