Atlas F1

The Enemy Within
An article on the thorny subject of intra-team rivalry in Formula One

by Ross Neilson, England

It's a simple fact in Grand Prix racing that the one man you must beat is your team-mate. If you don't, you're effectively a nobody and will soon find yourself sliding down the greased rope that is Formula One's order of merit. A quick glance at this year's entry list reveals several potentially close encounters between drivers of the same equipment.

At the Williams stable for racing thoroughbreds we have newcomer Heinz-Harald Frentzen paired with a now wiser Jacques Villeneuve: an interesting mix of raw speed and wily racecraft. If the car is as good as it should be, these two will be out on their own together and as such pitched into direct combat, much the same as the French-Canadian and his ousted colleague Damon Hill were in 1996.

Over at Jordan, there is basically what amounts to a rookie rivalry between rapid Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, a protégé of Benetton boss Flavio Briatore and Ralf Schumacher, younger brother of Michael. These two are sure to keep each other on their toes throughout the crucial final year of Peugeot's contract with Eddie's boys.

The third couple of particular interest to me are the Tyrrell twins Salo and Verstappen. Uncle Ken stepped in at the eleventh hour and saved Jos' career, now the accident-prone Dutchman has to grab his chance with both hands. It won`t be easy against the highly-touted Finn who has the full weight of the team behind him, but if he can ally some consistency to his proven pace than he has the opportunity to get his career back on the rails.

A Formula One driver's relationship with his team is a unique one, unlike any other in this modern, money-driven era of sport. On the one hand these guys have to work together away from the races to develop the car, sharing information and trying various set-ups. Yet come the Grand Prix weekend they are bitter rivals again, especially in qualifying which is regarded as the best barometer for pure pace. It is not surprising then that some partnerships have got particularly heated and boiled over into open hatred. Personally, I like to see a good battle between two team-mates when they have equal equipment and we all love a good slanging match between them in the press don't we? As long as the two don't try to openly drive each other into the wall then this sort of thing certainly adds some spice to a race weekend.

Down the years, this sport has produced plenty of great rivalries within teams -- between some of the quickest pilots this planet has produced. Not surprisingly some have been more amicable than others.

Moss and Fangio typified the sporting decorum that was the backbone of their era, maintaining a good relationship both on and off the track during the early years of the fledgling World Championship. The Briton had the utmost respect, almost awe, for his friend and sometime team-mate's racing skills, as is evident when he recalls the famous 1955 British Grand Prix at Aintree. Moss states than when he overtook Fangio and went on to win his home event, he was never sure if the great Argentine had merely let him through or whether he had genuinely outpaced him that day. Publicly Fangio had always stated that Stirling was the quicker of the two that day, but was he just being gentlemanly? Alas we will never know.

Before Formula One embraced the Great God Television at the end of the 1970s, there were no inter-team rivalries of note that became particularly ill-natured. Lotus enjoyed a successful period in the sixties with Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill at the wheel, the Super Scot's overwhelming natural ability ensured that Hill was never consistently close enough to spark a heated contest between the two.

Additionally, the retiring Jackie Stewart openly aided the maturing of team-mate Francois Cevert, intending the talented Frenchman to take over as Tyrrell team leader at the end of 1973. The pair were great friends and rivals during the Scot's final title-winning season, as such Jackie felt compelled to announce immediate retirement when his protégé crashed fatally during practice for the penultimate Grand Prix of that year.

Ironically Stewart became a major influence in the sport's transition into the professional era. Safety increased, money began to dominate and Formula One's popularity spiralled under the guidance of Bernie Ecclestone. Thus the stakes became higher too.

One rivalry in the early 1980s ended in tragedy just as it had moved into a more acrimonious stage. Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi had been great friends as well as Ferrari team-mates in 1982 until the latter `stole` victory in the San Marino Grand Prix of that year. Team orders at the Scuderia stated whoever was in the lead when the two scarlet cars hit the front would be allowed to remain there and take the victory. In this case Gilles took up the reins of leadership, closely followed by Pironi, when the fragile Renault cars had retired. The two put on a show for the fans, passing and repassing each other as the race approached its climax. Villeneuve however believed the race was still his. When he was overtaken on the final lap and beaten into second, it was the end of his friendship with Pironi. Gilles was an honourable man and was furious at what he saw as Pironi's act of treachery. The two were still at loggerheads a fortnight later when the brilliant French-Canadian was killed at Zolder.

Nelson Piquet, unlike Villeneuve, was very open about his dislike of Nigel Mansell, who he felt should defer to him on the track during their spell at Williams in 1986 and 1987. The Brazilian's contract stated he was the team's number one driver and as such he expected Mansell not to trouble him in terms of pace. However, Nigel was coming on in leaps and bounds and their relationship deteriorated as they fought out the title in their two years together. At one point Nelson even unfavourably compared Mansell's wife Rosanne to a certain farm animal...

Ayrton Senna's arrival in Grand Prix racing saw the introduction of intimidation and hard, sometimes unfair tactics. When Ron Dennis paired him with the less confrontational Alain Prost in the McLaren team a bitter war began which only ended shortly before the tragic events of Imola 1994.

The awesome intensity and win-at-all-costs approach of the Brazilian shook Prost who, until then, had made the McLaren team his own. Senna set out not just to beat his team-mate but to utterly destroy him. As they slugged it out for the 1988 and 1989 championships Senna used increasingly dubious tactics to ensure victory. At Estoril in 1988, he swerved violently into the Frenchman's path at 180mph risking not only their lives but those of the pack behind him and certain team personnel on the pit wall. At Imola in 1989 he reneged on a deal between the two that 'whoever led into turn one would not be overtaken by the other during the opening laps'. Then at Suzuka there was the first of their two infamous title-deciding collisions, this was one was widely considered to be Prost's fault. He retorted that in the past he had always "opened the door" for Senna during their battles, but this time he decided not to. Prost took the title and joined Ferrari.

The war continued from their separate camps, at one point Senna could not bear to say Prost's name, his rival claimed that "because Senna believes in God, he thinks he cannot be killed". They even reconciled before falling out again in 1990. Only when Prost retired did the two reach friendly terms for the first time.

Since then Formula One has been lacking any great rivalries, within the same team or not. Michael Schumacher has simply been a cut above the rest. Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen could provide something similar this year although they are not true greats of the sport yet like Senna and Prost. Williams have reportedly cooled off somewhat towards their new boy who will get no sympathy from the team if he is not quick enough.

I see Fisichella outpacing Ralf Schumacher at Jordan quite comfortably, he has beaten the German already in testing. At Tyrrell I expect Salo will retain the upper hand. But I truly believe Frentzen can give Villeneuve a run for his money. If the Williams is good enough to keep Michael Schumacher out of the picture, we could be in for a season of close racing between the Williams pair and perhaps the beginnings of another slanging match, sorry, great rivalry. Let`s hope so.

Ross Neilson
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