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On ri­valry be­tween team-mates

‘At the end of the day, it isn’t un­com­mon for team-mates to rub each other up the wrong way’

Imust ad­mit that I spend lit­tle time surf­ing mo­tor sport fo­rums as it isn’t some­thing that re­ally in­ter­ests me. This is prob­a­bly for the best, given that no fo­rum de­bate ap­pears to be com­plete with­out some­body la­belling some­body else a com­plete soand-so. This usu­ally oc­curs when the worth of a driver or a team is called into ques­tion by one party, an­other per­son wad­ing in to de­fend his or her par­tic­u­lar favourites shortly there­after. One side then opens their bot­tle of vit­riol and lets rip. It’s all rather sad, not least be­cause peo­ple post things they wouldn’t dream of say­ing out loud in per­son, and, as such, they’ve im­me­di­ately lost the ar­gu­ment.

I only men­tion this be­cause I am amazed at just how ra­bid some mo­tor sport fans are, and rarely more so than when the sub­ject is the ri­valry be­tween Lewis Hamil­ton and Nico Ros­berg within the Mercedes AMG F1 team. It’s enough to make your eyes wa­ter. There is no room for im­par­tial­ity, it would seem: you may like one of them, but not both.

But, then, th­ese guys have known each other since they were kids rac­ing karts. They have been friends, en­e­mies and friends again ever since. They are tal­ented and highly mo­ti­vated in­di­vid­u­als bat­tling it out in iden­ti­cal cars in an en­vi­ron­ment that’s awash with testos­terone and ego.

Hamil­ton claimed his F1 driv­ers’ ti­tle, but Nico dom­i­nated the fi­nal three rounds of the 2015 GP sea­son. The dy­namic was con­stantly shift­ing and I found that fas­ci­nat­ing. The fo­rums, by con­trast, spewed out con­spir­acy the­o­ries about who nob­bled who, which driver re­ceived pref­er­en­tial treat­ment be­cause he has in­crim­i­nat­ing pho­tos of a se­nior team in­sider; you know, that sort of non­sense.

This kind of thing washes over me. I know from ex­pe­ri­ence that what you see from the out­side rarely mir­rors what is oc­cur­ring on the in­side. I have no more of an idea as to what is hap­pen­ing in­side the Mercedes fac­tory in Brack­ley than most fo­rum dwellers, the dif­fer­ence be­ing that I at least know some of the char­ac­ters in­volved. What is ir­refutable, how­ever, is that both Lewis and Nico are favourites to clean up again in 2016.

And, hav­ing writ­ten peo­ple off for hy­poth­e­sis­ing, I am go­ing to pos­tu­late a lit­tle my­self ahead of the new sea­son. I see Hamil­ton and Ros­berg slug­ging it out as be­fore, but the lat­ter be­ing less in­clined to yield at the first cor­ner. Hamil­ton tends to be some­what ruth­less at the start of races, and his team-mate has of­ten come un­stuck. The lat­ter part of the 2015 sea­son, how­ever, saw a new Ros­berg; one with a steely de­ter­mi­na­tion I hith­erto thought was lack­ing. His run of six straight pole po­si­tions in the fi­nal six rounds will also give him a spring in his step ahead of the new sea­son. I am go­ing to go out on a limb, how­ever, by say­ing that I ex­pect they won’t still be team-mates in 2017.

I’m re­minded of a quote that has, over the years, been at­trib­uted to ev­ery­one from Enzo Fer­rari to Frank Wil­liams and just about ev­ery team owner in-be­tween. ‘You don’t put two bulls in the same field,’ or so the say­ing goes. In essence, you don’t want two num­ber one driv­ers in the same team. You only have to think back to the bruis­ing bat­tles on and off the track be­tween Alain Prost and Ayr­ton Senna in the late ’80s to know that there is an el­e­ment of truth to this the­ory.

There have been mo­ments in my ca­reer when I have been out­spo­ken, but I al­ways had such con­ver­sa­tions be­hind closed doors. I cer­tainly didn’t slag off the team or a team-mate in pub­lic. That’s a les­son that some driv­ers need to learn, in­clud­ing the cur­rent F1 World Cham­pion.

On the flip­side, a good team man­ager will not be afraid of bang­ing heads to­gether un­til sense pre­vails. Think back to such leg­ends of yes­ter­year as Al­fred Neubauer and John Wyer. I doubt that ei­ther gent would have stood for back­talk from their driv­ers. Heck, I know John wouldn’t have.

At the end of the day, it isn’t un­com­mon for team-mates to rub each other up the wrong way. I have driven along­side some who I didn’t nec­es­sar­ily like, but, for the most part, I re­spected them at the very least. I got on fa­mously with most of the guys I raced with or along­side, and I like to think that they felt the same about me.

Ul­ti­mately, I couldn’t care a jot if a driver is un­happy with his team-mate. This isn’t a pil­low fight, it’s mo­tor rac­ing. Re­mem­ber why you’re there, who put you there and what the end goal is. Ev­ery­thing else is white noise.

Derek Bell Derek took up rac­ing in 1964 in a Lotus 7, won two World Sportscar Cham­pi­onship ti­tles in 1985 and 1986, the 24 Hours of Day­tona three times in 1986, 1987 and 1989, and Le Mans five times in 1975, 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987. He was speak­ing with Richard He­sel­tine.

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