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.