A key theme of the 2010 Formula 1 championship is the intense driver rivalries we are seeing in all of the top teams.
This is a feature that has become more apparent over the last few seasons as the depth of quality on the F1 grid has got stronger and stronger, leading to some mighty driver partnerships.
If you look back, as recently as 2006 we didn’t have the intense teammate rivalries that we have currently.
Ferrari and Renault were the front runners that season. However Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher were the clear number 1's on their respective teams. They went up against each other in the championship without the added threat from the enemy within.
As good as it is to have two top drivers on your team, it does bring its problems. A civil war between the drivers is the obvious potential problem that stands out.
However, there is a more pressing issue. This is that, with two strong drivers who are performing equally throughout the season, they will end up taking points off each other.
This puts both drivers at a disadvantage, particularly to a driver on another team who has a less skilled teammate and is, therefore, scoring a larger percentage of the team’s points. Consequently, he gets fewer points taken off him, which aids him enormously in the title race.
The 1986 season is the best example where a strong driver partnership cost a team the driver’s title. Williams generally had the stronger car that year and comfortably beat McLaren by 141 points to 96 in the constructor’s championship.
On the other hand, their drivers Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell just lost out to McLaren’s Alain Prost in the driver’s championship.
Piquet and Mansell were closely matched over the season. Mansell was stronger in the first half of the season. After the British GP, Mansell was 18 points ahead of Piquet in the standings, but only four points clear of Prost.
Piquet then came on strong in the second half of the season and pegged back Mansell in the championship and the pair, along with Prost, went into the finale race with a chance to win the title.
Prost won the final shootout and edged his way to the title.
Alain Prost 72
Nigel Mansell 70
Nelson Piquet 69
The key factor for Prost was his superiority over his teammate Keke Rosberg. Out of the two Williams drivers, Mansell scored 49.6% of the team’s points.
Prost, on the other hand, scored 75% of his team’s points. Prost also earned all four McLaren race victories.
Williams achieved nine victories over the season, but Mansell and Piquet shared the honours. Had either driver won more of those nine races, there would have been no doubt one of them would have been champion ahead of Prost.
Had Prost, like Mansell, scored 49.6% of his team’s points, he would only have scored 47 points. This would have put him a distant third behind Mansell and Piquet in the championship.
The 2007 in-house battle at McLaren between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso also cost both drivers the title to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Like Mansell and Piquet, the pair exchanged blows over the course of the year.
Ferrari opted to elect their leading driver on points, after the Italian GP to be their main title focus, which happened to be Raikkonen.
This worked a treat, as Raikkonen won three out of the four final races and McLaren continued to let their sparring duo take points off each other. McLaren should never have allowed Raikkonen to win what should have been their title.
Back to 2010 now and we could well be talking about a similar story when the title fight reaches its conclusion at Abu Dhabi in November.
Here is a list of the current situations in the top four teams, with the closest teammate battle first.
Mark Webber- 78 and 50.0% of team’s points total scored
Sebastien Vettel – 78 and 50.0% of team’s points total scored
Jenson Button – 70 and 54.3% of team’s points total scored
Lewis Hamilton – 59 and 45.7% of team’s points total scored
Fernando Alonso – 75 and 55.1% of team’s points total scored
Felipe Massa – 61 and 44.9% of team’s points total scored
Nico Rosberg – 56 and 71.9% of team’s points total scored
Michael Schumacher- 22 and 28.1% of team’s points total scored
The championship could well be won by the driver who can assert his authority most over his teammate and, as a result, scoring the larger percentage of the team’s points.
In short, the driver who gets the least points taken off him by his teammate stands the best chance of sealing the championship. The question is: Who will that driver be?
Looking at the above table, Nico Rosberg is the driver who stands out. Unfortunately, Mercedes is behind in the championship and off the pace. Unless Mercedes can perform a sudden turnaround, it’s unlikely that Rosberg will be able to benefit from the fact he is the most dominant in the teammate wars in the title battle.
Before Barcelona, it looked as if Vettel had a good chance of dominating in the Red Bull camp. After China, Vettel was leading Webber in the championship by 17 points. Over the past two races, with Webber hitting a purple patch, they are now equal on points. Had this 17-point swing gone in the opposite direction, Vettel’s advantage over Webber would have become 36 points.
With a gap like that, it would have become a near certainty that Vettel would have naturally assumed the number 1 status within the team. As it stands now this inter-team battle is going to rumble on.
Later in the season Vettel could look on the last two races regretting how he let Webber into the fight, as opposed to making his position stronger. It could cost him the championship.
At McLaren, Button and Hamilton have been taking turns as the team’s top dog. Hamilton was on top in Bahrain, then Button in Australia, then Hamilton in China and so on. It looks unlikely that we are going to be seeing a clear winner here. This is the new Senna/Prost partnership.
At Ferrari there has appeared to be quite a big gulf between the drivers. Alonso has generally had the upper hand on the team. Although the points difference isn’t dominant in Alonso’s favour, the stopwatch concludes that Alonso is quite a bit quicker than the Brazilian.
The main reason why this dominance in pace hasn’t been converted in the points table is the uncharacteristic errors we have witnessed from the Spaniard lately. If he can maintain this pace but cut out the errors, he looks in great shape.
In conclusion, 2010 stands a very good chance of being a repeat of 1986. Red Bull has the quickest car as Williams did in 1986. However, if Vettel and Webber continue to share out the wins and Alonso can dominate Massa, he stands a very good chance of snatching the title in the same manner Alain Prost did back in 1986.
The way things are shaping up at McLaren, you could bet a fair bit of money that they are going to suffer the same feat as they did back in 2007.
An alternative scenario is that Red Bull does a repeat of 1988. That year, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost were at each other’s throats at McLaren. However, a 1986/2007 situation was avoided because the car was so utterly dominant (they won 15 out of 16 races) that the fact that they took results off each other didn’t matter.
In this writer’s opinion, Fernando Alonso will benefit most from 2010’s inter-team rivalries and this will allow him to edge the driver’s crown. Red Bull may well go on to win eight or nine races this year, but if they are all shared and Alonso can dominate Massa and win four or five more races, he can win this championship. The close battle between Red Bull’s drivers could be the main threat to their chances in the driver’s championship.
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