January 16th, 2013 (F1plus / Briony Dixon).- With the greatest challenge and test of driver skill being performance against a team-mate in identical machinery, it is often the battle between them that can provide the most dramatic results.
The most infamous example of this being the relationship between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at McLaren. Alain Prost must have sorely regretted his suggestion that Senna join McLaren as his team-mate for the 1988 season, as it triggered a debilitating struggle for dominance resulting in a collision between them in the final race of the 1989 season.
The loss of constructor’s championship points is never a prize teams aspire to, and having duelling team mates of this nature is not favourable. Although team mates now are rarely allowed to properly race each other as Prost and Senna did, especially towards the end of a season, the intricacies of a team-mate relationship are complex.
One battle that appears to be becoming more multifarious is the one at Red Bull. In 2010, both drivers started the season on an equal footing, neither being a World Championship winner. However, due to being a Red Bull Young Drivers Programme protegé, Sebastian Vettel has a closer relationship with Team Advisor Helmet Marko and as the season progressed, the balance between the team mates appeared changed.
The now infamous “Not bad for a number two driver” radio message following Webber’s victory at Silverstone was a clear indication of the situation between them. Vettel’s status as number one driver at Red Bull has grown as he has accumulated World Championships, and Mark Webber has recently come under fire for not supporting his team-mate in reaching Championship victory.
Prior to the race, Webber was quoted as saying: “I will be focused entirely on my own cockpit.”
Following the race, Flavio Briatore said, "The only one who helped Ferrari was Webber.”
Another potentially fiery relationship could be the new pairing at Mercedes. Team-mates in GP2, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton achieved Championship victories in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Having a competitive team-mate is something that Lewis Hamilton struggles to deal with, an early demonstration of this being when he was partnered with Fernando Alonso at McLaren. When Alonso left McLaren the view that he couldn’t cope with his team-mate being faster than him was held by most.
However, the lack of respect Hamilton showed Jenson Button by tweeting telemetry data after Jenson’s pole position in Spa, revealed Lewis as being the team-mate threatened by the speed and talent of others. Nico Rosberg playing a number two role at Mercedes could create an air of harmony, but racing as an equal could result in fractious discord. Racing to assist his team-mate achieve World Championship after World Championship is clearly a concept that Mark finds uncomfortable. Sparks could fly in this inter team battle in 2013.
Raikkonen and Grosjean with the press at Valencia.
Replacement for Bruno Senna at Williams, Valterri Bottas, could reveal the true talents of Pastor Maldonado. Despite claiming his maiden victory in Spain in 2012, Pastor finished only fourteen points ahead of Senna, the loss of points mainly due to his temperamental nature. Having enjoyed the luxury of having a team-mate invariably off the pace in comparison with his own in 2012, being teamed against the new flying Finn for 2013 could be a challenge. Maldonado will need to ensure that he keeps his Latin fire dampened as Bottas could prove to be the driver to shatter the illusion conjured up about the Venezuelan, on the back of one win.
2013 should be a learning curve for Sergio Perez at McLaren, led by Jenson Button. However, if the form the Mexican showed in the early part of last season returns, there could be some inter team combat. With Massa retaining his seat at Ferrari for a further year, he will continue to do what is required of him as a number two driver to Fernando Alonso.
To maintain consistency, Lotus have kept the same drivers in Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen. The Iceman will be wishing to build on the successful foundations he put down in his comeback year, while his younger team-mate will need to leave his tendency to cause unnecessary accidents behind. It is difficult to perceive any tumultuous team-mate strife being apparent at Lotus due to the icy, relaxed nature of Kimi.
Toro Rosso have also retained the same drivers for 2013. Both rookies last season, Daniel Ricciardo and John Eric Vergne will need to use this year to prove their worth and create a portfolio for use when vying for a possible Red Bull seat in the future. Good friends off track, there are unlikely to be even slightly glowing embers of fire between these team mates.
In a season that sees a lot of new driver line ups, the battle lines are yet to be drawn and the possible duels yet to begin. We wait to see what direction the fires ignite in.