Guest writer Matthew Briggs has been musing on the topic of number two drivers in Formula One. Having dealt with the worst yesterday he’s now looking at the best, paying tribute to the finest wingmen this sport has seen.
There’s a no more thankless task than being the best at not being the best. With that in mind you’d be surprised to find there has been a glut of drivers over the years willing to ‘take one for the team’. Some should really know better, others are just happy to find themselves with a race seat and a few just find themselves in that position through no fault of their own.
One of the latter was Sir Stirling Moss, arguably the greatest driver to never win the title, who was unfortunate enough to partner arguably the greatest driver of all time in 1955.
It was the first of Stirling’s many years as bridesmaid, but arguably the only time he was an out-and-out number two. Moss had only raced sporadically in F1 before his move to Mercedes and wasn’t expected to do anything other than act as a foil for Juan Manuel Fangio, but his raciness impressed as he followed the eventual world champion home in second place that season. Juan Manuel allegedly showed his appreciation of Moss’ work at the British Grand Prix, as the Argentinean slowed allowing him to sneak past on the final corner and win his first Grand Prix in a move which would’ve had Eddie Jordan advocating hanging for all involved. Moss asked Fangio whether he let him through on purpose and the five time world champion assured the Brit he hadn’t, saying “you were just better than me that day.”
Whilst being quick to keep pace with (if not totally overshadowing your teammate) is one thing, paying their wages is another- and doing both will make you more sought after than an interesting interview with Kimi Raikkonen.
Pedro Diniz was the quintessential 90s pay driver. Son of one of the richest men in Brazil, he bought his way into a race seat and then surprised everyone by being average. No more, no less. Journalists loved him, simply because when his car caught fire it gave them an opportunity to roll out the ‘Diniz in the oven’ headline, but he was also a favourite of teams in dire straights.
Forti were first to take advantage of his cash in 1995, but the car was so depressingly slow he upped sticks and spent 1996 at Ligier. In 1997 he lucked out big time when Tom Walkinshaw, F1’s very own Del Boy, chose him as the pay driver to fund world champion Damon Hill’s move to the long suffering Arrows team.
Hill’s move was fuelled by the promise of a competitive car and a lot of money, only half of which would be true. The A18 was a dog, plagued with reliability woes, and wasn’t anywhere near fast enough to keep pace with the title challengers, but Hill still managed to coax the occasional decent performance out of it- as did Diniz. While Pedro’s successes lacked the romanticism of Damon’s near victory in Hungary he still impressed with a points finish at an attritional Luxembourg Grand Prix. Diniz remained at Arrows in 1998 and matched his more illustrious team mate Mika Salo point for point.
It was beginning to look like Diniz was becoming more than just a number two with a bit of cash and possibly even a team leader. He moved to Sauber where he struggled to finish but when he did it was almost always in the points, meaning he outscored his teammate and F1 elder statesman Jean Alesi.
In 2000 though things began to sour and he failed to score a single point. His performances were so abject that he made a decision to retire and while he flirted with team ownership he eventually headed back to his native Brazil to run several family-owned companies.
You can’t mention number two drivers without casting a cursory glance over those poor sods who partnered Michael Schumacher at Ferrari from 1996 onwards. The first was Irish playboy and all round provocateur Eddie Irvine. While he didn’t have the pleasure of flanking the German as he romped to a third world title he almost won one himself in 1999, after a broken leg meant Michael sat out a large part of the season. Unfortunately the man from County Down was ultimately unsuccessful but he did help Ferrari to their first constructors title in 16 years.
Irvine’s tenure wasn’t totally without controversy. An extremely amateurish pit stop from the well drilled Ferrari team when Eddie was battling for the title had conspiracy theorists donning their tinfoil bonnets, but it was positively serene compared to that of his successor Rubens Barrichello. The nice guy of F1 arrived from Stewart in 2000 just as Schumacher and Ferrari were coming into their own and winning every trophy in sight. Even though Schumacher was at his peak the team weren’t taking any chances and Rubens was rarely allowed a clean run at his teammate, something which he has taken great pleasure in reminding everyone who would listen since he sulked off from the team in 2005.
But regardless of how he felt deep down Rubens complied with every request thrown at him from the pit wall, the most controversial of which saw both him, Schumacher and the team booed by fans and publicly derided by the media. At Austria in 2002 Barrichello was on for only his second career victory when the call came down from on high- “let Michael through.”
At the final corner he slowed and Schumacher snuck past. The fall out from this clear manipulation of the race results was a ban on team orders, meaning outfits now have to be a bit more cunning when trying to give one driver preference over another, although as Ferrari have recently shown that rule doesn’t apply to them. Rubens spent another three years at Maranello before he decided to up sticks and head to the ailing Honda team. He was replaced by Felipe Massa who was just happy to get a Ferrari drive, and became good friends with Schumacher before his eventual retirement.
No matter how beneficial Rubens was to Michael and how long they spent in the same garage the two don’t have much time for one another – Rubens took the opportunity to indulge in a bit of Schumi bashing once the seven time world champion had called it a day, boring the press with tales of how he was much faster than his teammate and even going as far as drunkenly casting aspersions on Schumacher’s sexuality. With that in mind it’s no surprise Schumacher was tempted to put Barrichello into pit wall only a few weeks ago. Other more mental drivers have thrown haymakers for less.
Being a number two is in no way beneficial to your world title chances or your health, but being a faithful deputy doesn’t make you a bad driver. Some of the best have done their time at the heel of a more superior name. Regardless of how you feel about them or their role they are here and they are staying, at least until Bernie finally loses it altogether and bans them. Lets enjoy the drama they provide while we can, eh?