We think you’ll agree that ‘number two driver’ is a bit of an ugly term in F1. The fans don’t like knowing someone’s getting unequal treatment any more than a driver likes finding out they’ve become a number two.
But at Badger we don’t dodge the tough issues- or a chance to take a lighthearted look at them. That’s why we’ve charged guest writer Matthew Briggs with taking a look at F1’s best and worst number two drivers. Today we kick off one the wrong foot, with the worst wingmen in F1 history.
There are only three types of people who are reduced to quivering wrecks by the phrase ‘number two’: school children, the scatologically minded and us- the common or garden F1 fan. When Mark Webber sarcastically told the Red Bull pit wall his win at the British Grand Prix wasn’t “bad for a number two driver” the collective intake of breath from living rooms would’ve been audible if it wasn’t for Eddie Jordan’s shirts. Number twos are something we all know of but rarely talk about. They’re an anomaly in modern F1, where all drivers are equal but some are more equal than others. So why not show our appreciation and celebrate the best and the worst of Formula One’s forgotten men?
In the F1 paddock selflessness is about as rare as a Jean-Denis Deletraz overtake. Formula One is a sport that relies on ego, so it’s no surprise that for every Peter Collins on the grid there are half a dozen Luigi Musso’s, sulking like a bunch lovelorn 14 year-old girls.
Mr Musso was arguably the first number two driver to really flick the Vs in the direction of his more illustrious team leader and decide to go it alone. In 1956 he moved from Maserati to Ferrari to partner Juan Manuel Fangio and in the first race in Argentina was asked to jump out the car so his recently retired teammate could nip in and fight for first. He complied and Fangio battled through the pack to win his home Grand Prix in impressive fashion.
Less than 9 months later, after suffering a horrific accident at the Nurburgring which saw him miss most of the championship, Musso was back behind the wheel at his own home Grand Prix- and in the lead- when the request was repeated. Fangio’s car had failed on him and the only way he could be certain of securing his third consecutive world title was if he was on the track.
Musso gave a stereotypical Italian ‘nessuno’ and it was left to the aforementioned Peter Collins, who himself was fighting for the title, to hand over his machine to Fangio. Karma came back to bite Musso though as his car failed three laps from the chequered flag, denying him victory and instead helping Fangio secure the title.
You’d be hard pressed to justify calling Musso’s disobedience a spat given the gentlemanly nature of the sport back in the days- it was more like a minor tête-à-tête between colleagues. Whatever the accepted definition it was the first of many intra team arguments.
The most famous started way back 1988, when Alain Prost pleaded with McLaren to hire Ayrton Senna. The main reason for Prost’s insistence the Brazilian became his wingman was that he would bring the extremely competitive Honda engines with him, greatly increasing Prost’s own chances of world title glory.
Unfortunately for him Senna had different ideas, and 1988 turned into a corker as the Professor’s dream world title romp became a nightmare. Between the two of them they won 15 out of the 16 races and at the penultimate race in Japan Senna beat out his more experienced team mate to win his maiden world title and kick start the greatest rivalry the sport has ever seen.
History seemed to be repeating itself in 2007 when a double world champion driving a McLaren was confronted by an upstart in a bright yellow helmet. The now infamous Hamilton-Alonso battle, while lacking the satisfactory outcome of a world title for one of them, caused trouble both on and off the track. As with Prost and Senna it was never implicitly stated that Hamilton was going to be number two, but anyone who imagined he’d win a head to head with the fat necked Fernando Alonso prior to the curtain raiser in Melbourne would’ve been accused of smoking James Hunt‘s secret stash. The young Brit hadn’t race in F1 competitively and he was up against the man who beat Michael Schumacher at his own game. However it soon became clear that for whatever reason Alonso wasn’t completely happy at the Woking outfit and Hamilton’s initial consistency, and later sheer brilliance, made him a serious title contender.
Things came to a rather bizarre head in Hungary when the motor racing equivalent of a cat fight broke out during the final part of qualifying, with both drivers indulging in petty manoeuvres to get one over on the other. After the session Fernando issued an ultimatum to Ron Dennis: “make me number one or I’ll tell the FIA about those classified Ferrari documents lying around the factory.” Suffice to say all that threat did was confirm the fact Alonso would no longer be a McLaren employee come next season. Hamilton pipped the moody Spaniard to second in the world championship and Alonso seems to have been in a state of angst ridden disarray ever since, like a teenager who has walked in on his parents during an intimate moment.
With all that in mind you’d have thought a driver who can barely find his biting point would be enough to placate the more insecure number ones on the grid. After Hamilton had put Alonso’s nose out of joint the Spaniard decided to move back to Renault to be mothered by the incomprehensible Flavio Briatore, and Nelson Piquet Jr was chosen to be his team mate.
While Nelsinho’s father was renowned for his feud with the tached dullard Nigel Mansell, Junior clearly fancied a quieter life, and rarely troubled the points or Fernando. If in 2008 he was abject then in 2009 he was exceptionally awful, so much so that after ten rounds he was cut adrift.
That should’ve been the end of the story but Nelsinho had other ideas. First he resorted to the type of name calling that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a private school dormitory. When that didn’t make a dent in Flav’s tanned hide he tipped off Brazilian TV that he’d been forced to put his car into the wall in Singapore by the Renault bosses, giving an enormous leg up to Alonso and helping him win the race.
Questions were asked, such as how Piquet could even understand any order given by Briatore, but the revelation that the more coherent Pat Symonds was also in on it gave the World Motor Sport Council all the evidence it needed to go a bit John Lithgow in Footloose and slap bans on almost everyone involved. Alonso’s insistence he knew nothing of the crash was accepted by the FIA, but his win at Singapore is now tainted rather than seen as the fantastic tactical drive it was initially thought to be. It goes without saying that Christmas cards are no longer exchanged between the two.
There’s not enough bandwidth in the world to list every single unruly ‘number two’ but special mentions must go to the slightly unhinged Carlos Reutemann for his battle with new team mate and then world champion Alan Jones; Gilles Villeneuve for forcing Niki Lauda into retirement by just turning up at the 1977 Canadian Grand Prix; and Nick Heidfeld circa 2000 when he made it his business to run team mate Jean Alesi off the road on more than one occasion. Without them this bloody soap opera simply wouldn’t be the same.
Like a number two driver ordered to hold station, the second part of Matthew’s assessment- where we’ll look at F1’s finest wingmen- will follow number one across the line tomorrow.