Ferrari’s next difficult decision
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We are two races down now in the 2017 “it’s a brave new world” Formula 1 Grand Prix season.
At last week’s Chinese Grand Prix, the Ferrari team indicated it is becoming a match for the Mercedes team (at least when the respective cars are driven by Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton).
I am sure that Hamilton’s fellow Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas is going to be good but he will have to live down that inexcusable rookie error of spinning off the track, and then spinning again while trying to regain the track, in the best chassis on the grid, all this while following the safety car.
As for Kimi Raikkonen driving the sister Ferrari to that of Vettel.
Despite his protestations over the radio about the power, the tyres and the lack of grip on his Ferrari, he was clearly no match for his teammate and finished some 40 seconds back from him after being unable to dispatch either Red Bull racing car.
The Ferrari “Amministratore Delegato” (CEO to you and me) Sergio Marchionne suggested that “talks be held” with Raikkonen. With a new breed of driver coming through the ranks, maybe his time is up.
Marchionne has a powerful, demanding, captain-of-industry demeanour that brooks no argument.
Having said that, the latest Enzo Ferrari protege, Antonio Giovinnazi, contrived to have two accidents in Shanghai while acting as Sauber team stand-in driver .
It happened in front of Marchionne.
Clearly Vettel is the number one driver in Ferrari but the question of a number one or number two driver has always been a difficult one.
Many teams, notably McLaren, Williams and Mercedes, have always tried (and largely succeeded) in giving equal treatment to each driver; but even then it is rare for both drivers to manage to demonstrate that status on track. When they do, it is even more rare for it to work out on a friendly basis.
Looking at the Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost relationship, while they were driving for McLaren, shows just how acrimonious those partnerships can be.
In the Ferrari/Michael Schumacher era, the team never bothered with the pretence or notion of equality among their drivers but just occasionally the number two had to step up and perform.
Eddie Irvine took on the team leader role in 1999 when Michael Schumacher broke his leg — and nearly succeeded in winning the world title.
When Schumacher returned to the track with no hope left of winning the title himself, he set about helping Irvine.
This lead Irvine to say, “He's not only the best driver in the world, he's also the best number two in the world."
Two widely recognised “best drivers in history” were teammates in the mid 1950s driving for the Mercedes team.
In a different era, admittedly one filled with apparent sportsmanship, Sir Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio were locked in battle, but still Sir Stirling considered himself to be a number two to Fangio.
Asked why Fangio always had the best car, Sir Stirling said, “Because he was the best bloody driver! The cheapest method of becoming a successful Grand Prix team was to sign up Fangio.”
Through Formula 1 history, number two drivers have often been a willing pair of shoulders on which the number one driver, and the team, have climbed to reach the top. It is a team sport.
Gerhard Berger’s carefree Austrian personality was the perfect foil to Senna’s occasional irascible one.
Senna respected Berger enough to allow him to win the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix by pulling over before the finish line.
So if Raikkonen retires, who should Ferrari recruit next?
It will probably be a number two to Vettel. But wouldn’t it be a dream to see Max Verstappen alongside Vettel racing each other in equal-performing Ferraris and up against Lewis Hamilton and Bottas in their Mercedes, and Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso in Red Bull cars.