Teammates, it is quite a heavy laden concept in F1. F1 drivers are among the most competitive and egotistical sportsmen in the world, yet we expect them to function and compete in a team, preferably even on equal footing with their teammates. No real F1 fan likes to see the sham that was the infamous ‘Fernando is faster than you’ in Germany last year, yet the FIA has allowed team orders back into F1 after an 8 year abscence following Schumi and Rubens’ antics.
We focus too much on team orders, no.1 and no.2 drivers when talking about teammates in F1, what I am looking for is a team that manages to exploit teamwork to get the upper hand over the competition. I got the idea for this article watching the Spanish Grand Prix when Vettel came out behind Button and Massa after his first stop. Many thought he’d be in trouble due to this, so I was gearing up to see a nice battle between these guys, to see Vettel’s questionable skill in wheel to wheel racing finally tested again, and was harshly disappointed when neither Button or Massa even seemed to have the slightest intention to defend against Vettel. Sure, Vettel was on fresher tires and would have passed them almost inevitably at some point , but was it really too much to ask to at least let Vettel work for the overtakes? This is no stab at Vettel, he did very well seizing the opportunities presented to him on a gold platter, but it did leave me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
Holding up Vettel for even just one or two laps would have been hugely beneficial to both Massa and Button’s respective teammates, who at the time were still out on their softs and were in danger of getting undercut by Vettel with his early stop. Judging by Hamilton finishing just 6 tenths off Vettel, a delay of just 1 or 2 seconds behind Button could have seen Hamilton come out of his final stop in front of Vettel. While Alonso dropped off the pace massively after his 2nd stop, that was no given at the time and more resistance from Massa against Vettel could have also seen Alonso come out in front of Vettel after his first stint. In the end, both Button and Massa did not even bother taking a defensive line and just let Vettel through easily. I’m not saying they should have slowed down, but being on older tires their pace was always going to be 1 or 2 seconds slower than Vettel’s, so just holding on to their position with a bit more dedication would have sufficed at little to no cost to them.
The counterargument would be that neither Button or Massa should be forced to sacrifice their race losing time in a battle they cannot win at the time vs someone on fresher tires, yet how much time would Button have really lost had he kept a defensive line in Turn 5? Perhaps a tenth? The next overtaking zone was in Turn 10, where Vettel already sailed past Massa who took a very wide line as if to say ‘After you, Herr Vettel”. If Button got a bit defensive in T5 and T10, he could have kept Vettel behind him until the DRS zone, and when Vettel moved up to a more feisty Massa he would have again had to wait another lap to get in the DRS zone again, which would have lost him handfuls of seconds to minimal time loss for Button and Massa. Yet they chose to do nothing.
Of course we are still early in the season and none of these drivers are willing to be their teammates wingman just yet, but I do see some interesting situations arising when the WDC is more advanced. Would Button and Massa have really let through Vettel that easily if the title was on the line for their teammate? Would they be so self centered to let him through in order to secure some meaningless points (in terms of WDC) while their teammate could have won the WDC if they hadn’t? Would the team have ordered them to fight Vettel tooth and nail? Oh yes, the end of the season could become very interesting that way….if Vettel hasn’t already won it all come Monza.