Great team mate title battles

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Will the good relations last between Button and Barrichello at Brawn?
Will the good relations last between Button and Barrichello at Brawn?

Unless Sebastian Vettel can ‘do a Kimi’, this year’s battle for the drivers’ championship is between the Brawn drivers.

F1 being the way it is, drivers championships often end up being fought between team mates. And while Ross Brawn insists everything will be done to ensure a level playing field between Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, if it all ends in tears it wouldn’t be the first time.

Here’s some of the most memorable title fights between team mates – and how they were resolved.

1956: Peter Collins and Juan-Manuel Fangio

We will surely never see a championship decider like this again. Ferrari team mates Juan-Manuel Fangio and Peter Collins were separated by eight points going into the final round at Monza. Leader Fangio was the clear favourite to win – Collins needing to win and set fastest lap (which then earned an extra point) with his team mate not scoring, to take the title.

That opportunity presented itself when Fangio’s steering column broke during the race. But when Collins came in for a routine pit stop he volunteered his car to Fangio (also allowed at the time), surrendering any hope of the championship on the spot.

It’s hard to understand why Collins did this without appreciating how different Grand Prix racing was 53 years ago. This is how Collins explained it:

All I could think of out there was if I won the race and the championship I would become an instant celebrity. People would make demands of me. I would be expected at all times to act like ‘the champion’. Driving would not be fun any more. I wanted things to go on just as they were, so I handed my car over to Fangio. I would not have been proud of beating him through his bad luck. I am only 25 years old and have plenty of time to win the championship on my own.
Peter Collins

Sadly, he didn’t. Collins was killed at the Nurburgring two years later.

1984-5: Alain Prost and Niki Lauda

Prost lost the 1984 title by half a point to team mate Lauda
Prost lost the 1984 title by half a point to team mate Lauda

In Niki Lauda’s autobiography “To Hell and Back” the chapter on 1984 has the title ‘The Toughest Year’. He had this to say about Alain Prost joining him at McLaren that year:

I only knew one thing about Alain – that he was fast. […] Everything Alain did in the early stages only served to reinforce my uneasiness. He had an unerring instinct for consolidating and devloping his position within the team: he kept turning up for no apparent reason at the McLaren works in England, he skilfully kept himself in the picture and built up his own PR image.
Niki Lauda

Prost dazzled the team with his speed too, regularly out-qualifying Lauda, who fell back on his tactical cunning to gain the wins and points he needed to lead the title battle. Not for the last time, one McLaren driver felt his boss’s affections rested more with the other driver. Lauda began looking for exit options – he signed for Renault for 1985 but the deal fell through when the team came under political pressure over the amount he was to be paid.

Resigning himself to staying at McLaren for another year, Lauda knuckled down to the task of beating Prost. In the second half of the season the pair won at alternating races: Prost at the Hockenheimring, Lauda at home in Austria, Prost at Zandvoort, Lauda Monza, and Prost at the Nurburgring, which set up a title-deciding duel in Portugal.

The all-McLaren battle for the championship was decided when the brakes on Nigel Mansell’s Lotus failed, allowing Lauda through into second. It was enough for the Austrian to snatch the championship by half a point, in the closest championship call of all time.

Hopes of a similarly close battle in 1985 were dashed as Lauda suffered a string of mechanical failures. He had by now comprehensively fallen out with Ron Dennis, but refused to link that with the recurring problems affecting his car.

Nonetheless, he scored a deeply satisfying final win at Zandvoort, withstanding gigantic pressure from Prost in the dying laps. The French driver took the championship, but just three years later he found himself cast in Lauda’s role.

1986-7: Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet

Nelson Piquet insisted Frank Williams had promised him number one status at Williams in 1986 when he signed the Brazilian driver. But the team patriach wasn’t around at the start of the season following a car accident which left him paralysed. Mansell, who was unlikely to be cowed in any event, seized the initiative and regularly out-performed his higher-paid team mate.

It all ended in tears. The pair went into the last race of the season both able to win the title, but Mansell’s infamous tyre explosion handed the championship to Prost. This is the risk of allowing team mates to race each other – as McLaren also discovered to their cost with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton in 2007.

The Williams-Hondas were so crushingly dominant in 1987 that no-one could prevent their drivers from winning the championship. But this did nothing to improve the mood at the team, where Mansell was vexed by Piquet showing up with new developments he knew nothing about, such as active suspension at Monza.

When Mansell crashed and injured his back in practice at Suzuka, it brought the championship to an early an anti-climactic conclusion.

1988-9: Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost

Prost was outraged by Senna's driving at Estoril in 1988
Prost was outraged by Senna's driving at Estoril in 1988

It was at Estoril once again where the first salvo was fired in the war between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

In the post-Schumacher era we wouldn’t bat an eyelid at one driver defending a position from his team mate by squeezing him to the inside of the track. We would be more likely to ask why the leading driver allowed his rival to draw alongside in the first place.

But driving standards hadn’t been pushed that far 21 years ago, and Senna’s uncompromising tactics drew strong criticism at the time. Not least from Prost, who vowed: “If he wants the championship that badly, he can have it.”

The moment came as Senna looked to be on the verge of blowing the 1988 championship. Two weeks earlier an altercation with a backmarker prevented him claiming his seventh win in eight races. Prost won at Portugal, and the following race at Spain as well. Senna finally stopped the rot at Suzuka, scoring his eighth win of the year to cement his first championship.

By the time the McLaren duo returned to Suzuka for another championship decider their relationship had plunged to a new low. Prost, stung by (he claimed) Senna reneging on a pre-race agreement at Imola, chose to leave McLaren for Ferrari. He gave Ron Dennis the ultimate insult by throwing his Italian Grand Prix winner’s trophy to the crowd from the podium. McLaren, meanwhile, reacted angrily to insinuations from FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre that it or engine supplier Honda might favour Senna over the departing Prost.

At Suzuka, only a win would keep Senna in the title hunt, and he lunged down the inside of Prost at the chicane on lap 47 in a bid to take the lead. Prost seized the opportunity to prove he wanted the championship every bit as badly as Senna did. He swerved right, their wheels interlocked, and both cars skidded to a halt at the edge of the chicane. The title was Prost’s.

For all the cynicism that Senna practised in his motor racing, particularly against his arch-rival, Prost’s act of deliberately taking out a rival to win a championship was a new low. In retrospect, it is hardly surprising that Senna did much the same thing to Prost when the opportunity presented itself 12 months later.

1996: Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve

It’s not always a given that two team mates disputing a world championship are doomed to fall out. Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, both sons of great Grand Prix drivers, resolved the 1996 title battle about as amicably as you can hope for in Formula 1.

This was despite Williams informing Hill a few races before the end of the season that his services would not be needed in 1997. The rookie Villeneuve’s title hopes ended at the last round in – where else? – Suzuka, when he lost a wheel as Hill motored to victory in the race and the championship.

It doesn’t always work out this way – but, happily for Brawn, it looks like their drivers have got it in them to keep things clean. Even if it looks increasingly likely that Barrichello, as Hill, may not be with the team next year.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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67 comments on “Great team mate title battles”

  1. I was expecting you’d include Ralf & JPM. They had a few bitter battles at Williams BMW.

    1. But they werent fighting for the title

  2. Nice article Keith, but this year, its not that close. There is still 14 points difference between Jenson and Rubens and we all know neither Jenson is Lewis nor Rubens is Kimi. Jenson ll win it though it would be good if ends up winning 1 of the 2 reamining races

  3. where’s 07, hamilton vs alonso!

    1. Keith did mention sans bold heading

    2. Neither of them won the championship while they were team mates – did give them a passing mention though.

  4. Even Ronnie vs Mario was great until monza 1978.

    1. Wasn’t Peterson eventually told he wasn’t allowed to take on Andretti though?

  5. I’d hardly say this was a great team mate battle. Barrichello has to ‘do a kimi’ too if he wants to win. The title was Jensons a long time ago

    1. it was looking difficult by turkey, harder at monza and finished by singapore.
      the tittle is jensons

    2. We’ve still got two races left, it has the potential to be a good one. Barri has a bit more momentum, unfortunately that fizzled out a bit at Suzuka.

      1. and perhaps Bernie will wave his ‘magic wand’?

        1. The fact that Rosberg got no penalty at Suzuka shows that someone is waving a magi wand already.

      2. Don’t forget Vettel….

  6. I bet it will be a killer ending: I’m really hoping for a DNF from Button and a Barrichello win in Brasil; then it will be 4 points separating them, poor Brawn performance in a new circuit and a hell of a climax!

    1. I don’t see why people feel the need for it to go to the last race… let me explain:

      This next race Barrichello has to out perform Jenson by 5 points to stay in it.

      If Button gets no points and Barrichello gets 10 points in Brazil. Barrichello at Abu Dhabi has to outperform Button by 5 points.

      Its practically the same now – I don’t see the difference. Neither is much more tense, apart from it falsely looks closer in the second scenario – but the truth is, its just a tense this race.

      1. Not quite: in Brazil Button can win it all – if he has the car and proves to have the nerves to do it. Barrichello and Vettel can do no more than close the gap, at best. But if the scenario unfolds that it goes down to the last race undecided, then we’ll have two, maybe three, people who can claim the championship in that one race. It would inevitably crank up the tension for drivers and spectators alike. Whether you find this added excitement pointless is another matter.

        1. Admittedly having 3 people “to win” in a race makes it slightly more tense, but I would argue only on the grounds its a simplified take on the situation – so people seem to get much more excited about it. It is not solely down to Button this coming race particularly going on recent form – which says he wont achieve much, if he only picks up a couple of points it is completely down to the others to take home some points.

          The continuation of tension over the two races makes it more tense too, and as RBR points out below – having the last race be more than a parade is better.

          Part of me wants to see race wins make the title decider at the end – but a leader 2/3rds or the way through the race often suggests a winner before the race finishes. And remembering last year, the opposite is definitely true – some crazy mid field action is probably the best we can hope for!

      2. You are right in terms of the numbers, but the point of wanting it to go to the last race is to keep the tension for two races rather than just one. If Button seals the title at Interlagos then the Abu Dhabi race becomes a bit pointless – it will just be a case of ‘oh, I wonder what this new circuit’s like…’ rather than an exciting race. (OK, maybe I’m being a bit overly cynical about the new track.)

        Button’s form in the first half of the season was fantastic, but the season as a whole became far more interesting once the title fight started to get a bit closer, and you can’t deny that it would be more exciting if it goes down to the wire again. I realise we were spoilt for down-to-the-wire excitement last season, and there’s practically no chance of anything like that happening again, but it would at least be better if the final race mattered to the championship.

  7. Nice article though! Could we see another Prost and Senna like situaton with Alonso and Hamilton next year. Or maybe Kimi and Lewis at McLaren!

    1. I think you meant Alonso and Massa.

  8. The Hamilton Alonso fight was more Alonso fighting McLaren and Hamilton than just McLaren… in any case, nice write up Keith…

    1. i mean than just Hamilton.. it was Alonso against the World, and strangely, he came out on top….

      1. it was Alonso against the World, and strangely, he came out on top…

        By being beaten by a rookie team mate, ending his McLaren contract two years early, and heading back to Renault who were tumbling down the standings? Oh yes, it was a great year for him.

  9. Looking back at all at those amazing teammate battles over the years reminds you how great F1 can be. It’s hard to get anywhere near as exited about Button vs Barrichello as Senna vs Prost. This is a title battle of mediocrity (or in Vettel’s case inexperience), although I must admit Button’s form earlier in the year was mega impressive

    1. It’s easy to forget exactly what it was like earlier this year to see Jenson Button win yet another race, after those awful two seasons. Button dominated many of those races in a similar way to how Vettel dominated at Suzuka. Unfortunately having all his success at the beginning of the year, not having any lead changes, few wheel-to-wheel battles between the title protagonists (Turkey lap 1 was a rare one).

      1. Come on you are nitpicking :)

        Actually Brawn car in Bahrain, Barcelona, Monaco and Turkey hasnt been that dominant. Certainly not as Dominant as RedBull in Silverstone, Nurburgring and Suzuka.

    2. Msybe next year…

  10. But driving standards hadn’t been pushed that far 21 years ago

    That line made me feel old. :(

  11. I think the FIA should invalidate all results before Silverstone, and give us a seven-way fight for the title ;-)

    1. Surely you mean “validate”? They’ll get right to it once they have rearranged the 2008 championship. :)

  12. What about Alonso and Hamilton in 2007. Both in the running and they lose it in the end. Come on Vettel.

  13. Great Article Keith.

    The title battle this year (DNFs aside) is not Button/Barrichello but Button/Vettel. Barrichello has the same car than Jens and what Button loses in qualifying he makes up for with strong race drives, and therefore wherever Barrichello is, Button is right there beside him (ahead or behind).

    Vettel on the other hand has the car to take the final 2 wins this year, and Jenson has the car to merely make it into the points, and he needs more than a 7th/8th place finish.

    1. Yep, a Rubens WDC only comes down to Button blowing it (2007) AND Rubens getting 2 podiums in a row.

      If we see 2 more Suzukas (unlikely) with Vettel winning both races and Jenson getting 7th or 8th…than Vettel wins.

      Also, Vettel has the advantage of having a fast teammate that is out of the title hunt to give him positions when needed (2007, 2008).

      This could get really interesting, but if I was putting money on it…. Button obviously.

    2. wherever Barrichello is, Button is right there beside him (ahead or behind).

      I wonder if that’s partly a consequence of the tactical decisions Button and Shovlin are making as well. Since the middle point of the season all Button has needed to do to guarantee the title is to finish adjacent to Barrichello in every race, either ahead of or behind. It’s the smart way of winning the title.

      1. Smart, but boring.

        Look at lewis Hamilton- one of the reasons’s he is so popular is because he doesn’t play the percentages, he’s tries to get the maximum result in every race- even if it ends in faliure like it did at Monza or China 07

        1. Smart, but boring.

          True, but what’s he paid to do – win a championship or entertain us?

  14. I don’t see why people feel the need for it to go to the last race

    stupid comment

    1. It isn’t needed at all, but it makes it much more exciting. We’re F1 fans and we enjoy this exciting sport.

      How about we decide the 2010 champion before the season starts?

      1. You can look at it two ways… either a deliberate attempt to make money out of all the races by making the championship close run affairs (the cynical view, thanks to Bernie) or a return to having exciting championship battles (the rose tinted view) after years of seeing a German in red win the championship by July then spend the rest of the season cocking about…

        I prefer the second view…

    2. Perhaps, because (God forbid) not everybody supports Jenson?

  15. It doesn’t really feel like there’s been any battle for the WDC this season.
    Jenson pulled away in the first races, and it’s been stale all the way. And also now, with 2 races to go, with his huge advantage over Rubens it’s not very exciting, if at all.

  16. schumi the greatest
    9th October 2009, 13:37

    Good article Keith.

    1 gripe though…i know you are a huge senna fan keith but i dont think you can say prost “deliberatley” rammed senna out of the race to take the tittle hunt. It was a desperate move and prost had every right to turn into the corner. i say this as a huge fan of both senna and prost. I recently read a book on senna…and the author even admitted that it was abit of an audacious move. But anyway great artice

    1. I’m not a particular fan of Senna’s but I can’t believe anyone sincerely believes Prost’s move at Suzuka in 1989 was anything other than deliberate. Not necessarily pre-meditated, but certainly deliberate.

    2. You can see the move for yourself on You-tube. Prost turned in some 100m before the curve. If Senna was not there, he would have gone for a cross-country on the inside of the curve. But that was not the end of it. Senna actually went on to win the race, just to be desqualified by Prost’s pal, Jean-Marie Ballestre – if you think Max is a weasel, he is a great improvement on his predecessor.

  17. The sideburn growing competition between Jackie Stewart and Emmerson Fitipaldi has to be the best off track battle. I was told that new life forms were found in them and that was why they stopped

    1. yep, but they were not teamates.

  18. What about Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2007? That should have been right up there!

  19. Great article, but you forgot to mention something very important about Senna-Prost battle in 1989: Senna, after the collision, was able to rejoin the race, do a great recovery, win it, only to be disqualified because of a technical violation of the rules (that I never fully understand), which led Senna to criticize Balestre in public, suggesting the FIA president was favouring his fellow french driver…

    1. Didn’t he drive along a run-off area for a bit, then rejoin the track…that is what got him completely disqualified, right? I don’t understand it either….should have been a time penalty at most…

    2. I think he got assistance from marshalls, i.e., a push-start, after the collision with Prost. (No anti-stall back then.) Prost just got out of his car.

      1. That is what happened, DMW.

      2. I remember the details well. After the collision, their cars came to a rest in the run-off area of the chicane. Prost jumped off his car but left the gears engaged (that in itself, an infringiment of the rules). That made it much harder for the Marshals to disentagle the cars – It took them about a whole minute to get the cars apart. Senna drove on and rejoined the track right after the chicane, having to zig-zag around the barriers in that part of the tarmac. On top of that, Senna had to make a pitstop to replace his front wing that was damaged in the crash. Astonishingly, Senna was eventually disqualified for reckless driving (apparently, trying to overtake Prost was a capital crime in Jean-Marrie Ballestre’s view) and for gaining an advantage by cutting the chicane! Prost deserved every bit of what Senna did to him the following year.

    3. All accurate details Daniel, but I didn’t bother with them here because the piece was already pretty long!

  20. Button will be champion because he only has to finish just behind Barrichello and score a few points.

    Vettel and Barrichello have to win both races; their task is much tougher.

    I also think Vettel will pass Rubens and finish the season in 2nd place in the championship.

  21. crazier things have happened in F1, expect a twist in the story at Interlagos…

  22. While there is talk of detail may I just say keith and all other writers like John and Journeyer on this site that I am very impressed by the quality of the writing. Now I will stop complimenting all the time I just love the site :P
    Admittedly this may not be one of the greats but I think it will be interesting when there are already rumours about Bar withholding information, though that seems a bit far fetched when almost everything is automatically shared, Brawn is also a master at bringing a calming influence to a team so that will certainly help.

    1. Cheers Steph and I agree, Journeyer and John and the rest write great stuff and I enjoy reading it as much as you!

  23. did senna really throw the trophy at the italian grand prix? if so i wonder how much that trophy costs…

    1. It was Prost

  24. This is the risk of allowing team mates to race each other – as McLaren also discovered to their cost with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton in 2007.

    I wonder what would you have expected McLaren to do. Both drivers had a shot at the WDC through the whole season.

    I guess one could assume that Alonso should have been No1, but Hamilton was ahead of him after only 5 or 6 races. Then what? Make Hamilton (a rookie) no1? I don’t think so. By then it makes no sense to keep Hamilton back either.

    In Brazil they could have told Alonso to park his car and then Hamilton would have been WDC. But then, if Raikkonen had had problem then Alonso would have been WDC.

    1. I was perfectly happy with McLaren allowing their drivers to race each other – although it has a downside, I think it’s worth it, for the reasons I mentioned the other day in this article:

      Ferrari stick to equality. Good for them

      However it’s worth pointing out even if McLaren had told Alonso to park up at Interlagos in 2007, Raikkonen still would have been champion. Hamilton would have moved up one place gaining an extra point, putting him level with Raikkonen on 110. But Raikkonen would have won the title by dint of having six Grand Prix wins to Hamilton’s four.

  25. marc,

    Prost gave his trophy to a tifoso, not Senna. Ron Dennis was very angry because he collects them all.

    1. Yep – you can see it here at about 3’20:

  26. in the 1984 battle, not many people know that the reason mansell’s brakes didn’t hold up, was because he needed to use biger disks and calipers, due to his driver style, and the team manager, gave the only set of those to elio de angelis. This decided the championship. It was the first race i saw live. I was 18 at the time. Peter warr if i am not mistaken. The same guy who said that mansell would never win a race, he was as sure as he had an hole in his ****¡¡ May be he does not have a hole after all.

  27. Great clip, bit off topic but I prefer the onboards from those days to now. I know racing may have been much more physical back then (with them being manual) but still, the onboards of today give very high quality pictures which is great but I feel it makes it appear that driving an F1 car is easier than it actually is.
    Allowing drivers to race each other is how it is meant to be and it is the only fair way. It’s a shame it won’t always be allowed to happen and to some extent robs us all of watching a true championship fight as the team would have already selected the winner.
    The only problem is how the team manages an open fight and also how the drivers personally deal with it.

  28. “Will the good relations last between Button and Barrichello at Brawn?”

    In a word, no. Rubens has demonstrated his willingness to snipe at all concerned when things don’t go his way. I expect more of the same, especially because Brawn aren’t inclined to extend his contract.

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