Staying in the team even though you are clear number two

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    We had some examples in the past when some drivers stayed in the top team even though they were clear number 2 driver. In last 20 years we had Irvine in Ferrari 1996-1999 with Michael (Irvine lost the tittle in 1999, because he let Michael through in French GP), Barrichello in Ferrari 2000-2005 with Michael, we had Felipe Massa with Alonso in 2010-2013 (Felipe forced to change gearbox in USA and got grid penalty to help Alonso move up the grid and better chance for tittle), we had Mark Webber with Vettel in 2009-2013. They all complained time to time, how they are not treated fairly, but they stayed in the team. Why they did that? It was because of the good car, chance at least of scoring podiums continuosly, have a good salary, hoping the number 1 driver to retire soon and take his status in the team, …?

    For example, I was allways a big fan of MSC, but I have never like the way Irvine and Rubinho was treated in the Ferrari. So I do not understand Rubinho, why he stayed for so long in Ferrari. If I was in his place I would go out of the Ferrari after 2002 season, because the way he was treated in Austria, was really out of a racer mind. He said that day that its all written in the contract, but why did he signed the contract like that!?

    What do you think? What would you do in their place? Do you think they would achive much more if they had the same status as Number 1 driver?


    I would say it would be a few different reasons:

    If you look at Irvine, there may have been no other options at the time, and having stayed with the team, he very nearly got the title, which wouldn’t have been possible elsewhere. Obviously the ’99 season took its toll though, as he moved the next year.

    Barrichello’s position was very similar. Ferrari’s form was outstanding, so why would he want to move anywhere else? Even as a number two driver, he still had more of a chance winning in that Ferrari than he did with any other team. Every driver has to believe that they are the best driver, so even Schumacher out-performing him, he would believe that there would always be a chance to rise above his number two status and aim for the title.

    Red Bull was clearly the best car in the last four and a half years, and there were times when Webber was able to challenge Vettel, and even have a title shot, so why would he want to move to another team? Ferrari were consistently being outsmarted in development, and were clear that they were supporting Alonso fully. McLaren were happy with their drivers, and like Ferrari, were incapable of putting together a season to properly challenge Red Bull. Mercedes and Lotus, whilst on the up, never looked like they were really going to be anywhere near Red Bull.

    If it were me, I wouldn’t hesitate to sign a contract, if it meant being given the best car on the grid. As long as the machinery was equal, then there would be every chance that I would be able to out-perform my team mate and then the number two status would mean nothing. I think it’s the same with everyone else here. The exception possibly being Irvine, because the Ferrari wasn’t necessarily the best car on the grid at the time.


    Obviously the ’99 season took its toll though, as he moved the next year.

    If I remember correctly, Irvine pretty much felt that he deserved more after 1999 and figured he wouldn’t get another opportunity like that at Ferrari. He didn’t leave on bad terms; he rather left to fight for his own than to avoid being a number 2 driver in general.

    Stewart Ford was doing rather nicely in 1999 as well, with Ford buying in to create the Jaguar F1 team; it didn’t seem like a stretch he had a better opportunity at winning more races at Jaguar than at Ferrari. Of course we have the benefit of hindsight, but I remember the Jaguar team had quite the buzz in early 2000. Not to mention 1999 being a season where McLaren and Ferrari were clearly the best cars, but didn’t manage to keep it together every round, allowing a smaller team like Jordan to fight for victories; it wasn’t as clear cut as in 1998 or 2000.

    Personally I’ve always found Vettel/Webber to be very similar to Hakkinen/Coulthard or to some extent Villeneuve/Frentzen. I do not think there was a number 1 and number 2 role; but rather one driver having a significant advantage over the other in terms of putting everything together. If the engineers or the characteristics of the team/car favor you, you don’t need a contract to tell your teammate to move over.

    What I found a lot more interesting was the number two roles in some teams in the 90s. Jos Verstappen and Jan Magnussen never were shy about having older parts than Barrichello in 1998, much like some teams would have one talent and a pay driver, where the pay driver was expected to move over during the race.

    I think in the end it does boil down to having no other options (or having no options elsewhere with an equal or better footing) or the idea that a situation like Irvine’s in 1999 can happen to them.


    I don´t think Irvine/Barrichello/Massa were initially signed up as number-two drivers, but as up- and coming young talents, that just at some point became number-two-drivers through their (compared to their teammates) inferior performances. The problem is, as soon as you have a teammate clearly beating you there is just no way of further promotion, you won´t get a number-one-seat in another top-team, you might not even get another top-team-seat ever. So everything that can happen after you leave is steps backwards, midfield-teams or backmarkers… the dream of becoming an F1-legend, a WDC on merit, that all guys dream who enter F1, is essentially over as soon as one becomes a number-two driver, so the choices are either retirement or just grab the money and the possibility to drive an F1-car as long as possible. Obviously most choose the latter.

    I´m more puzzled by how long some teams hold on to their number-two drivers, carrying drivers that are constantly delivering sub-optimal performances instead of trying new talents for sometimes half a decade and more. As to my recognition, this trend started after 94 (when there was an arguable lack of top-drivers), DC being top-example with 11 years in top-teams without ever beating a teammate.


    They stay for the competitive machinery. Why would any driver leave Ferrari in the form they were in at any stage during those periods (save for perhaps 2011-2013). You need a competitive car to win in F1, so it would be silly to turn down the chance to drive something that is capable of winning.

    Also, as @crammond mentions, all those drivers never had contracts which designated them as the number 2 driver (though query if this would be correct of Massa in 2006).

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