05 February, 2014

always the bridesmaid

I was thinking the other day about team mates in motorsport. A rider or driver will either beat or get beaten by their team mate. using basically the same equipment... ain't no hiding from that little dose of reality. If that result keeps being a bad one it's got to be devastating for the psychology of a competitor who is going out there telling himself 'You're the best!'

Now you can start pitching DNF's into the pot, or say that this guys crew or set-up is better, but over the course of a season or especially multiple seasons you'd expect that kind of thing to even itself out or get some under-performing crew pounding sand.

We've seen an unprecedented four straight years in Formula 1 where the world champion and the runner up are from the same team. To say Sebastian Vettel has dominated F1 lately would be quite the understatement and his team mate Mark Weber has been squarely behind him in second position at the end of each season until he quit. Second in the world, behind somebody who's clearly a massive talent, no shame there eh? But perhaps that's not how a super competitive winner type sees things...

In my mind there are two sorts of teams in F1, those that have two equal drivers given a shot at the title and those that have a number one driver and a number two. Whatever Weber signed up for at the start there was no doubt whatsoever how the team was configured at the end. Being a multiple world champion that just keeps winning gives massive confidence and psychological heft in any team discussion. Being Johnny-come-second does not.

Anyway I was keen to see just how uncommon this recent run of team lockouts on the top two spots was so I cobbled this graphic together.

So what have we learned?*

Whilst not common team lockouts aren't unusual, happening around a third of the time.

If you weren't in a Ferrari or McLaren for the dozen years from '98 to 2010 then you were facing a real battle. Those teams dominated

Similarly in the '85  '97 period before that you wanted to be in a McLaren or Williams. It's a long time since either team had a good result but they had a stranglehold back then.

That dominance makes Schumacher's wins with Benetton and Alonso's Renault wins during those periods even more impressive. Respective team mates not found.

The period roughly '83  '93 was amazing, it's not rose tinted remembrance. 

Perhaps most troublesome of all looking at these results in the cold light of day is my conclusion that Stirling Moss, far from being 'the greatest world champion we never had' (copyright UK motor journalists since forever) appears rather to be 'good, but not good enough'. He got beaten four straight years in a row - once by a Brit who only racing fans remember, well I guess that is the reward for surviving that grisly period, and twice he lost to a team mate. So okay that team mate was Fangio - but four years of results suggest to me that he was a runner up. Sorry Stirling, you seem like a really nice geezer.

And finally. If you want to be a legend, then you need to do it for different teams. That is what Alonso is desperately chasing with Ferrari. it inspired Rossi on a bike and it cements the legend for the likes of Fangio, Senna and Schumacher. 

If Vettel stops racing tomorrow few would doubt his talent and skill, it seems like the most obvious troll in the world but there would be people willing to belittle his achievements as merely  'the best car' or 'the best team' and they'd point to four years of lockout as their proof. I wonder if he's keen to write a new chapter?

Interested to hear what observations anybody else makes from this list...

*there will be plenty of counter-arguments about reliability, injury and circumstance that meant any given season could have easily swung a different way - this is especially true in the earlier years when champion drivers might drive for several different teams in a single season... but over the whole period I think it gives an interesting jump-off point for a discussion.

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