In F1, if you can’t beat your teammate, you’re nobody. Aside from the paint on his helmet and the number on his nose cone, the guy sitting next to you in the garage heads out onto the track with the exact same set-up you do, meaning direct comparisons are impossible to avoid.
True, as the season wears on new parts are often bolted to one car and not the other, but this preferential treatment – no matter how much the team bosses deny it – is in itself a reward for performance. And now, three races in, drivers are desperate to establish themselves as their team’s poster boy – the one who gets first dibs on the go-faster gizmos, the media love and, ideally, championship glory.
So far in 2011, team politics have unfolded pretty much as expected. Vettel is ahead of Webber, Hamilton ahead of Button, Alonso in front of Massa. But with the exception of the Red Bulls, things aren’t as clear-cut as in recent years – the lacklustre Ferraris are currently separated by just two points, as are the impressive Renaults. And with Turkey’s Istanbul Park historically serving as a key battleground for teammates looking to sort out their differences, expect sparks to fly this weekend.
If you remember anything of 2010’s Turkish Grand Prix, chances are it’s the moment Sebastian Vettel tried his deftest to get himself sacked by attempting to pass Mark Webber on lap 40. Eager as Vettel for the number one seat, Marko understandably didn’t feel like budging and the resulting collision put Vettel out of the race and left Webber needing a new front wing.
Cock-up of The Year aside, though, there was also some gritty, nerve-shredding driving from the McLarens, newly promoted to first and second by the Red Bulls’ error. Despite having been told to conserve fuel, Jenson and Lewis were side-by-side for what seemed like an entire lap, with Button snatching the lead away from his teammate, only for Hamilton to take it back virtually immediately. Why run the risk of repeating their rival team’s mistake? Simple: a victory at this stage in the season is about more than points on the board, it’s about marking territory within the team.
Putting space between you and your opposite number is crucial, and if it’s a choice between attempting a potentially catastrophic manoeuvre or risking a situation where you’re being covertly asked to slow down so your teammate can pass you – a la Ferrari at last year’s German Grand Prix – expect people like Webber and Massa, both yet to win world titles, not to compromise during Sunday’s race.
Of course, before they get the chance to smash each other’s gearboxes in, they’ll need to stick it on the grid. Here’s our prediction for the top 10 in tomorrow’s qualifying session. What do you reckon?
1. Sebastian Vettel
2. Mark Webber
3. Lewis Hamilton
4. Jenson Button
5. Felipe Massa
6. Vitaly Petrov
7. Fernando Alonso
8. Nico Rosberg
9. Nick Heidfeld
10. Michael Schumacher