Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Best and Worst of Teammate Championship Battles in Formula 1

This weekend, the 2014 Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship will be decided with the outcome of the final race of the tour's season; the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the dominant duo of 2014 wheeling the Mercedes-Benz F1 W05 Hybrid race cars for Mercedes AMG, stand 17 points apart heading into the race event. Though their collective efforts resulted in 15 victories in 18 races in 2014 providing the Mercedes AMG team with a constructors' title, Rosberg and Hamilton are left to duke out the outcome of the drivers' title.

Since 1950, the teammates have finished in the first and second place in the Formula 1 World Championship 17 times in past seasons (if you include the 1997 season Williams drivers Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Herald Frentzen finished at the top after Michael Schumacher was excluded from the official results). For Mercedes-Benz, it is the second time their drivers will be placed in a one-two scenario in the points. Juan Manuel Fangio won the championship over Mercedes teammate Sterling Moss in 1955. The last time teammates finished at the top of the points occurred a decade ago when Michael Schumacher convincingly prevailed over teammate Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari.

Below are five examples of teammates who matched each other in neat identical equipment knowing, between the two drivers, only who could be proclaimed a champion.

1950: Alfa Romeo with Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio

In the first season of the Formula 1 tour, the young post-war racing scene of 1950 was immediately dominated by Alfa Romeo. The Italian automaker won all but one of the races involved in the 1950 Formula 1 schedule (the Indianapolis 500 was originally scored as a Formula 1 points race allowing a Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser driven by Johnnie Parsons to claim a victory on the schedule). For the inaugural world drivers' championship, it was Italian Giuseppe Farina and Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio in battle against each other. With only the best four of seven race finishes counting on the tour, Giuseppe Farina won the title thanks to wins at Silverstone, Monza and the Swiss Grand Prix at Circuit Bremgarten. Farina's one and only Formula 1 title, Fangio would win his first of five championships the following season. The two drivers are also recorded as the oldest competitors to be crowned Formula 1 champions.

1967: Brabham with Denny Hulme and Jack Brabham

An almost ridiculously impossible idea in modern Formula 1 racing, the recently-departed Sir Jack Brabham was a driver and team owner through the second-half of the 1960s. Not only was Brabham able to win races the with the same name, the Australian won a championship in 1966. For 1967, the Repco-engined Brabham race cars driven by Jack Brabham and teammate Denny Hulme faced Lotus and their all-new Ford-Cosworth DFV V8 engine. While the Lotus-Ford was powerful and quick, the Brabham-Repco proved more consistent over the course of the 1967 season. With 9 of 11 races being tallied for the drivers' title, the New Zealand driver Denny Hulme 2 wins and 8 podium finishes gave him a 5-point edge over his boss. Hulme moved to McLaren in 1968 while the Brabham team would perform poorly a season after winning the driver and constructor title.

1979: Ferrari with Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve 

The Ferrari team's long tenure in Formula 1 has resulted in 15 constructors' championships and four occasions where two team drivers finished one-two for the drivers' title. In 1979, teams hunting for a technological edge with ground effects and turbocharged engines contributed to a season plagued with front-running drivers claiming numerous race retirements. Ferrari team drivers Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve enjoyed a more reliable 1979 campaign with five DNFs combined (less than the total non-finishes of the third-place in points Alan Jones. With one fewer retirement, Scheckter was able to claim a four-point edge over the Canadian driver.

The title was a well-earned honour after much hard work for Scheckter as a veteran in Formula 1. The South African driver finished second in the championship in 1977 driving a Wolf-Ford owned by Austrian-born Canadian Walter Wolf. The 1979 Ferrari season produced Jody Scheckter's only championship and was the highest points placement in the career of Gilles Villeneuve.

1984: McLaren with Niki Lauda and Alain Prost

Frenchman Alain Prost would gain the status as a Formula 1 legend between a career that stretch from 1980 to 1993 consisting of 51 race victories within at time. While he would win four championships, Prost would finish second two consecutive times in the drivers' point before claiming his first. On the second occasion was in 1984 when Alain Prost returned to McLaren after three seasons with the Renault team. Competing in his 12th season in Formula 1 competition, returning McLaren driver Niki Lauda was aggressively challenged by the young Frenchman in the team's Porsche-powered race machine. Prost posted seven win in the 1984 compared to Lauda's five but the more veteran Formula 1 pilot's four second-place finishes kept him in the hunt. A rain-shortened Monaco Grand Prix ultimately cost Prost the championship. Instead of nine points for a win, the race being called prior to the half-way distance resulted in 4.5 points for Prost. Niki Lauda won the 1984 drivers' title by half a point becoming the closest season-ending championship result in the history of the open wheel racing tour.

The championship victory for Niki Lauda was his third and final Formula 1 title. Defending his title, Lauda retired from the sport after the 1985 season where Prost assumed champion honours.

1989: McLaren with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna

The 1989 Formula 1 season was a battle among two motorsport titans. Teammates at McLaren, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost rapidly shifted from having a generally cooperative relationship to being bitter rivals. Joining the team in 1988, Senna claimed his first championship with McLaren by overcoming Prost by three points thanks to eight race wins.

In 1989, the catalyst to what morphed into an outright poisonous relationship between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna was the second race of the year at San Marino. Acting against an pre-race agreement, Senna passed Prost on a restart to win the event. First and second in the championship with the top eleven finishes coming for the championship, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost headed into the second-to-last race in Suzuka, Japan. Failing to finish in five races, Senna required a good finish at the Japanese Grand Prix to contend against Prost. Both McLaren-Honda race cars started on the front row with Senna taking pole. During the race, Alain Prost gained the lead but Ayrton Senna was able to caught the other McLaren on lap 46. With a chance to pass Prost, Senna ran alongside his teammate intent to take the lead. The two cars fought their each other into a corner and made contact. Prost retired following the collision but Senna continued in his McLaren-Honda. Despite crossing the line first, Formula 1 stewards ruled Senna missed a chicane and disqualified the Brazilian driver effectively heading the 1989 world drivers' title to Alain Prost. A similar incident occurred the next season at Suzuka with Ayrton Senna remaining with McLaren and Prost joining Ferrari. That time, Senna came out as the victor for the 1990 championship.

The Senna/Prost battle for the 1989 championship is considered the ultimate inner-team fight some Formula 1 observers were expecting to see arise in 2014. An altercation during the Belgian Grand Prix saw a rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg erupt in a very public manner. However, after what seemed to be some stern words from team principal Toto Wolff, the relationship between the two championship contending teammate has appeared civil. The outcome of the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will conclude whether the fight between the Mercedes AMG drivers will be another storied one.

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