It seems the media, in particular, are fond labeling drivers “Number 1 and Number 2″. Occasionally will they say a team has ‘equal’ drivers. Of the current crop, they often refer to Jenson Button as “essentially the number one driver at McLaren”, Sebastian Vettel as number one at Red Bull, despite the fact that the team give Sebastian and Mark equal opportunities. and, ever since the 2010 German Grand Prix, have probably quite fairly demoted Felipe Massa to the number two driver at Ferrari. Even at a team like Lotus the media don’t call Kimi Raikkonen the number one driver as they know the team give both drivers equal opportunities but they ask questions about how the team can help Kimi win the title not Romain Grosjean, despite his obvious speed. At Sauber, Nico Hulkenburg has already been called the number one driver but he is not, he is on par with Estaban Guiterriaz. They refer to Paul Di Resta as Force India’s number one driver if Jules Bianchi joins, although if Sutil becomes his teammate I feel sure that they will not brand Paul the number one.
And then there are the four teams whose drivers are not yet branded the number one and number two drivers. At Williiams, Bottas and Maldonado are seen as equals, Caterham have two young hopefuls in Van de Garde and Pic who are hoping to prove themselves and the same applies at Marussia. Obviously, both Toro Rosso drivers are on an equal footing as the team attempts to find out which driver is better and will deserve a promotion to the sister team, Red Bull.
What is really frustrating about this situation is that when Lewis Hamilton moved to Mercedes the media asked questions about whether he would be number one driver or have equal status with Nico Rosberg. What a ridiculous question! Does anyone seriously think for one moment that Nico Rosberg would be a number two driver to Lewis Hamilton, especially bearing in mind the way he beat Schumacher over their three years together? What, even slight, indication did Mercedes ever make that Rosberg would be a number two driver? It must be annoying and frustrating for teams to answer questions like this, that have absolutely no basis.
It begs the question, what team has actually officially stated that they have a number one-number two driver line-up? McLaren have strongly denied, and continue to deny, that Jenson is the number one driver and that, as always, both drivers shall receive equal treatment just as Senna/Prost, Lauda/Prost, Montoya/Raikkonen received. It makes absolutely no sense to say that because Jenson has more experience and proved himself at McLaren that he should be number one, if he is better than Perez he will beat him fair and sqaure.
At Red Bull there were a few uncomfortable situations in 2010 , in Turkey and Britain, when the team looked to be favouring Vettel but he and Webber have had the same equipment and equal treatment. Vettel has never been branded the number one driver by Red Bull, yet he keeps beating Webber.
Lotus have a wonderful mix of youth and experience. Their drivers are given equal treatment and, in terms of pace, Grosjean is right there with Raikkonen, it would be foolish to say that he is a number two driver. Sauber have signed two very fast drivers and both are given equal treatment. Force India have not operated a number one/number two in the past and no matter who they choose to partner Di Resta, I don’t imagine that they would make Paul the number one driver. Mercedes, of course, have stated complete equality between their two drivers since Lewis has joined which is how the team operated with Micheal/Nico and Jenson/Rubens.
Ferrari are an interesting case, ever since the 2010 German Grand Prix Felipe Massa has essentially been the number two driver but never officially referred to as such by Ferrari. They have clearly been focusing on Alonso and have often ordered Felipe to let Fernando past but this has been more to do with Felipe being slower and Fernando faster and needing to help the driver who had a chance in the championship. If Felipe picked up his pace, as he did at the end of 2012, I doubt Ferrari would continue having him as a ‘number 2′ driver, in fact Fernando stated at the Wroom! event that he would support Felipe in a championship bid. Some people may find this surprising but must recall that Ferrari treated Massa as as an equal to both Micheal Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen.
The problem I have with the number one/number two policy is the media’s need to force this issue on teams. They automatically jump on the more experienced or highly regarded driver as the ‘number one’. Well, if you always made the more experienced driver with the better results number one, young drivers would never come through. Imagine if they had told Ronnie Peterson that he was a number two driver to Emerson Fittipaldi in 1973 or Giles Villenveuve in 1979 or Nigel Mansell in 1986, I admire any team who gives their drivers equal opportunities.
The most interesting case is the Williams pairing. In most cases, the more experienced and most impressive driver is regarded as the ‘number one’ driver by the media but despite having two years more F1 experience, a race win, pole position and clearly being blisteringly fast, Pastor Maldonado and Valteri Bottas are regarded by the media as equals. People did not regard Prost as the number one driver when Senna arrived, Bottas is very highly regarded and people do not want to see him resigned to being second best.
The problem with this is that Bottas hasn’t even proved himself in Formula One yet. It’s strange that the media want him to have equal status but are willing to dismiss other drivers who haven’t even had a chance to beat their teammates yet. There is often an argument about what is the best way to operate; with equal drivers or a number one and two. Look at the Ferrari period of Schumacher and you may conclude that second is the best option. Any talk of number one and number two drivers has a negative effect on the team. I honestly think the preference of the team towards Mika Haikkinen really got to David Coulthard and I think it contributed to his less than amazing performances in 1998 and 1999. The argument against having equal drivers is they take points off each other and tensions can rise. The fact is, tensions occur for so many reasons, why cause bad feeling by creating unnecessary inequality?
Do Williams look back on 1986 and wonder if making Nigel or Nelson a number one driver would have clinched the title for them? Williams are born racers and would accept that they fought a good fight but Prost did a better job.
As a fan of the sport, I want to see people given an equal footing and equal opportunities, for them do the best they possibly can and to see who comes out on top. The idea of a ‘number one’ driver is archaic, what I don’t understand is why the media continue to obsess over it.