When Mark Webber wisely re-signed for Red Bull Racing earlier this year he highlighted familiarity with the team a big factor in his decision. He said he knew it so well he probably knew each member’s shoe size. With Lewis Hamilton’s recent exit from McLaren to Mercedes, I’d like to highlight the importance of “The Team” and why Formula One is truly a team sport.
While some drivers take a “larger than the team” persona, truth is that the driver is just one member of a group of individuals that come together to surmount a world championship title challenge. It’s the team that enables a driver to perform at his highest. As Eddie Jordan would say, the drivers are but employees of the team…
It’s the team that trains and picks the best pit crew that practices day in and day out to turn out sub 3 second pitstops. It’s the team that ensures everything is in place come to the race weekend. Apart from the obvious provision of a competitive car capable of winning, the team that enables the driver to perform at his highest. Each driver has his own unique quirks, his individual differences that makes him different from others. Jenson Button prefer’s Brembo brakes whilst Hamilton prefer’s Carbon Industry ones. A top team like McLaren can cater for both drivers whilst I highly doubt HRT would offer Karthikeyan his ideal brake material.
The more you impress your team with your performances, the more favour you gather, which results in tangible benefits. It’s why we witness those inter-team battles between drivers. Driver’s know full well it’s the team that enables you to perform at your best.
Drivers influencing car development
It’s hard to adjust to a completely different atmosphere of a new team. Jenson Button’s transition to McLaren from world champions Brawn has gone remarkably well yet he still said at the end of 2010 there were some nuances he needed to iron out. There are important, little details like the development of the car itself that need the feedback from the driver. Things like the perfect seat fitting for Button, who’s a tall driver, both in terms of comfort and without any detriment to car performance. In early 2012, Button said he was really pleased with this year’s MP4-27 because “it’s handling was built around him”. After ending 2011 the higher scoring driver, it’s no doubt his feedback would’ve been taken seriously by the few team’s engineers that doubted him at first.
Teams and drivers exist in a symbiotic relationship. The team enables the driver to perform at his highest whilst teams gain financially (through sponsors or other means) from the driver’s their exploits. As discussed in my ‘Fantastic Fernando’ article, an excellent driver than galavise the team together in face of adversity.
It makes perfect sense why many in the paddock believe having a “number one driver” as an ideal situation. Instead of catering to the differing styles or two driver, you go fully behind your leader. This is best exemplified by Ferrari – who have clearly backed Fernando Alonso. I’d wager Felipe Massa got very little say in the F2012′s development. It was a machine built from the ground up to best utilise Alonso’s talents. Each upgrade that’s fitted on the car doesn’t need to cater for both drivers, it can be fast-passed onto Alonso’s at his tastes. The same story played out to dominating effect with Schumacher, who had everything from a separate testing team to bespoke perfect custom Bridgestone tyres. All in the name of best enabling Schumacher to showcase his impressive talents.
Christian Horner mentioned the importance of Webber’s feedback & relationship with Adrian Newey as a factor in the team’s decision to re-sign him. Vettel & Webber posses similar driving styles that complement each other. That’s to the great boon of Red Bull’s technical team, who don’t have to cater for two drivers with vastly different driving styles.
McLaren until this year had to do just that. Hamilton possess’ a famously “aggressive” driving style whilst Button’s renown for his smoother, supple one. It must be quite an ask of the technical team to ensure the basic car package & every upgrade is to the like of such contrasting drivers. Perez & Button have similar styles focusing on tyre conservation, so McLaren can concentrate on making their 2013 car best optimised for such.
Hopefully this article has given you a brief overview of the importance of teamwork & camaraderie in Formula One. With “superstar” drivers I feel it’s often an underrated topic often neglected by mainstream media.