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Dirty Dozen: F1’s most toxic teammates – ranked!

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Dirty Dozen: F1’s most toxic teammates – ranked!
By:
Co-author: David Malsher
Dec 18, 2018, 7:17 PM

Ever since racing teams ran more than one car, each driver’s best gauge of performance has been their teammate. While some have managed to coexist in harmony, many took another route – turning competition into conflict. Here, we rank the Top 12 most toxic Formula 1 driver pairings in history…

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12: Esteban Ocon & Sergio Perez (Force India)

12: Esteban Ocon & Sergio Perez (Force India)
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Photo by: Manuel Goria / Motorsport Images

Like squabbling siblings in the back of a family hatchback, this duo couldn’t keep apart. They eventually had to be banned from racing each other after the 2018 Singapore Grand Prix, where Perez fenced Ocon quite effectively on the opening lap after he’d dared to attempt to drive around the outside of him. They had previous, of course: Ocon even claimed he received death threats via social media after they collided in the 2017 Azerbaijan and Belgian grands prix. Let’s see how Perez gets on in 2019 alongside the son of the billionaire team owner – somebody pass the popcorn!

11: Niki Lauda & Carlos Reutemann (Ferrari)

11: Niki Lauda & Carlos Reutemann (Ferrari)
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Photo by: LAT Photographic

After his life-threatening shunt at the Nurburgring in 1976, Lauda was infuriated when Ferrari arranged an early release for Brabham driver Reutemann, who was to replace the easy-going but occasionally fast Clay Regazzoni for ’77. Lauda levered his way off his sick bed, obliging Ferrari to run three cars at Monza, and promptly outperformed his teammates. Asked the following year whether he regarded Reutemann as a teammate or a rival, Lauda replied “Neither.” Reutemann won the second round of ’77, but Lauda went on to earn the championship, as his teammate faded to fourth.

10: Nigel Mansell & Alain Prost (Ferrari)

10: Nigel Mansell & Alain Prost (Ferrari)
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Photo by: Sutton Images

There are two trains of thought on this: either Prost was a master at bending a team to his will to the detriment of his teammate, or he was an absolute genius at mind games that Mansell’s paranoia couldn’t handle. When Prost joined Ferrari for the 1990 season, on the run after his turbulent partnership with Senna at McLaren (more of which anon), Mansell was already ensconced and believed himself an ‘equal number one’ driver. By the middle of the season, Mansell threw his gloves up in the air – literally – and announced he would retire from the sport, enraged by what he felt was Prost (who’d bothered to learn Italian, unlike Mansell) turning the team against him to the point of gaining preferential treatment and equipment. 

9: Ayrton Senna & Elio de Angelis (Lotus)

9: Ayrton Senna & Elio de Angelis (Lotus)
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Photo by: Sutton Images

As a window into the future, Senna played his first political cards in 1985 by bullying the Lotus team management into focusing their energies on him rather than charismatic Lotus longtermer de Angelis. Senna managed to persuade the team to switch renowned engineer Nigel Stepney and a couple of mechanics he coveted onto his car, and de Angelis soon felt undermined in what had once been his ‘home.’ The drivers almost came to blows at Kyalami, the penultimate race of the season, since Elio, despite his charm, also had a short fuse. Following the Italian’s decision to leave for Brabham (an association that would end in tragic circumstances), Senna insisted on a subservient teammate and thus vetoed the team’s choice of Derek Warwick, his leverage being that if Warwick was hired, then he too would leave and join Brabham. Imagine de Angelis’s delight if that had happened!

8: Lewis Hamilton & Fernando Alonso (McLaren)

8: Lewis Hamilton & Fernando Alonso (McLaren)
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Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Two-time world champion Alonso arrived at McLaren expecting an easy ride, as his GP2 champion teammate would take a while to learn the ropes, no? No! Hamilton was a thorn in his side from the first corner in Melbourne, and after pushing Alonso much harder than he liked (and being quite chippy about it) in Monaco and holding him off in a straight fight to win at Indianapolis, things came to a head in Hungary, where Alonso attempted to sabotage Hamilton’s qualifying attempt (this would subsequently backfire as the FIA gave him a grid penalty). Their in-fighting ended with them tied on points, allowing Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen to steal the title by one point – although Alonso didn’t seem to bothered about it on the podium in Brazil. He was surely just glad that Hamilton hadn’t won.

7: Alan Jones & Carlos Reutemann (Williams)

7: Alan Jones & Carlos Reutemann (Williams)
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Photo by: LAT Photographic

Not for the first time in his career, easy-going Clay Regazzoni found himself replaced in a winning team by Reutemann. And not for the first time, Reutemann found no welcome mat laid out for him by the team incumbent. Jones didn’t like the idea of splitting points with a super-quick teammate, even though Carlos had agreed to play a subservient number two role. Then Jones, well aware how strong their Williams FW07B was in 1980, came to resent the fact that his teammate had slumped into “90 percent mode” and wasn’t taking more points from title rival, Brabham’s Nelson Piquet. Finally the tension exploded after 1981’s second round in Brazil when Reutemann disobeyed team orders, ignored the reminder on Williams’ pitboard, and beat Jones to victory.

6: Mark Webber & Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

6: Mark Webber & Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
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Photo by: Motorsport Images

Following their on-track clash in the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, this was always a strained relationship. Then came the team orders debacle of Malaysia 2013 – the incredulous Webber saying “Multi 21, Seb…Yeah, Multi 21” in the pre-podium room is perhaps one of the most unflinching insights we’ve ever seen of teammates at war – with Vettel having nowhere to hide as he was called out to his face. Race leader Webber had turned down his engine after the final pitstop, but despite both being told the coded team order “Multi-map two-one” (Webber’s number ahead of Vettel’s), Seb ignored this hold-station command, and charged past him to win the race. Since retiring from F1, Webber accused Vettel in his autobiography of arrogance, saying he was also prone to “meltdowns” and would often blame the team if he was beaten. Meow!

5: Lewis Hamilton & Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

5: Lewis Hamilton & Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
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Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Hamilton and Rosberg were good buddy teammates in their karting years. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, they’d also hang out away from the track, playing football, computer games and table tennis. But years later they became Mercedes teammates in F1, and it all went sour… From Rosberg skidding to a halt in the run-off at Monaco during qualifying in 2014, bringing out a yellow flag and thus denying Hamilton a shot at stealing pole, it declined to the point where they collided in the Belgian GP at Spa that year. Although that clash benefited Rosberg at the time, Hamilton came back stronger. As time went by, they seemed to get increasingly annoyed with each other, Rosberg famously hurling a cap at Hamilton’s head after Lewis had won his third title in Austin. The nadir was their opening lap crash and double DNF in Spain in 2016, but in Austria a few races later, Rosberg tried to run Hamilton out of road and broke his own front wing. They were barely on speaking terms by the time Rosberg finally beat Hamilton to the 2016 title in the Abu Dhabi finale, where leader Hamilton defied team orders and backed-up his teammate into the chasers behind him, to no avail. Even after Rosberg’s retirement, we’ve yet to see much evidence of them hanging out and playing computer games together again…

4: Rene Arnoux & Alain Prost (Renault)

4: Rene Arnoux & Alain Prost (Renault)
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Photo by: Motorsport Images

Through 1979 and ’80, Arnoux had delivered on the immense promise he’d shown in junior formulas, scoring his first two wins, grabbing a handful of poles, and playing the fiery maverick alongside technically savvy and swift Jean-Pierre Jabouille at Renault. When J-PJ broke his legs in a shunt, Renault signed up young gun Prost for ’81, and the F1 sophomore immediately shaded Arnoux in terms of wins, pace and consistency. As French nationals in what was effectively the second national French team (along with Ligier), a rivalry started to simmer. Then in 1982 Arnoux regained his form but remained unlucky, so the team’s title hopes again lay entirely with Prost, but on home ground at Paul Ricard, Arnoux ignored a pre-race agreement to allow Prost ahead and ran out the winner. He didn’t care; he was heading to Ferrari for ’83.

3: Nigel Mansell & Nelson Piquet (Williams)

3: Nigel Mansell & Nelson Piquet (Williams)
10/12

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Piquet joined Williams in 1986 as a multiple world champion, just as Mansell was truly finding his F1 form and joining the A-listers himself. They quickly learned to hate each other and the Williams garage became split in two, each jealously guarding any development from their teammate. With Frank Williams in hospital and unable to manage the situation, his drivers took enough points off each other to allow Alain Prost to steal the title in a dramatic Adelaide finale. Piquet went on to have the last laugh by winning the title in 1987, despite an awful accident at Imola’s Tamburello, because Mansell would have his own huge shunt at Suzuka that put him out of the final two races. Just when you thought it was over (as Piquet joined Lotus) a Playboy interview emerged in which the new champ crowed: “The different between me and [him] is that I’ve won three world championships and he’s lost two” – before going on to disparage Mansell’s intelligence, technical ability and even his wife!

2: Alain Prost & Ayrton Senna (McLaren)

2: Alain Prost & Ayrton Senna (McLaren)
11/12

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Put two giants of the sport in the most dominant cars of their time and what could possibly go wrong? Plenty! The sparks first began to fly in 1988 when Senna shoved Prost towards the pitwall at the start of the second lap in the Portuguese Grand Prix, and there were some bitter words spoken to the press. But that was small fry compared with the ’89 season. For Imola, the McLaren drivers agreed to not dispute the crucial Tosa corner on the opening lap, and would focus on just pulling clear of their rivals. Senna made the better start – but the race was halted for Gerhard Berger’s enormous shunt. On the restart Prost made the better start, and didn’t defend at Tosa, at which point Senna chose to ignore the pre-race agreement and passed him, afterward effectively rewriting the words of the accord to suit his move. Prost’s fury extended to the title-deciding clash at Suzuka, when he deliberately swiped a lunging Senna at the chicane to ensure his third world title. Afterwards, Senna would drag the FIA into what he saw as a ‘manipulation’ of the championship – and their animosity even ramped up after Prost scarpered from the madness to join Ferrari. Only after Prost retired would Senna suddenly perform a U-turn on his feelings towards him.

1: Gilles Villeneuve & Didier Pironi (Ferrari)

1: Gilles Villeneuve & Didier Pironi (Ferrari)
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Photo by: Motorsport Images

The highly promising Pironi arrived at Ferrari in 1981 to replace the retiring Jody Scheckter and joined the dazzling Villeneuve in what should have been one of the strongest F1 pairings of the 1980s. Although he found Gilles to be a welcoming and fun-loving colleague, initially Pironi struggled in his new environment, especially with Ferrari’s peaky turbo to the wayward Ferrari 126CK. Didier was astounded to find himself lapped by his victorious teammate at Monaco. Where Pironi truly had the edge was his smarts; he was a calculating character, and ingratiated himself with senior Ferrari staff. This proved crucial in the aftermath of the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix, which Pironi won by passing Villeneuve on the last lap, despite a ‘slow’ pit signal being shown to both drivers, and Ferrari’s established team orders being that whoever was ahead when the team assumes a 1-2 position should be the winner. Villeneuve, who had outqualified Pironi by 1.5sec, was also ahead when the slightly faster Renaults expired, and assumed Pironi wouldn’t attack. He was proven wrong by what followed. Now paranoid that Pironi was not only duplicitous (he had his own version of what the ‘slow’ signal meant) but was also attempting to turn his own team against him – team manager Marco Piccinnini said afterwards that Didier had done nothing wrong. Gilles would take this anger to his grave. Having vowed to never speak to Pironi again, Villeneuve had just seen his teammate edge him by a 0.1sec in qualifying at Zolder when he set off on his second qualifying attempt. Then a misunderstanding with a backmarker on a slowdown lap, a fateful split-second decision, and suddenly the fastest driver in the world was gone. It’s the ultimate tragic tale of teammate hostility that led, however indirectly, to the untimely demise of one of them.

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