Brazil’s late-race drama between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez reminded us that Formula 1 teammates aren’t impervious to infighting. The Red Bull duo and their Sao Paulo spat, however, is nothing compared to other intra-team drama throughout Formula 1 history. We take a look back at some of the rather complicated, strained, and downright dysfunctional relationships.
“I’ve won three world championships. He’s lost two.”
Such was Nelson Piquet’s response when asked about his former Williams teammate Nigel Mansell. The Brazilian went on to call Mansell “stupid” and his wife “ugly.”
The loathing was mutual.
Piquet was a playboy who, at one point, had the two love interests living on different floors of the same Monaco apartment block. Family man Mansell was a part-time policeman on the Isle of Man, walking a beat on the small island between Britain and Ireland. They were complete opposites.
It wasn’t surprising that Piquet enjoyed playing on Mansell’s persecution complex. The story goes like this: during a race weekend, Mansell needed the sole toilet in the Williams motorhome, but Piquet had beat him to it. Even worse, he refused to unlock the door, laughing manically at his teammate’s discomfort.
It was Mansell who would have the last laugh, as he passed Piquet for the win in a daring move at the 1987 British Grand Prix, later that year.
Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna had—arguably—the most famous teammate rivalry in F1 history. McLaren supplied the fastest cars, and they were driven by F1’s two fastest drivers.
In one corner, you had Senna, a swashbuckling Brazilian. The other, there was Prost, a more reserved Frenchman. They reneged on a deal in San Marino, crashed into one other in Japan, and played games of high-speed chicken with pit walls on more than one occasion.
When the dust settled, they each claimed one championship during their respective stints at McLaren. Mutual disgust persevered well after their days in the Marlboro-liveried cars. It wasn’t until the Frenchman’s retirement that the feud eventually softened. And, in the end, Prost served as a pall bearer at Senna’s funeral.
Two championship-caliber drivers, an ever-improving car, and ambiguous team orders—Ferrari’s 1982 season was a recipe for disaster.
The wheels really came off at San Marino. Ferrari ordered drivers to hold their position in the closing laps. Either Didier Pironi didn’t get the memo or disobeyed team orders entirely, overtaking teammate Villenueve with a lap remaining.
There’s a photograph of Pironi spraying the champagne from the podium’s top step and second-placed Villeneuve is looking away in disgust. Even Enzo Ferrari said that he felt sympathy for Villeneuve after Pironi “misinterpreted” the pit signals.
Whatever the truth was, it did nothing to diffuse Villeneuve’s rage. Two weeks later, he died trying to eclipse Pironi’s qualifying time at the Belgian Grand Prix. No teammate battle has ever ended as tragically.
During a rather wet 2007 Japanese Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel smashed into Mark Webber, eliminating both from contention. “That’s just kids, isn’t it? They haven’t got enough experience,” said Webber. “They do a good job and then they [redacted] it all up.”
In 2009, the pair became Red Bull teammates. This didn’t iron out the creases in their relationship. At the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, the two collided once again. More spats followed, usually regarding the team’s perceived favoritism toward Vettel.
In a 2013 race, Vettel was given the order “Multi-21,” which meant hold position. Seb passed his teammate anyway. Following the race, a wide-eyed Webber was incredulous and visibly frustrated with the young driver. No surprise, Vettel gets a good kicking in Webber’s autobiography.
At the end of 1981, Carlos Reutemann suggested he and Williams teammate Alan Jones might try to ‘bury the hatchet.”
“Yeah, in your back, mate,” Jones replied.
Reutemann was an artist at the wheel but psychologically frail. Jones, on the other hand, was tough as nails. He showed up to the 1981 Italian GP with a broken finger after “an altercation with some gentlemen on a London street.”
Reutemann had a clause in his contract saying he must let reigning champion Jones past in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Despite the verbiage, Reutemann went on to win the race. Jones was apoplectic and refused to go on the podium while Williams fined Reutemann his winnings. The softer teammate ended up losing that year’s championship by a single point to Nelson Piquet.
Both drivers quit their F1 careers. Then, both drivers returned for respective short stints. Perhaps, they had more in common than they realized.
One was a two-time reigning world champion, the other a rookie. Few were expecting the advantage to go anywhere other than Fernando Alonso’s. Yet, halfway through the season, he and Lewis Hamilton had won two races apiece and the English novice was leading the championship.
Hamilton felt he should have won Monaco because he thought he was the quicker driver. But the real drama started in Hungary.
Hamilton double-crossed Alonso by not letting him pass in qualifying. Keen to put his young teammate back in his place, the Spaniard lingered in the pit longer than he was supposed to, ruining Hamilton’s grid lap. Alonso was given a five-place grid penalty.
Furious with McLaren, the Spaniard demanded they run Lewis out of fuel, and if they refused his demands, he would go to the authorities with emails proving McLaren was holding stolen Ferrari technical documents.
Following the threat, the relationship between Alonso and team boss Ron Dennis was over. McLaren was fined $100-million. Over a decade on, Hamilton and Alonso still don’t see eye-to-eye.
1985: Senna-de Angelis
Italian Elio de Angelis joined Lotus in 1980 and immediately found comfort in his new team. You can imagine, he wasn’t pleased when the team signed up-and-comer Ayrton Senna for 1985.
Senna’s future was bright, and the team gravitated to his side of the garage after he won the second race of the season. Then, Senna literally requested that engineer Nigel Stepney and a couple of de Angelis’ faithful mechanics come to his side of the garage.
Reliability on de Angelis’ car duly evaporated. Later in the season, Senna made a daring pass on the Italian. Enraged, de Angelis went looking for Senna and had to be stopped from assaulting him. He left Lotus at the of the year.
Life as teammates must have been tough for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. The two grew up together, dreaming of winning world titles. Then, in 2013, they became friendly rivals in identical cars. The path to a championship was through one another.
The duo got along well, that is, until they had a car to challenge for the championship. In 2014, they collided during the Belgian Grand Prix, Hamilton took the title, and their relationship suffered.
Perhaps the most telling demonstration of their antipathy was after the 2015 U.S. Grand Prix. In the cool-down room before the podium ceremony, Hamilton tossed Rosberg the runner’s-up cap. In a scene from the playground, the German instantly hurls it back at him.
In 2016, Rosberg bested his friendly foe by using what he had learned competing with Hamilton all those years. He lifted the 2016 title and immediately retired thereafter. The toxicity between teammates was too much.