GRR

9 F1 drivers who were dominated by their team-mates

26th October 2022
Simon Ostler

To become a number two driver in Formula 1 might be the worst fate you could possibly suffer. All of the hard work to forge a career path that brings you to the pinnacle of motorsport, only to have it decided that you are never going to get the chance to win the world championship. It has been the case that one driver is simply better than the other, and that’s fair enough, but there have been occasions where a team has simply chosen to favour one driver over another, and that’s pretty savage. Regardless of whether it was by design, or simply down to performance, here are nine F1 drivers who were utterly dominated by their team-mate.

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Keke Rosberg (1986)

The 1980s was a time when Formula 1 was gradually beginning to morph into the sport we recognise today. In earlier times, teams would run three or four cars each depending on the location, whereas by 1986 the majority of top teams were running just two cars. This is where our list starts, and, unfortunately, Keke Rosberg was the first driver of this modern two-car era to be dominated by his team-mate.

In 1986, Alain Prost had cemented himself as the best driver in Formula 1. He was a world champion, and seemed set to become a multiple winner. Rosberg himself was a champion, so the McLaren driver line-up that year looked to be a good one. Would we see an intra-team battle for the title?

Well, no. In fact, it wasn’t even close. Indeed, Keke was getting towards the end of his career, and 1986 was to be his swan song, so he was never truly on the pace of his team-mate. Both drivers retired from the opening round in Brazil, but after that, Rosberg was beaten by Prost in every race bar one. The Frenchman took four wins and a further seven podiums in the 16-race season, while Rosberg finished second – behind Prost – just once, in Monaco.

The Finn finished up sixth in the championship with 22 points, while Prost became a two-time champion.

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Ricardo Patrese (1991-1992)

The main reason for Nigel Mansell’s status as the number one driver in the Williams team in both 1991 and 1992 was a severe driver mismatch. Even though Ricardo Patrese had enjoyed by far his most successful period in the sport in the late 1980s through the turn of the decade, when Mansell returned to the team in ’91 he immediately positioned himself as de facto team leader.

The 1992 season was perhaps the only year when Patrese was equipped with a car that was essentially guaranteed to win the championship, but he was utterly obliterated by Mansell. His single win at the ‘92 Japanese Grand Prix came four races after his team-mate had already wrapped up the title. The good news in this story is that team orders were never really required, Patrese played second fiddle on pace alone.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the following year the Brazilian who would hold the record as the most experienced driver for almost 20 years, moved to Benetton in 1993 where we would be shown up yet again by a certain Michael Schumacher. He wouldn’t be the last driver to suffer that ignominy though.

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David Coulthard (1998-1999)

David Coulthard had a difficult start to life in Formula 1. His two-year stint with Williams was error-strewn and yielded just a single win, and he followed that up with a move to a McLaren a team that was at the very lowest point of a severe downturn in form that began when Ayrton Senna left the team at the end of 1993.

It only took a year for things to start coming good for the Scot, though, as he rather surprisingly won the first race of the 1997 season, as his team-mate Mika Häkkinen finished third. He took another win at the Italian Grand Prix, and it looked as though things were looking up for the Woking team.

However, we got a glimpse at how the team viewed its two drivers by the time 1998 had rolled around and McLaren were back at the very top of the sport. Häkkinen had taken pole at the opening round and was leading comfortably from Coulthard as both drivers steamed away from the rest of the field. But when a slow pitstop for the Finn gifted Coulthard the lead, McLaren ordered the drivers swap on track. Häkkinen took the win, and the championship with eight wins to Coulthard’s one.

The following season was a similar struggle for Coulthard as he was again overshadowed by Häkkinen in what was a far less clear-cut season for McLaren. The gap to Ferrari had closed dramatically, and while Häkkinen was able to maintain his superiority with five wins and another championship, Coulthard brought home two victories but finished fourth in the championship.

As Häkkinen’s form began to recede at the turn of the century, he was still able to maintain his superior position over Coulthard in 2000, as Ferrari set out on its period of dominance, the Finn was the closest challenger to Michael Schumacher, although Coulthard was closer to his team-mate than he had been previously.

Even after Häkkinen left the sport at the end of 2001, Coulthard never really managed to step into the position of team leader. He had a new team-mate in Kimi Räikkönen, who didn’t take long to showcase his speed as he also outperformed the Scot in 2003 and 2004.

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Rubens Barrichello (2000-2005 & 2009)

When Rubens Barrichello signed his Ferrari contract I bet he thought this would be the defining moment in his career. Who can imagine the excitement he must have felt as he put on those red overalls for the first time and realised that he was driving for the most famous F1 team in the world. He would have the chance to win races, even world championships.

Or, he could find himself thoroughly outmatched by – him again – Michael Schumacher. The writing was on the wall for Barrichello from the very first race of his Ferrari career. As McLaren struggled with early-season reliability issues, Ferrari had the perfect chance to capitalise, but it was Schumacher who took three wins on the bounce as Barrichello was outperformed first by his team-mate and then the two McLarens as well. He achieved just a single victory during his first season in red, and finished up fourth in the championship as his team-mate triumphed. Unfortunately, any chance of him winning his own championship at Ferrari was lost from that moment.

Things got worse for Barrichello in 2001 as he failed to win at all while Schumacher blitzed to another title, but 2002 was by far and away the low point. His season began with three retirements, which ruled him out of contention (if he was ever in contention), but his Ferrari career will forever be defined by what happened at that year’s Austrian Grand Prix. He started from pole, and led the race faultlessly ahead of Schumacher who was already well on his way to another championship. However, Ferrari inexplicably called for the Brazilian to let his team-mate pass, which he did on the final corner of the race. It was a horrible moment. Boos rang out during the podium ceremony, and team orders were banned for the following season.

Despite that horror season, Barrichello remained at Ferrari for another three years, but would never shake off his status as the number two driver. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he had one further chance to win an F1 world championship in 2009, only to suffer a similar fate, as Jenson Button romped to six wins in the first seven rounds and put Barrichello firmly in the shade as he took the title.

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Mark Webber (2009-2013)

The story of Mark Webber at Red Bull is one that many of us can relate too. It’s the classic Woody situation in Toy Story. He’d settled himself in at the team since joining in 2007, and must have felt that his input into the car that would eventually become a dominant force in F1 would have put him in a great position to become a world champion. Only to find his position thrown into jeopardy as a new guy arrived on the scene. It wasn’t Buzz Lightyear, though, it was Sebastian Vettel.

The thing was, Vettel hadn’t really just appeared out of nowhere. He had already won a race with Toro Rosso (Red Bull’s feeder team) and was considered the next big thing by the management at Red Bull, as so he proved. After coming close to beating Jenson Button to the title in 2009, the Red Bull team were ready to go one step further in 2010, and it appeared that both drivers were going into the new decade on equal standing.

Vettel took pole at the first race of the season, and won in round three at Malaysia, but Webber took two wins on the trot in Spain and Monaco and looked as though he was right on the pace. Even as early as that year’s British Grand Prix, however, Webber’s “not bad for a number two driver” quip suggested things weren’t entirely harmonious at the team. At the final race of the year, both drivers were in the hunt for the title, but it was Vettel that came out as the victor. It was a brutal hammer blow that Webber never really recovered from, and 2011 served only to cement the Australian’s position as a number two driver as Vettel took 11 wins and Webber just one. We all hated that Vettel finger, but Webber must have absolutely detested it.

As the years went on, things began to get increasingly sour at Red Bull. The 2012 season was possibly Webber’s worst, as he trudged to sixth in the championship as Vettel took his third consecutive title. But it all came to a head in 2013, beginning with the famous ‘multi-21’ incident at the Malaysian Grand Prix. When Vettel defied team orders and overtook Webber for victory it prompted the Australian to call out his team for favouritism and essentially throw in the towel. Vettel went on to win 13 races that season, Webber won none. He retired at the end of the year and never achieved his dream of becoming champion.

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Felipe Massa (2010-2013)

Felipe Massa joined Ferrari in 2006 and was quickly taken under the wing of Michael Schumacher. As the great German’s protégé, Massa gained valuable experience and learned what it took to lead a team in a world championship battle. He would use all of that experience to great effect in 2008, coming within a whisker of becoming champion.

Sadly, his promising career was curtailed in 2009 by a horrific accident that, in a sporting sense, he never truly recovered from. Having challenged for the title in 2008, he would never win another grand prix. To make matters worse for the Brazilian, he was joined at Ferrari by an extremely determined Fernando Alonso.

From 2010 through until his final Ferrari appearance at the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix, a period when his team-mate came close to winning two world championships, Massa achieved just eight podium finishes and never ended a season higher than sixth in the standings.

Massa’s position as the number two driver was confirmed as early as the 2010 German Grand Prix, however. He was leading Alonso when one of the most famous radio messages of all time was played out for all to hear: “Fernando is faster than you”. It was a clear indication that, with Alonso in contention for the championship, he would be given preference if the two were together on track. Unfortunately for Felipe, his performance was never such that he was in much of a position to complain.

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Kimi Räikkönen (2014-2018)

The second chapter of Kimi Räikkönen’s Formula 1 career was an odd one. It was difficult to know what he wanted from his return to the sport after an extended sabbatical where we tried his hand at rallying and NASCAR. He’d won his world championship back in 2007, and since then had appeared far less bothered by success, and more interested in just enjoying himself. His laid-back approach endeared him to fans, and he has since become one of the most popular F1 drivers of all time.

While he would make it clear in interviews during his time at Alfa Romeo that he now regarded his racing in F1 as, essentially, a well-paid hobby, you could argue that he had made that decision before he even climbed into the cockpit of his 2012 Lotus. That said, the fact he came straight back into the sport and was ultimately extremely competitive meant he was handed the opportunity to return to Ferrari in 2014.

At that time, and still to this day at the time of writing, Räikkönen was the last Ferrari driver to win the drivers’ world championship, so you can see what Ferrari was thinking to bring the still incredibly quick Finn back into the team. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite to plan.

Räikkönen’s first season back in a red car was a non-event. He struggled to get to grips with the new hybrid power units, while the Ferrari car was miles off the pace of the leading Mercedes. He finished the season without a single podium, while his team-mate Fernando Alonso made the rostrum twice and scored almost three times as many points.

From there, Kimi seemed set to play the supporting role for the remainder of his tenure. Sebastian Vettel replaced Alonso for 2015 and embarked on a quest to become Ferrari’s next world champion. While there was still work to be done to catch the dominant Mercedes, Vettel took three wins and ten further podiums that year, while Räikkönen only managed three top-three finishes. The following three seasons all followed a similar pattern. Although 2018 was by far Räikkönen’s most successful year as Ferrari finally managed to compete with the Mercs, he was still soundly beaten by Vettel. He did at least sign off with five successive podium finishes, including a hugely popular win at the US GP.

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Valtteri Bottas (2017-2021)

It was never going to be an easy task for whoever took the vacant seat at Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s sudden retirement. The fact Rosberg felt the need to walk away from F1 having spent every ounce of his energy to beat Lewis Hamilton in 2016 tells you pretty much everything you need to know.

When Valtteri Bottas arrived in in 2017, it was clear he had a huge challenge on his hands to match the man who would become the most successful driver in history. Of course, you would think the chance to drive for the team that had been utterly dominant for the previous four years would mean you’d be in the hunt for a world championship triumph. That opportunity never materialised for Bottas.

If Hamilton had been good before, he hit a new level in the years following Rosberg’s title win. In the four years Valtteri was at Mercedes, he never once got a sniff at championship glory. His team-mate was simply too fast, too consistent, too good, and no matter what the Finn tried, Hamilton was always able to go one better. On one occasion, team boss Toto Wolff referred to Bottas as a “sensational wingman”, which Valtteri took great exception too, but couldn’t really argue with.

In the end, the 2017 season was the closest he got to his team-mate. While Hamilton took 50 race wins and four championships, Bottas took 10 victories. He had a nightmare winless campaign in 2018, which prompted the Finn to undergo a savage winter regime and proclaim his return in 2019 as ‘Valtteri 2.0’. For a time, even Hamilton admitted he was rattled by this re-invigorated Bottas. But, even though he enjoyed his best ever start to a season with two wins and four podiums from the opening six races, he was never able to maintain a consistent challenge to Hamilton.

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Sergio Perez (2021-present)

When Sergio Perez signed for Red Bull for the 2021 season, you had to wonder just how he was going to cope alongside Max Verstappen. The Dutchman had seen off Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon in the previous two years, and it was abundantly clear that the Red Bull team had positioned itself firmly behind its superstar driver.

By the time Perez arrived, Red Bull was finally in a position to challenge Mercedes after five years recovering from an unceremonious split with Renault. You could bet almost immediately that any and all opportunities would be handed straight to Max should a title challenge materialise. As it was, any need to favour Verstappen was removed pretty swiftly as Perez struggled to get up to speed in the challenging Red Bull car. By the time the Mexican took his first win at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, he was already essentially out of the title race. He would achieve just four podiums in the season, and finish the year with less than half the points of his champion team-mate.

Things went better in 2022, as Perez felt more at home in the car and was at times much closer to his team-mate than the year before. However, the gap was still there, and the numbers, unfortunately for Perez, speak for themselves. Verstappen has, with three races still remaining in the 2022 F1 season, taken 13 wins as he strolled to a second championship. Perez on the other hand, has won twice. To be fair to the Mexican, Max has been a class above everyone in 2022, but in a superior car, Perez has been cast well and truly into the shadows.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • List

  • Formula 1

  • F1

  • Keke Rosberg

  • Ricardo Patrese

  • David Coulthard

  • Rubens Barrichello

  • Mark Webber

  • Felipe Massa

  • Kimi Raikkonen

  • Valtteri Bottas

  • Sergio Perez

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