Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton went back in time to speak about the team dynamics with Fernando Alonso when discussing current situation with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc.
The 2002 Austrian GP is a grand prix remembered by F1 fans for all the wrong reasons as Ferrari’s said-to-be #1 driver Michael Schumacher was handed the win, after his teammate Rubens Barrichello was instructed to slow down to allow him score the victory.
Ever since that fateful May afternoon, driver favoritism has haunted F1 and the debate as to whether teams should establish #1 and #2 drivers continues, even 17 years later. The FIA did ban team orders between 2003 and 2010 but it is used now again.
Hamilton is no stranger to the topic as he has been on the favourable end on a lot of occasions. The discussions this year is wide open again with Ferrari being the center of attraction as they handle four-time champion Vettel against their young gun, Leclerc.
The relationship isn’t strained as much but it looks like the stepping point indeed. When asked to Hamilton, the British racer recalled his time at McLaren when he came in as a young force against a formidable Alonso, who was regarded as the team’s #1 racer.
In fact, Hamilton feels that there shouldn’t a designated #1 or #2 in a team, it should be more how the particular racer is performing during a particular weekend. If one is doing well, he should be favoured, while if the other does well in the next, then him. “I’ve not had a team back the other side so much, so heavily, before,” started Hamilton.
“Obviously when I was with Fernando, he was the hired number one, but then mid-season they gave us equal, they changed that to – he was still number one because he was the highest-paid driver, etc, but then they gave us equal fuel and then you started seeing changes like Montreal, Indianapolis, when we had the equal fuel loads and stuff like that.
“And then that dynamic shifted. And it obviously didn’t go well for the team. But I do understand – because ultimately when you’ve arrived, you want to have equal opportunity. But there are drivers that always wanted that number one status, it’s easier for them. I like to earn that, but start on an equal platform.
“I think you can get that number one status on that weekend, weekend in, weekend out, rather than over the course of the season. But if you already know that you’re number two, it’s kind of defeatist, I think, on your approach to the weekend.” In his style of playing mindgames with his opponents, Hamilton was true to his self.
Recalling the games played in Russian GP, Hamilton pointed out that Leclerc seems like the new favoured driver for Ferrari due to the struggles of Vettel. “I think separate to that race, because I think in the race he was going to overtake him anyway – whether he blocked or not, he would’ve overtaken him on other side,” said Hamilton.
“It was interesting that – because we work together as a team, when we do that start, from pole, Valtteri’s pole, instead of giving the tow to the third-placed guy he gives a tow to the second-placed guy and we work together in that scenario, we did it a couple of years ago, he covered the inside, I got the tow, we locked out the front row and he kept the lead.
“So I understand that working, but I think Charles had said that ‘I would let you take the tow’ and didn’t move and defend, which he should’ve done, because you don’t give a place and expect to get it back, I wouldn’t. But it’s an interesting dynamic they have there, because obviously Seb was number one, and now clearly not.
“From the energy from the outlook, [they’re] trying to ramp Charles up to be [number one]. Is that good for a team? I don’t think so. But that’s the philosophy they’ve had forever. We don’t complain, because we have a good philosophy that works really well here and we don’t plan on changing it any time soon.”
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Additional input from Dunan Leahy