Story of the second driver in Formula 1
Formula 1 has always been a team game. The team consists of the management, the factory employees, trackside employees, logistics department and a plethora of such people who make the circus possible. But there are two employees who happen to be the crown jewels of the team and with whom the fans resonate. The drivers. Drivers have always been the face and often the voice of team. Every team needs two drivers, but just like parents with multiple kids, even teams have a secret favourite child.
The term ‘second driver’ is a very common in F1. But the word is not used to its literal meaning. The term often carries a negative meaning. Second driver is a term generally given to the slower of the two drivers in a team. They tend to be the ones challenging the main star and are expected to deliver equally good results. But there’s no denying that they’re paid less compared to the main driver. Too confusing? Let us paint you a Picasso picture. Lewis Hamilton is a seven time world champion who is paid an estimated $55 million whereas his teammate Valtteri Bottas is paid $11 million to be in the same car. Bottas is a good driver, but just not good enough to threaten Lewis in any way.
Second drivers also have the trait of being compliant and they tend to keep the better of the team in mind. Rubens Barrichello fits this example quite perfectly when he was playing second fiddle to the legendary Michael Schumacher from 2000 to 2005. He was a consistent teammate, rarely threatening Schumacher on track and one time, he let Schumacher drive by at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix on orders from Ferrari. Barrichello was leading the race, in case you didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.
Second drivers also help in race strategy development and implementation where the driver can put pressure on cars in front or behind so as to shield the ‘favourite’ car from any strategical undercuts, overcuts or simple overtakes.
The title of ‘second driver’ is not always a given obvious choice. When David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen became teammates, everyone thought it would be close. Both were talented drivers in a great team. But DC won only one race in 1998 and two races in 1999. Mika took home the world championships in both those years. Another example that comes to my mind is of Sir Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio. 1955 saw them racing for the Silver Arrows (Mercedes). Moss was considered a great driver during that time, but he got a reality check when he started racing against Fangio on the track. Fangio won four out of the seven races that season, winning the championship in the process while Moss took only one victory home (which was controversial because Moss thought that Fangio let him win).
Irrespective of who the favourite child is, the existence of the ‘other’ or the ‘second’ driver will always be prominent. This takes a lot of stress out of the team, gives them a second chance when the main driver fails to deliver or meets an unfortunate accident and gives us fans some great weekend drama to delve into.