F1 is often presented as a team sport. This is usually by people who quite rightly wish to share their feats with the people whose hard work made those achievement possible. On occasion, and less salubriously, it is portrayed so to divide and so dilute blame for failure, or provide excuses for blatant favouritism. Human nature, perhaps. Nonetheless, it is standard diktat at season’s start that the drivers’ championship is absolutely no more significant than the constructors’ championship.
Motivation for the boys and girls in the pit and in the factory? Undoubtedly. They compete for the prize, not just for the driver; the driver is part of the team and does a job just like any other team member; the other driver works with the engineers and his team mate to develop and extract the best from the car. Everyone shares the blame if they lose – basic sports psychology – and everyone gets the glory if they win.
Or do they? Two instances this weekend suggest that this is patently not the case. Firstly, Felipe Massa – in his position as in-house Ferrari whipping boy – had a gearbox sabotaged so that he would incur a penalty, and his team mate would be promoted one slot to the clean side of the grid. (Ethics of this to one side for a moment please). Now, there is an argument that a world title for Alonso would be better for the team than nothing this year. But at this race, with Massa’s evident speed, it would have been better for Massa’s whole side of the garage, at this late stage of the year, to have a morale-boosting podium. Ferrari, the very organisation which continually espouse the merits of teamwork and the primacy of the marque, had put all their eggs in one basket, on one driver. They sabotaged half the team for the other half. Is that teamwork?
Debatable, perhaps. But what was much less unequivocal was the Red Bull pitwall moments after becoming one of the very few teams in F1 history to take three consecutive constructors’ titles. Abject disappointment all round. Then – realising the cameras were on them – muted smiles and the odd backslap. Ted Kravitz on Sky tried to jazz up the rather embarrassing situation by prompting Christian Horner into saying that he was disappointed because they were racers and their car hadn’t won the race. Not so. They were only partly disappointed because the car hadn’t won the race. There was also major disappointment because their driver had had a poor race; because their driver’s grip on the drivers’ title was being shaken. And the three constructors’ titles? No time for that just now.
No value judgement to be made, there, though, it must be said – and criticism of Red Bull is neither stated nor implied. We would all be the same. Nevertheless it is interesting to note that at the last, when it comes down to it, a drivers’ championship driver’s one place benefit grid slot is more important than half a garage’s work to make a great car for qualifying; and a drivers’ championship driver’s slip from first to second is more important than an historic team achievement.
The car’s the star? Perhaps not. The driver is.