Formula One: Individual brilliance or the epitome of teamwork?

One of the most technical and tactical elements of Formula One. Source: Gil Abrantes via Wikimedia Commons.

By Hannah Jane Prydderch | Contributor 

If you had to name a team sport, what would come to mind? 

Football, rugby or hockey maybe amongst other things. Few people however would say Formula One, a sport so highly focused on the drivers and the legendary status that some of them such as Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Ayrton Senna have achieved.

In a sense, they could be correct. In the end, the driver is the sole focus when the lights go out on track and the racing begins. It is them who perform the dynamic overtakes, manage the tyres and ultimately try to garner the best performance out of the car. Even when things go wrong, it is the driver who takes control and maximises their opportunities, such as Jenson Button’s memorable win at the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix when luck seemed to have abandoned him.

It is the driver’s exploits on track that are remembered and most frequently lauded.

However, despite being seen as an individual sport, Formula One is perhaps the ultimate team sport. A team’s chances can be made or destroyed by the actions of the team at the track or back at the team’s base, often thousands of miles away.

As fans we see a car being driven for a couple of hours every few weekends. What we don’t see is the hours of work and dedication being put in by personnel from the pit crew, to engineers, to the media and design teams that put the car on track week in week out and enable the driver to maximise their opportunities.

Nevertheless, it is moments like Mercedes’ mistakes with George Russell at the Sakhir Grand Prix last Sunday, that highlight how instrumental a team is to a driver’s success in Formula One. 

This weekend looked to have been a fairy-tale story for George Russell. The 22-year-old driver was given his moment in the spotlight after being called up by Mercedes to replace Lewis Hamilton, who tested positive for coronavirus. The Williams driver had languished at the back of the grid all season and had the golden opportunity to prove the talent that he had showcased in his 2018 Formula 2 title winning campaign.

And prove himself he did, nearly out qualifying his teammate Valtteri Bottas and getting a blinding start to lead the race into Turn 1. He controlled the race with a maturity that far belies his youth.

However, this all came crashing down on Lap 63 after a safety car was triggered as a result of Jack Aitken’s Williams tagging the barriers. Mercedes made the late call to pit and double stack their drivers, but accidentally fitted Bottas’ tyres to Russell’s car, forcing the Brit to have to box again to rectify the issue.

A subsequent puncture saw him drop down to 16th and he eventually finished in ninth, a bittersweet way of achieving his first points of the season and Mercedes were fined €20,000 for the incident.

A driver is only as successful as their team enables them to be. Being the fastest car on track is only worth something if you have the support and knowledge behind the scenes to back it up.

If the teams were not important, why do they spend so long practicing pitstops and planning alternative strategies? In a race, especially in the midfield where the pack is so close, it is the role of the team to try to manage variables that drivers cannot.

A slow pitstop costs time that drivers may not be able to take back, the weather may change and give other team’s the advantage and the drivers would not even have the ability to showcase their skills if not for the dedication of the personnel back at the factory, who thoughts not only have to focus on the current car but the 2021 and then 2022 regulation changes too.

Formula One is a sport highly focused on the drivers. However, it is in fact the teams that make the sport what it is and if you don’t believe me; look at the battle for third in the constructors’ standings between Racing Point, McLaren and Renault. The prize money on the line matters far more to the future success of the team, than the individual standings of their drivers.


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