The four-time world champion and racing prodigy said yesterday that there have not been many friendships in the sport, as was the case in the past, reports Motorsport.com
The German, who currently races for Scuderia Ferrari, described this as “sad”, and insinuated that drivers had become more selfish, which had had a deleterious effect on forming lasting friendships and relationships within the sport.
Formula One in the past was characterised by a mutual respect that underscored even the fiercest of rivalries. Notable names among these include the rivalries between three-time world champion Niki Lauda and 1976 champion James Hunt – a relationship chronicled in what would become one of the most popular Formula 1 films in recent years.
Another such notable relationship was between two drivers who are both in the top 5 greatest of all time – the Professor, Alain Prost, and archrival Ayrton Senna, who is often accorded the title. Although they were known to argue even whilst on the same team, the two had a mutual respect that both alluded to. In fact, the morning of the fateful 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, which would be Senna’s last race, the Brazilian had breakfast with the Frenchman, discussing potential safety measures to be implemented for the improvement of the sport.
It could also be argued that Formula One was far more unsafe in the past, and drivers were brought closer together by the very strong possibility that one of them may not have lived to the following day, something Lauda and contemporary Jackie Stewart have alluded to in the past.
Modern-day Formula 1 has been underscored by rivalries as well, but far fewer friendships. In the last 10-15 years, Jenson Button and David Coulthard are known to be friends, with the latter at the former’s wedding. Both are also friends with former F1 driver Paul di Resta.
Nico Rosberg and his teammate Lewis Hamilton are known to be childhood friends who karted together, and were friends earlier on in their careers. However, their relationship seems to have cooled somewhat in recent years, with the Mercedes team being underscored by the intense rivalry between the teammates, who are currently at the top of the drivers’ championship standings as well, and locked in a battle for the title.
Vettel himself is said to be very close to teammate Kimi Raikkonen since the latter’s days at Lotus, and the Finn dominates the German at their frequent badminton games.
Fernando Alonso shares strong relationships with several other Formula One drivers – among them Vettel’s former teammate, Australian Mark Webber, with whom the German had a tumultuous, fraught relationship. The Spaniard, a double world champion, also mentored the late Jules Bianchi, and is close to Williams’ Felipe Massa off the track.
Alonso famously does not get along with Vettel, in part due to his friendship with Webber. He has been recorded as saying in the past that he believes Vettel’s championship wins were due to a “better car” and not driver talent.
It could be argued that an influx of sponsorship deals has led to this. Drivers are strictly instructed by their teams to control public images; this covers what they say in public, where they are seen and how, among other things – and in the midst of this extreme sanitization, it may be difficult to construct strong, meaningful relationships off track.
Several current drivers came together at funeral services for the recently deceased Jules Bianchi, however, and it is possible that this shared grief, if nothing else, would go some way in helping build relationships.
For now, it seems as though Vettel is right, as the camaraderie seems strong only among a select few F1 veterans, rather than across the grid.