A Thankless Task: F1’s Number Two Drivers

Over the years, there have been a number of drivers who have had to step aside for their teammates and compete as a number two driver. Here are some that have had the misfortune of completing this thankless task:

5. Sir Stirling Moss

The greatest driver to never win a title was unfortunately paired with arguably one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time, Juan Manuel Fangio in 1955. Moss had already raced in F1 before the move to Mercedes but was brought in to assist the already established Silver Arrows driver.

He eventually finished the 1955 World Championship as runner up. Fangio famously slowed down to allow him to win the British Grand Prix as a thank you for playing the supporting role.

4. Eddie Irvine

The first Ferrari driver to be the bridesmaid at the lengthy marriage between Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. His efforts helped Ferrari collect their first Constructors title in sixteen years in 1999, a year in which Michael Schumacher had to sit out a large chunk of the season due to a broken leg. This gave the County Downs man the opportunity to become Ferrari’s number one for a small window in which Mika Salo was in the other car. In an interview, Eddie Irvine once remarked:

“I once described being Michael’s teammate as being hit on the head with a baseball bat once a fortnight. Let me make it clear, I didn’t not like him as a person, but professionally it was tough being in a team that was built around him.”

– Eddie Irvine

3. Mark Webber

One of those drivers whose talent was quashed by the team set-up. Vettel was without a doubt given preferential treatment at Red Bull, and whilst Webber was constantly assured in front of the press that he would be given an equal chance, the wool was spread thinly over the eyes of fans with a bit of sense.

The most entertaining drive regarding this topic came at the 2010 British Grand Prix. The team had brought a pair of new front-wings to the weekend, and Vettel damaged his at the start of Qualifying. The team made the controversial call to give the German Webber’s wing, granting Vettel a bit more pace and gifting him pole position over the Aussie.

But Webber drove a solid race and beat his teammate, saying “not bad for a Number 2” over team radio, knowing full-well that it would be broadcast to the world. It wasn’t the first time that Webber had been or would be undermined, and the Webber victory left Red Bull with a few red faces.

2. Francois Cevert

His time in F1 was cut tragically short when he died at the Watkins Glen in 1973. The Frenchman was destined for great things and was rated very highly by his teammate, Sir Jackie Stewart, who was planning on hanging up his racing gloves to make way for Cevert and allow him to lead the Tyrrell team. Cevert had started to match Stewart towards the end, having finished regularly behind the Champion, but his potential was unfortunately never

Cevert had started to match Stewart towards the end, having finished regularly behind the Champion, but his potential was unfortunately never realised. His unfortunate end came at a time when he had just started to shed his number two status.

1. Rubens Barrichello

The likable Brazilian is probably Formula 1’s most obvious number two driver, given that he spent 2000-2005 playing second fiddle to Michael Schumacher at Ferrari.

Schumacher’s biggest threat from a teammate came in 1992 at Benneton in the form of Martin Brundle, but the German driver would never really have to worry about his teammates later in his career in a Ferrari team that organized itself around him. Barrichello was probably his most consistent teammate and played the number two role obediently.

The Brazilian’s real potential was on display later in his career at Brawn GP, without the shackles of playing second-fiddle, he finished 3rd overall with two victories but was past his prime. It begs the question, in the three seasons where he finished 3rd or above at Ferrari between 2001-2004, where would he have finished if the team had implemented equal status to its drivers?