Adrian Newey has weighed in on the topic of putting two ‘number one’ drivers together in one team, assessing both Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso…
As one of F1’s most revered technical figureheads, overseeing the design of cars that have produced umpteen World Champions including Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Hakkinen, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, Adrian Newey has experienced just about every teammate dynamic it’s possible to have in F1.
Most teams avoid the sticky situation of having two ‘number one’ type drivers together, regardless of how entertaining it may be for fans, due to the difficulty of managing their egos and the risk to how they go racing.
Adrian Newey: Max Verstappen can destroy a driver’s self-confidence
Newey is the current chief technical officer of Red Bull, designing the cars that have given Max Verstappen his maiden titles in the sport. But Verstappen is known for being an exceptionally difficult teammate to have – not due to aggression or belligerence, but rather his sheer speed and relentless ability.
Newey was asked to pick out a ‘Team Newey’, two drivers from the roster of World Champions his cars have helped to titles, to race together. However, the British engineer couldn’t be coaxed on the topic, but instead diplomatically addressed it.
“Any World Champions are clearly a great driver,” he said.
“All those guys are very different in their character and their makeup. Some of them have a very high level of self-belief. That, I think, has been one of their keys. But not all of them, they are so different.
“The first thing a teammate wants to do is, particularly if he’s young or ambitious, show that he’s the best. He probably comes in thinking he’s the best, which can then just destroy a driver’s self-confidence or whatever.
“Indeed, I think, Max, with his incredible ability, has completely, and not by any deliberate action… Alex [Albon] struggled to come to terms with just how quick Max was. As did Pierre Gasly and other examples.
“So if you’re going to have two teammates, where one is exceptional, and the other is brilliant but not quite at that level, the other one needs to be somebody who will, at some points, accept that he certainly can’t beat Max, for instance, on pace. You’re going to have to do it in some other way which, of course, has been done – if you look at Niki [Lauda] and Alain [Prost] against each other.
“Alain was always the quickest driver, but Niki managed to win a championship. You probably argue the same for Nico [Rosberg] and Lewis [Hamilton].”
How would Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton fare nowadays?
While Red Bull aren’t currently managing the situation of having two number-one drivers on their team, with Red Bull keeping Verstappen happy by teaming him with Sergio Perez, Newey said he can enjoy the challenge of trying to manage two alpha drivers going head to head.
“It’s a difficult one to manage,” he said.
“But, ideally, there are some drivers who will be happy battling each other on the track, but not bring it into the garage, and other drivers who will perhaps turn it into a bit of a political game.
“That’s a difficult one, like anything, politics is such a kind of destructive force because it just saps everybody’s energy.”
Part of the dynamic comes down to the age of the drivers, Newey believes, with maturity and wisdom perhaps allowing for greater harmony.
Newey pointed to the example of Fernando Alonso, saying that he believes Alonso being paired up with Lewis Hamilton nowadays would result in a very different outcome to the one that unfolded in 2007 at McLaren, when a much younger pairing of the two (eventual) World Champion drivers resulted in bitter acrimony at the team.
“I mean, Fernando is one of the most formidable competitors ever, and famous for not getting on that well with his teammates,” Newey said.
“If, let’s say, it was Max versus Fernando, or Lewis versus Fernando again, would Fernando, with all that experience he now has, be different from Fernando versus Lewis of ? I think Fernando would be different now, he’s mellowed.”