Motorsport: Inter-Team Rivalries In Formula One & Other Racing Events

There can be no doubt that, of all sports, F1 is perhaps the most notorious for having teammates as both allies and rivals.

Not one season passes where there isn’t a falling out between two drivers racing for the same constructor, and the problem only escalates when there are two strong drivers on the roster with an equal chance of glory.

Power Struggle Typified By Mid-2010s Mercedes
Perhaps the most notable example of this is the inter-team rivalry between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, who both raced for Mercedes in the mid-2010s.

After consecutive title wins for Hamilton in 2014 and 2015, 2016 was Rosberg’s year, but there were many critics who believed that his racing style was a greater reflection of his professional self-interest than a desire to perform for F1 betting outright title favourites Mercedes.

The German’s shock retirement almost immediately after completing his title-winning season seemed to confirm beliefs that he had taken his career with Mercedes as far as it could go.

That is not to say Hamilton, 11/8 in F1 odds to win another world title in 2019, was without sin, and as the designated ‘lead’ driver for Mercedes in his two title-winning seasons, his pit bosses granted him a significant amount of free will, knowing that the combination of his natural driving skill and Mercedes’ peerless machine could not fail.

It is here that inter-team rivalries take on a new form of intrigue.

While Mercedes can still score a certain 1-2 under the right circumstances, forcing the secondary driver to yield will give rival teams – mainly Ferrari and Red Bull – the ability to rack up some constructor points.

There is also a potential knock-on effect further down the constructor rankings, as prize money increasingly speaks volumes.

Previously successful teams like McLaren and Williams have found themselves locked out of the upper echelons in the constructor table in recent years, simply because the place of one crashed Mercedes will invariably be filled by a Ferrari or Red Bull car.

Even when two inter-team rivals have a collision, the lesser teams seldom get a look-in, and the consequences of a double retirement are often consigned to history without much afterthought.

Going further back, other inter-team rivalries such as Nelson Piquet vs Ayrton Senna and James Hunt vs Niki Lauda, prove that this is nothing new.

However, with a more pronounced difference between the points given to first and second-placed drivers, it now seems as though there is little point at all in identifying drivers as teammates.

Perhaps a more fitting term would be ‘two drivers with the same livery and outfit’, and compared to other sports, there appears to be little room for camaraderie off the track.

As to whether or not this is the ideal situation in principle, F1 fans are generally more concerned with the sight of precision engineering being converted into pure speed and sublime takeovers on the track.

While the conventional dynamics of team play seem skewed beyond recognition in F1, some would say that the ridiculous nature of inter-team rivalries is what makes F1 truly watchable in this highly-predictable era of Mercedes v Ferrari.

MotoGP: National Pride Trumps Rivalries
Curiously, this is not so much the case in other forms of motorsport. MotoGP, for instance, only has six different constructors, but with multiple teams allied to each.

Unlike in F1, it is common for two teammates to be of the same nationality, and this often prevents the more negative aspects of inter-team rivalry from surfacing.

Perhaps the standout example is the Repsol Honda team that has a rich history of success, with two Spanish riders atop a brace of Honda RC213V bikes.

Those men are Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo, who share multiple titles won across this decade alone.

Whatever rivalry they may have is tempered somewhat by the common flag under which they race, and with Italy the only other country realistically expected to have a championship contender representing it, the likes of the aforementioned Repsol duo would be loathe to let any of their ‘cross-med’ rivals clinch the title.

NASCAR: Looking Out For Number One
While a team’s standing in MotoGP and F1 directly correlates to how much of an influence it has over the sport, other forms of motorsport place even less emphasis on a constructor (or team) winning the most points.

NASCAR, for instance, is all about the individual, and arguably stands at the opposite end of the spectrum to MotoGP – although that is not to say teammates will never give each other tactical help.

This is mainly due to the dynamic of qualification for the ‘playoff’ phase, whereby simply winning a race guarantees progress to it.

The range of different teams on the track at once far outstrips either of Europe’s two mainstream racing disciplines and, while there could be as many as four or five racers representing the same team on the track, there may be some teams that comprise of just one driver.

In practice, this means there are a significant number of drivers simply looking out for number one in NASCAR, and this enables them to be as disruptive as they like.

In terms of specific drivers having inter-team rivalries, they are restricted mainly to those who race for the teams that have the biggest presence but have not yet established a ‘lead’ driver in the eyes of fans, endorsers and race pundits.

Hendrick Motorsport, for instance, have a seasoned driver in the form of Jimmie Johnson, but there is talk of his ‘torch’ as the team’s lead driver being passed to young Chase Elliott, who has established himself as one of NASCAR’s greatest modern prodigies.

Then there is Joe Gibbs Racing, which essentially became to NASCAR what Mercedes was (and is) in the mid-2010s.

Currently, Denny Hamlin and current cup live betting favourite Kyle Busch are vying to be the top dog of Joe Gibbs, the unofficial mantle of which seems to guarantee some degree of invincibility, as it did for Kyle Busch during his near-flawless summer of 2015.

Away From The Track…

In field sports, inter-team rivalries achieve existence on a much more sporadic and spontaneous basis.

As everyone knows, ‘rivalry’ is far too close to ‘rift’ for comfort, and rifts can destroy teams. For that reason, rivals within sports teams are generally friendly ones, and a very topical example may be found within the PSG camp.

With no other Ligue 1 team coming close to matching the Parisians, all that is left to determine is which of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar Jr will finish up as the club’s player of the year.

A similar situation will also be unfolding at Juventus, Barcelona and – possibly – Bayern Munich, where two different players are competing for personal honours.

Short of outright destroying a team from within, ruining a personal career or the lives of others, there seems to be no right or wrong way to go through the motions of an inter-team rivalry.

They add flavour to proceedings and ultimately ensure that those involved get remembered – for better or worse – far more prominently than those that don’t.