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Team mate can be more foe than friend


Formula One team mates are rarely best mates. Sometimes the mind games they play drive each other up the wall and around the bend.

The man sharing the same garage, driving a similar car and wearing identical overalls can be far more foe than friend and the new season, which starts up in Melbourne on March 9, promises its share of personality clashes.

The bigger the egos, the fiercer the feud -- as world champions Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost showed at McLaren in 1988 and 1989 when they were at each others' throats and banging bodywork.

Briton Nigel Mansell and Brazilian Nelson Piquet battled so hard at Williams in 1986 that they allowed Prost to nip in and take the title.

"In Formula One you are part of a racing stable and the number one driver is the stud and he's the one you are always compared with every race," the late Didier Pironi observed after his time as team mate to Gilles Villeneuve at Ferrari in 1981-82. "What they do is to praise the one and forget the other. You feel wounded and resentful so between two men with the same team ironically you get more, a lot more, rivalry."

Ferrari have changed a lot since then but Rubens Barrichello still experienced some of that feeling in his early days at Ferrari before coming to terms with Michael Schumacher's supremacy.

"I'm very proud of working with Michael -- he's really helped me push my career and helped me move up to another level," Barrichello said last month.

Such public harmony appears to have spread to Renault, Toyota, Sauber and Jaguar this year but there is plenty of old-fashioned antipathy elsewhere.

One new rivalry, the pairing of Briton Jenson Button and Canadian Jacques Villeneuve at BAR, is brewing up nicely. Former champion Villeneuve made clear at the team's car launch in January that 23-year-old Button, who took the limelight, had yet to earn his respect. A team insider said then that the two were not talking and the signs are that nothing has improved since.

"I was with Jenson the last couple of days in Spain, where he has been testing and we discussed it," BAR boss David Richards told Australian reporters last week. "It's mostly come from Jacques's side and Jacques is renowned for his forthright views and speaks his mind about things. I asked Jenson how he was getting on and anything between him and Jacques that I needed to be involved in, and he said; 'No, not an issue really. Jacques just doesn't speak to me'. I think what Jenson meant by that is they are not sort of talking in a social sense," added Richards. "Certainly when they sit down on the track they talk about the car and the development."

There can be little doubt that Villeneuve is itching to blow away his team mate in Melbourne just as the Briton would love to beat the Canadian. Villeneuve has a reputation as a tough team mate, probing his partners' mental resilience and shattering Brazilian Ricardo Zonta's confidence at BAR in 2000.

Button has a point to prove, despite a strong season with Williams in 2000 and Renault last year, after he faded badly when up against Italy's Giancarlo Fisichella at Renault in 2001.

Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa found Eddie Irvine to be the team mate from hell at Jaguar last season, just as Barrichello had at Jordan in 1995.

"The worst thing about this season was working with Irvine," declared De la Rosa, shortly before both lost their jobs. "It's very difficult to work with a person like him. I personally hope he won't stay on the team. We never talked much at the start but as the season went on we communicated less and less and by the time of the last race we could hardly look each other in the eye."

The Northern Irishman's barbed comments, sarcasm and acid humour at his rivals' expense will be missing this year but other uneasy pairings remain.

Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher may have learned to rub along better as they enter their third year together at Williams but the rivalry is still evident. Simmering from the start when the Colombian CART champion arrived in 2001 declaring that he saw no reason to be friends with his team mate, it was highlighted last season when they collided at the U.S. Grand Prix.

The two are the same age but are chalk and cheese and, like Mansell and Piquet, have free rein to race each other. Expect to see a scowl on the face of whichever of the two is slower in qualifying.

David Coulthard can expect a harder time than ever from Kimi Raikkonen at McLaren as the young Finn grows in confidence and chases his first win.

At the back of the grid, the return of Dutchman Jos Verstappen at Minardi could also give British rookie Justin Wilson a Formula One baptism of fire. Verstappen is not known as a shrinking violet and fell out spectacularly with his last team mate, Brazilian Enrique Bernoldi at Arrows.

"I think when I started to outqualify Jos he got a little bit annoyed," Bernoldi said later. "We went to Hockenheim and did 40 laps together on the track in the race. We were fighting quite hard and I finished in front of him. From that day, he started telling the press I wasn't a good team mate."

Let the mind games begin.

By Alan Baldwin


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