Is it possible that a Vettel-Hamilton partnership might be looming in the future? Red Bull boss Christian Horner hasn’t ruled it out.
Teams that boast dueling number-one drivers often seem doomed to calamity. The foremost example in the modern era is the Ayrton Senna-Alain Prost match up at McLaren in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The intra-team rivalry (and enmity) displayed by those two giants has yet to be equaled.
Another bitter pairing of two title contenders was the match-up of Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, Sr at Williams. While relations between the two drivers weren’t necessarily as rancorous as those experienced by Senna and Prost, the Brazilian and the Brit stole enough points from each other to allow Alain Prost to snag the championship in 1986, which didn’t do much for team harmony. Williams (like their one time rivals McLaren) are loathe to formally designating a number one driver, which allowed the loss to materialize. They later learned to circumvent that dilemma by simply hiring drivers of unequal caliber.
Another disastrous driver pairing was the Alonso-Hamilton debacle of 2007. This was a classic case of Ron Dennis’s overestimating his skills at driver management, and underestimating the latent diva propensities of his two young stars. Sadly, that pairing lasted only a season.
Given the history of these things, why would one think that Lewis Hamilton might even think of looking for a new home at Red Bull?
Recently, Christian Horner announced that Sebastian Vettel had extended his contract with Red Bull through 2014. That ties up his services with Red Bull for the next four years, if you include this season. No doubt, this should keep everyone in the Red Bull camp happy, as long as both the car and the driver are able to deliver.
In the course of announcing this, Horner couldn’t resist getting in a dig at McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, referring to his frustrating year in 2010. “Lewis is a great driver,” Horner said. “He’s a former world champion. He’s one of the best that there is. And he’s not going to be happy if he has another barren year.”
“But that’s not to say that we’re looking for [him] to come to our team,” Horner quickly added. “We’re very happy with the two drivers that we currently have.”
But the point was lost on no one. Sooner or later, Hamilton will get tired of having a car that he feels is unworthy of his talents (if the car continues to underperform), no matter how much he loves the team.
When pressed on whether or not Red Bull could cope with a Vettel-Hamilton combination, Horner refused to rule it out, saying, “You would certainly envisage it being quite a busy partnership, but you can never rule it out. From my perspective you always want to have the best two drivers.”
What are the odds? Most drivers claim publicly that they don’t care who their team mates are, that they prefer to be partnered with someone who will challenge them, etc. Frankly, in the real world, I think the average diva driver prefers to be teamed with someone who makes him look good, i.e. someone who’s slow enough to be beaten, but quick enough so that it doesn’t look too easy.
Both Vettel and Hamilton are currently in that kind of arrangement with their respective team mates (Mark Webber and Jenson Button). That dynamic might shift radically, however, should the day come when Vettel and Hamilton share the same garage.
Frankly, I don’t see it happening unless the McLaren proves to be such a dog during the next few years that Hamilton decides he has no recourse but to bail on the Woking squad. Right now he enjoys a privileged position at McLaren. You might say he’s de facto number one. The Woking boys will be at pains to deny it (at least while Jenson Button is within ear shot), but certainly Hamilton is the favorite son there. It would be difficult for him to gain that footing at another team.
Joining Red Bull, he would be in a position somewhat analogous to Fernando Alonso’s when he went to McLaren. The Spaniard soon learned that Hammy had captured the hearts and minds of the mechanics, engineers and the team’s top brass. At Red Bull, however, German-speaking Seb Vettel has that honor.