Motorsport team-mates: a rivalry like no other

A passage in Jensen Button’s upcoming autobiography suggests that perhaps his partnership with McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton was not as friendly as it seemed. But is this so surprising? Rivalry amongst team-mates in motorsport is nothing new, as Luke Barry explores. 

In most sports your team-mate is your best mate; somebody you are relying on and working together with to achieve a collective result. Not in motorsport.

In the world of racing, the one wearing the same colours as you may be employed to help the team just like you, but they can very often turn into your archnemesis. Not in all cases, but with equal machinery making it the ultimate test of who is the better competitor, relationships can often turn sour.

Childhood friends Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg raced together for Mercedes from 2013 to 2016 where for three of those four seasons they were driving the best car on the Formula 1 grid. The tension was real, with Niki Lauda recently saying the two wouldn’t even converse on race mornings.

Often it can get more serious. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber had some famous spats including the infamous ‘Multi 21’ radio call at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, Hamilton and Fernando Alonso’s 2007 pairing blew up spectacularly with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost famously hating each other. Both the latter relationships got so bad that Alonso and Prost both left the team in 2008 and 1990 respectively.

And it isn’t just in Formula 1. Jason Plato and Yvan Muller’s 2001 season in the British Touring Car Championship together at Triple Eight Racing was explosive, while Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier at Citroen in the 2011 World Rally Championship season was a recipe that went badly wrong. These are just some examples.

What’s the relevance in this you may ask? It has all surfaced from 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button who has a new autobiography, Life at the Limit, due to be released later this week.

During his racing career, the Brit raced for Williams, Benetton, Renault, BAR, Honda, Brawn GP and McLaren across a Formula 1 career that spanned 17 years and yielded 15 race wins and one World Championship in incredible circumstances with Brawn GP who looked destined to not even contest the 2009 season.

It was with McLaren where Button spent the majority of his career, signing as World Champion in 2010 before retiring in 2016. Upon joining at the start of the decade, he was partnered with Lewis Hamilton in a relationship that was painted out by the team to be a fruitful, relaxed and friendly coalition.

Was this the case? It wasn’t all as plain-sailing as McLaren tried to tell us.

Button revealed that several people had warned him upon joining the Woking-based squad that Hamilton felt like the team was his – after all, he had been with them one way or another ever since he was eight years old.

Button said: “Personally, he was fine with me, no issues at all at this stage of the game, but you could just tell he was a little bit peeved.

“That thing about it being his team? It was right on the money. And, if you ask me, he was finding it difficult to get a handle on the fact that it was our team now.

“I’m not sure that was to Lewis’ taste. I don’t think that I was to his taste, if I’m honest.”

Very interesting comments indeed. McLaren made a cartoon series called Tooned after the two Britons, were they trying to cover up something?

Honestly, I highly doubt it. This was by no means a rotting relationship, it just wasn’t quite as close as we were led to believe. But why would it be? The two men were fighting for the biggest prize in motorsport.

It just appears as if Button has lifted the lid on their partnership in his new book, and has pulled a PR blinder. Do you think it’s a coincidence these quotes have emerged a few days before the autobiography goes on general sale? We are all left wanting to know more which would mean picking up a copy.

To further extinguish any particular fire, the Briton then went on to praise his compatriot, saying over one lap Hamilton is rivalled only by Ayrton Senna, adding that since their time as team-mates and Hamilton’s subsequent move to Mercedes, Lewis has matured and become a statesman and ambassador for the sport.

The real conclusion here is that sporting autobiographies are great. They add insight into battles and rivalries you remember and would never ever find out about at the time.


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