Top 5 Formula One Lieutenants
No. 5 - Peter Collins
There's little to say about Peter Collins, as his racing career has not been that rich in overachievements. A few wins in the mid-50s were enough to secure him a comfortable place in the Formula One history books, but his gesture in the final round of the 1956 Formula One Championship has certainly made him one of the most selfless drivers in the history of the sport.
The story goes somewhat like this: Collins, teammate Juan Manuel Fangio and Maserati's Stirling Moss were all in contention for the 1956 F1 title before the last race of the season, the Italian Grand Prix. Fangio's car underwent several mechanical problems and he eventually had to stop at the pits, watching his chances of clinching a 4th F1 title slipping away.
And then, with only 15 laps to go in the race, Collins decided to come to the pits and practically hand his car to the Argentine champion, throwing away his only chance of becoming the first British driver to become Formula One champion. Fangio went on to secure 2nd place at the end of the race and, thanks to the half-of-points scored at the chequered flag, became world champion for the 3rd consecutive time and 4th overall. The gesture eventually got Collins a place in the heart of team boss Enzo Ferrari, who treated the British driver like his own son for his remaining years in F1.
DC made his first steps in Formula One under circumstances that he surely regrets. It was Ayrton Senna's death during the cursed 1994 San Marino Grand Prix (Imola) that led to Coulthard's debut in the series, as he was promoted as secondary driver to Britain's Damon Hill in the remaining rounds of the season. As it turned out, he was later replaced by Nigel Mansell during the last 3 races of the same season.
In 1995, however, he went on to secure a full-time seat with Frank Williams' team, and immediately made his mark in the sport. He clinched the 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix, but, despite that success, he was still reminded that his main job with the Grove based team was to help Hill in his quest for a world title. In the meantime, he would score some impressive 5 pole positions in the championship, but never quite convert it into race wins. As a result, Williams decided to let him go for the next season.
Moving to McLaren Mercedes, DC would team up with future F1 champion Mika Hakkinen. It was only in 1997 that he scored his first wins for Ron Dennis' team, as he was then still regarded as equal-chanced to his Finnish teammate.
At the beginning of 1998 – a season that was to be dominated by McLaren all the way – he made a pact with Hakkinen that whoever comes first in the first corner of the Australian Grand Prix (as both had secured the front line on the grid) would win the race. Hakkinen got to the first corner in first place, and gentleman DC kept his promise, although he was first in the race after the second pit stop. He made a drive-through in the last few laps of the race in order to give Hakkinen the chance to pass him on track.
He would eventually win a single race that season, but the way the McLaren duo dominated the season was quite impressing. Soon-to-become 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher was then named “the best of the rest” in his 3rd year with Ferrari, while Merc went on to secure both titles – drivers (Hakkinen) and constructors – in F1.
The next season, things went down pretty much the same, only with Coulthard winning 2 races and helping Hakkinen win his 2nd world title in the final rounds of the season (ahead of Ferrari's Eddie Irvine).
Known as a true gentleman on and outside the track, Coulthard spent 4 more years at Ron Dennis' team before finally being replaced by former North American racing series' star Juan Pablo Montoya. Despite some rather disappointing seasons in his dying McLaren career, DC will always be remembered by the racing fans as the driver who completed the “perfect team” for McLaren Mercedes in the late '90s. Without him and his ability to work with his teammate (whoever that might have been) for the glory of the team, Mercedes would have probably remained winless in F1's modern era.
The controversial Irish driver debuted in Formula One in 1993, at Suzuka, but it was only from 1996 onwards that he took on the role of lieutenant for 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher. Of course, he never admitted it, but hey, it's not like we're asking anyway!
First of all, one moment in his early F1 years is crucial in establishing the controversy surrounding this Irish fellow.
At his very first race in the series, the Newtownards-born racer scored an impressive 6th place to clinch his maiden point in F1. In the process, however, Irvine out-lapped himself by passing none other than reigning champion Ayrton Senna, after which he also overtook Damon Hill for the last point scoring position of the race. The temperamental Brazilian burst into the Jordan garage shortly after the race and gave the Irishman a strong punch, letting him know who's the boss. Years later, when reminded of the incident, Irvine revealed:
“I assume you’re talking about racing so I’ll keep it clean then! I think going around the outside of three guys at the first corner and up to fifth in my first grand prix for Jordan. I did have a chuckle when I unlapped Ayrton Senna in that race and was laughing my head off in the car.”
After signing with Ferrari at the beginning of 1997, Irvine practically kissed the chance to win a world title good-bye . Or so he thought. As he teamed up with two-time champion Michael Schumacher, it was pretty clear he'd have had to play second field to the German driver. Especially since Schu came to the Italian outfit with the sole thought of creating a strong team around him. Irvine was, of course, part of that equation, but only as a lieutenant.
If this seems to have bothered him in a slight matter in his first 2 years with the Scuderia, when he hardly challenged for a race win or podium, losing the chance to become world champion in 1999 because of his team's policy, which was the last straw.
During that season, Irvine took advantage of a crash sustained by Schumacher in the British Grand Prix and found himself in contention for the world title (thanks to a few wins in the second part of the season, combined with Mika Hakkinen's poor finishes). Heading to the season finale in Japan with 4 points advantage over the Fin, Irvine only needed a finish in front of his rival to become the first Irishman in history to win the championship.
Irvine eventually finished the race in 3rd place, behind teammate Michael Schumacher and winner Hakkinen. At the end of the season, he made it very clear to the Scuderia officials that he would not stay at Maranello for another season if he won't be guaranteed an equal chance to fight for the title. Needless to say, he switched to Jaguar the very following year, being replaced by the other unfortunate never-going-to-win-a -world-title-ahead-of-Schumacher Rubens Barrichello. A few of years spent at Jaguar got him two more podium finishes (the only ones in Jaguar's F1 history), after which he announced his retirement at the the beginning of 2003.
The Brazilian driver, (still active at the time this article is written), is probably one of the best lieutenant drivers to have set foot in Formula One. Having debuted in F1 in 1993, with Jordan, Barrichello immediately caught the eyes of racing enthusiasts worldwide. He exhibited some world class racing in his very third outing with Jordan, running consistently within the podium positions until a fuel problem prevented him from finishing the 1993 European Grand Prix.
The very following season was to bring Rubens one of his most dramatic experiences in his F1 career. His violent crash during the Friday practice of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix was to open maybe the saddest weekend in the history of the sport. The Brazilian sophomore lost control of his car and his car was airborne in the process, hitting the tire barriers at incredible high speed. When the paramedics stepped in to take him out of the car, he had swallowed his tongue due to the intensity of the crash. The quick intervention from the race officials eventually saved his life. During the course of the same weekend, Austrian Roland Ratzenberger and 3-time world champion Ayrton Senna would lose their lives during the qualifying session and race, respectively.
During the course of the same season, Barrichello would eventually become the youngest driver to clinch an F1 pole position in the Belgian Grand Prix.
He spent the next season still at Jordan, after which he decided to switch to Stewart Grand Prix. Some difficult 3 seasons followed for the now-experienced Brazilian driver, at the end of which he is offered the chance to join Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. From that point on, Barrichello would be known as Schu's lieutenant in the Scuderia garage.
During the 6 years spent with Ferrari (2000 – 2005), the Brazilian exhibited some fine performances, while backing Schumacher to 5 consecutive world titles and securing the Italian manufacturer some 5 titles of their own. Schumacher/Barrichello was practically one of the best driver duo to have ever set foot in the Scuderia garage, as their rate of success at Maranello passed 80% (10 out of 12 potential world titles together).
His first win in Formula One was probably the most impressive win clinched by a driver in Formula One's modern era, as he mastered the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim after starting 18th on the grid. He then chose to stay on slicks although several parts of the circuit were still wet, risking his way to the chequered flag.
Plenty of more wins were to follow (an additional 8), but even more runner-up places. One of the most controversial second place finishes came in the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, when Barrichello waited until the very last straight line of the race to let Schumacher pass him. He went on to finish runner-up in the championship too that year.
He announced his move away from Ferrari at the end of 2005 (going to BAR/Honda), therefore ending his lieutenant years in Formula One.
No doubt about it, the best driver in the history of Formula One never to have won a world title, as the Briton went on to finish second overall in the championship for 4 consecutive times (between 1955 and 1958). We'd need tens of pages to actually tell the complete story of the London-born ace, so we'll just focus on the most important aspects of his lieutenant moments alongside Juan Manuel Fangio.
Well, I'm sure you'd all agree with me if I'd say “lieutenant” is obviously not the most inspired word to describe Moss. Actually, if we were to think of the short period of time he was teammate with Juan Manuel Fangio at Mercedes – as this is why we've included him in the top – we might consider Moss as Fangio's both rival & protege.
In wasn't only once that Moss publicly admitted Fangio was the best driver ever to race in Formula One, as he also looked at the South American as if he were his own father. He was to battle “El Chueco” for the world title or 3 consecutive years after the latter would leave Mercedes at the end of 1954. During that year, however, Moss took advantage of every second spent alongside Fangio to learn how he could become a better driver.
One of his most emotional victories in the Great Circle happened during the 1954 British Grand Prix when, as the story goes, Fangio slowed down in the last corner of the race to hand Moss a win in front of his home crowd. It was practically the first and only race that year that the British driver would go on to finish ahead of Fangio.
Known as a true gentleman, Fangio would never admit he intentionally let Moss pass him, stating more than once that his teammate beat him fair and square on track.
What happened after Fangio moved to Ferrari the following year is part of F1's history. Moss would lose the 1955 title because of a selfless gesture made by Fangio's teammate Peter Collins – who handed his car to the Argentine driver in the closing 15 laps of the last round of the season in order for the latter to secure his 4th consecutive world title – while also finishing runner-up in 1958 for a single point after previously defending rival Mike Hawthorn during the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Moss overalled no less than 16 wins in Formula One, in a time when such a number actually meant something. He was laps away from becoming the first British F1 world champion for 4 consecutive times, yet he never made it.
comments written so far
Peter was a fine driver who, on his day and with reliable machinery, was a match for any driver - even the great Fangio. Apart from being the first British driver to win the British GP, he was a magnificently charismatic and kind man with a real zest for life and a great love for the sport. His friendship with Mike Hawthorne is well-documented in a world where competitiveness was all.
What you should have said is that he was a truly great driver and achieved measurable and excellent results not only in F1 but in what was then a far greater motor racing world. Although missing out on a World Championship, he - and those in the know - believed firmly that he would become Champion in the foreseeable future.
I would be more than happy to contribute to your website with articles, insights, and balanced views of F1.