Second Driver Syndrome: Is it a Reality?

Formula One is the pinnacle of single-seater motor racing. Drivers from all over the world have aspirations to race in the sport that has some of the best drivers in the world. It takes a long career to get to Formula One — one a select few have the privilege of making. Winning throughout one’s career to get to the top is a must in order to prove readiness for the next step up the ladder.

But what about that other person on the other side of the garage? A driver’s main and first competition is always his team-mate. Why? He has the same equipment: the fairest way to see who is better is to see who is faster with the same car. What about when it comes to a championship-winning car? The drivers on both sides of the garage have the same chance, so does it go without saying that both think they can beat each other?

Winning a race is a hard task, to win a world title is a gargantuan challenge, but what about the drivers who don’t quite get on top of their champion counterparts? Recent history has produced an opportunity to take a look at what is called ‘Second Driver Syndrome‘. In the past 20 years drivers have managed to stay at teams long enough with championship-winning drivers alongside them to see the effect it has.

A prime example is Nico Rosberg against Lewis Hamilton.

Throughout their careers in junior formula it was always a great rivalry (through which they managed to stay friends), but Hamilton was still the faster of the two. Despite this, Rosberg made it to Formula One first, one year before Lewis’ arrival. Fast forward to September 2012 when Lewis announced he was leaving McLaren to join Mercedes. Nico said himself that it was “very cool that Lewis will be my team-mate, Gonna be another great challenge.”

In 2013, Nico won two races to Lewis’ one. It was a close season between them despite the Brit not knowing the car as well as the German. But 2014 was where the “Second Driver Syndrome” mentality became apparent. At the Hungarian Grand Prix Nico Rosberg had the presumption that Lewis was going to move over for him because of the points advantage he then held despite there being half a season still remaining. Lewis never moved over and came third ahead of Nico after a last lap effort from the German.

During the three week break Nico stewed over what happened and when he collided with Lewis in Belgium, it was felt that the mentality was still in his mind. Ever since then Rosberg has been a shadow of his former self. No matter the situation he cannot seem to get on top of Lewis’ pace or fight on track with him. Heading into 2015 the same scenario has applied — Nico has found himself painted into a corner by his own mentality and cannot seem to fight Lewis without his team-mate having a slower weekend.

Other drivers have suffered from this. David Coulthard did when driving against Mika Hakkinen in their time at McLaren; Rubens Barrichello suffered the same alongside Michael Schumacher. Despite this comparison, Rubens did prove that he could still fight for a title with his team-mate as a direct rival when he and Jenson fought at Brawn GP in 2009.

Felipe Massa with Fernando Alonso at Ferrari was a similar prospect. Felipe may still have been recovering mentally from his 2009 accident at Hungary, but Fernando was always the faster driver in the team and fought for two second places in the drivers’ championship while at the Scuderia.

Mark Webber is another great example. In 2009 and 2010 Mark was on par with Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull, including a challenge for the 2010 drivers’ title, which his team-mate eventually won. But afterwards, Sebastian went on to dominate the next three years and won three titles almost unchallenged with Mark only grabbing a few victories in the same period.

‘Second Driver Syndrome’ does not mean that any driver is subservient to another, but it’s the mentality that drivers find themselves under due to the situation of driving alongside team-mates who are producing superior results. By no means are the drivers being done a disservice in being mentioned as having such. They have lived great racing careers and are deserving of all their acclaim.

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