May 24, 2013

Fair weather friends

Adrian Sutil and Lewis Hamilton in happier times © Getty Images

When I was about seven or eight, there was a trend for heart-shaped necklaces reading ‘best friends forever’. The necklaces were actually two pieces, and were sold so that young girls could wear ‘be fri for’ while their BFF sported the matching ‘st ends ever’.

In the late ‘80s, they were about as cool as it got. Until someone invented slap bracelets, anyway.

Formula One is currently going through a weird obsession with BFFs, or bromances, or whatever it is we’re supposed to call a close friendship involving two high-profile men. You can’t swing a Dictaphone at a press briefing without hitting some journalist asking yet another fatuous question about whether or not [insert team-mate pairing here] are friends.

And yes, the questions are fatuous. In case it had escaped your notice, Formula One is a competitive arena in which the first person you have to beat is the guy wearing the same uniform. As a result, team-mates respect each other. They might even like each other. But friends? Don’t make me laugh.

Which isn’t to say that Formula One drivers aren’t friends with each other. Back in the good old days, the likes of Juan-Manuel Fangio and Jean Behra used to travel together to races, road-tripping across Europe. As Rush demonstrates, Niki Lauda and James Hunt had a firm friendship that managed to withstand the drama of the 1976 season. Currently we have Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber buddying up for cosy dinners a deux.

And then there was the Lewis Hamilton-Adrian Sutil friendship, which endured throughout years of karting and competition in the feeder categories, only to be smashed into smithereens that night at M1NT.

Very few people know what really went down after the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix, but what Sutil made perfectly clear in the aftermath was that he felt let down by his friend in his hour of need. Hamilton was taking part in the 2012 pre-season tests during Sutil’s trial for GBH, and did not take to the stand as a witness. Sutil felt betrayed, and the pair’s long-standing friendship was damaged.

It’s a sad story, but one that really isn’t any of our business. Friendships wax and wane, relationships change. Such is life. So why waste precious F1 time asking questions about someone else’s social life? The drivers are here to race, and we’re here to report on their racing. Whether the drivers are BFFs or not is irrelevant.


Posted by John B on 25/05/2013

Like it or not, these drivers (like most professional sportspeople) are role models. People are interested in snippets of their personalities, and what they have to say about a particular driver makes headlines. Parents with children watching F1 care, sponsors care, team bosses care. Speed wins races, but when speed is equal, mental strength, how much respect they show and what they're prepared to do come into question.

Posted by Brian on 24/05/2013

Too much money involved nowadays. You won't see drivers getting together for parties that are not sponsorship tied like in the old days when Bruce McLaren would hold a huge end of year party for all of the drivers just for the sake of getting all his buddies together. Not only were they gentlemen but also they respected each other (next year one or two of them might not have survived to be at the party). Too bad cash has ruined F1 (Bernie).

Posted by Martin on 24/05/2013

Not to forget the close friendship Gerhard Berger and Ayrton Senna shared.
Berger is most probably the only driver who ever got a race win gifted by Ayrton Senna.

Posted by Don on 24/05/2013

The drivers are here to race, and we’re here to report on their racing. Whether the drivers are BFFs or not is irrelevant.

While that is true, it doesn't always happen in a vacuum. Sometimes you see the dregs of a not so good relationship play out where a position is on the line or one driver comes up to lap the other. There may be some extra incentive involved.

Posted by Robert on 24/05/2013

Couldn't agree more. I blame the "cult of celebrity" myself. I wonder how many F1 fans are really that interested in the personal lives of the drivers, and whether these types of questions are asked in order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker