Officially, the days of ‘Number 1’ drivers in formula one are over. No more Michael Schumacher with two spare cars and a qualifying engine at Monaco versus his teammate’s lame zero. No more “Let Michael pass for the championship” radio calls in the month of May.
The actual driver contracts, of course, are highly confidential, but even the rumours of one driver having a quiet ‘Number 1’ clause tucked away in the appendix have essentially now gone. Officially, there are no Number 1 drivers. Officially. But we know that ‘officially’ is not quite how the murky world of grand prix racing really works.
It is fascinating, for instance, that each and every team appears to give the new hierarchical game away each and every season — in fluorescent yellow.
As safety standards progressed and the drivers were tucked ever deeper into the high-sided cockpits, the governing body introduced a system whereby one driver’s mandatory FIA on-board camera wing – located atop the airbox – must be coloured bright yellow, so those in the grandstands can better identify their hero.
Except, their hero is more likely to be the one WITHOUT the yellow stickers.
It might seem presumptuous to declare that, if your camera is in its original carbon black, you are your team’s unofficial Number 1 driver. But let’s analyse the facts:
Mercedes – The man in carbon-black is Lewis Hamilton, the reigning triple world champion who owns a red private jet. The man in F1’s apparently ignominious incandescent yellow is Nico Rosberg, who while riding a wave of form and results at present was the team’s nearly-man for the past two years.
Ferrari – It is no surprise that Maranello’s man of the moment is quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel, ahead of his yellow-stickered cohort Kimi Raikkonen. The ageing Finn has battled for pace and status alongside first Fernando Alonso and now the German since returning to Ferrari in 2014, and now he fights for a new contract for 2017.
Red Bull– Aha! A quirk of this surreptitious system! The theory disproved! F1’s baby-hero Max Verstappen won the Spanish grand prix with those disreputable yellow stickers! If anyone is a ‘Number 1’ at the moment, surely it’s him! But hold your horses. Those yellow stickers were originally applied to what was the now-axed Daniil Kvyat’s RB12. Got it.
Williams – At the famous British team, it is not Finn-of-the-future Valtteri Bottas who enjoys the naked black carbon status, but Felipe Massa: the 11-time grand prix winner and oh-so-nearly 2008 world champion. In yellow is Valtteri Bottas, a coming man whose Ferrari move last year was reportedly thwarted because his star faded to wane in comparison to — Massa.
Toro Rosso – Not in the least bit shockingly, the car with the black carbon FIA camera just inherited by Red Bull’s fading star Kvyat belonged originally to an 18-year-old that some are predicting will surely break Schumacher’s record tally of seven titles. ‘Nuff said.
Haas – Romain Grosjean, who wears black, was clearly the new American team’s star pick for its first season in F1. Wearing yellow is Esteban Gutierrez, who drives the car thanks to his Mexican sponsorship dollars and links to Ferrari. Oh.. yeah. And his awesome talent, too. Ahem.
Force India – While it is Sergio Perez in the unpopular bright yellow, the Mexican has actually looked on better form than the proud black-carbon camera whizzing above the head of Nico Hulkenberg. But a more clinical look at the situation is that Perez’s seat is propped up by his Mexican corporate millions, while ‘the Hulk’ is powered by the sort of god-given raw talent that delivered him the Le Mans trophy last year at his first attempt.
Renault – It is no coincidence that Jolyon Palmer, whose selection for the 2016 race seat by Lotus last year was on the basis of the $250,000 his father paid per Friday morning practice session, is the man who wears fluoro yellow at the now banana-yellow team. No such rumours that he might be axed before too long are similarly chasing Kevin Magnussen, the chosen man in black.
Sauber – If every rule has its exception, Sauber is it on this occasion. Given that the car is coloured in the blue of Felipe Nasr’s Brazilian backer Banco do Brasil, one might expect that he has the carbon black wing. No, he does not. BUT: Marcus Ericsson’s Swedish millions literally kept this dying team on the track some weeks ago when they quietly paid the staff and picked up the bill for the trip to Shanghai.
Manor – Reigning DTM champion Pascal Wehrlein’s carbon camera is paid for by Mercedes. Teammate Rio Haryanto, in yellow and paid up only until mid-season, is trying to raise the Indonesian rupiahs he needs to keep his seat with an embarrassing SMS-texting campaign.
McLaren – Fernando Alonso’s car has the black camera.
Your Honour, I rest my case.