INTRA-TEAM competition between teammates is a given in Formula One.
It hasn’t always been so, but in today’s white hot era of world championship racing, where many drivers fight for their professional reputation and job security at every grand prix, it is not unusual to see the rivalry spill over into aggravation and bitterness.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have enjoyed one of the better relationships between teammates in Formula One. Respect and a youthful sense of fun kept their situation on the positive side. Until lap one in Hungary, when Verstappen went into turn two way too hot, locked his brakes and understeered into the other Red Bull, smashing a radiator and putting the Australian out of business.
Even before he spun to a stop, Ricciardo was on the team radio: "Was that who I think it was?'' ''Yes,'' came the response from Red Bull. ''F**king sore loser," was Ricciardo’s X-rated retort.
The incident left Ricciardo rightly seething and then angrily venting his thoughts about Verstappen in front of the television cameras, slamming the Dutch driver as an “amateur”.
There was no sign of a smile from the normally upbeat Danny boy. Maybe he should have zipped his lip in public, but Ricciardo was incandescent.
"I don't think he [Verstappen] likes it when a teammate gets in front. You've got the whole race to try and repair the mistake but the pass was never on. It wasn't even a pass; it was a very poor mistake,” he fired.
Verstappen, who survived the incident without any damage, finished fifth (after a 10-second pit lane penalty).
Verstappen quickly apologised post-race and the Red Bull PR people earned their money by issuing way-less-incendiary quotes for the media.
Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, suggested things will soon be back to normal between his drivers.
"Daniel was really revved-up after, but with an hour to calm down it is now, what I would describe, as a normal situation," he said.
Horner also revealed that both drivers had been warned to take care on the opening lap because Dietrich Mateschitz, the billionaire founder of Red Bull, was present trackside.
Verstappen went on to Sky TV to provide a public mea culpa: “I apologise to Daniel and also to the team because we could have scored some good points.”
Ricciardo spoke to Australian outlets after a rather tense post-race team debrief, during which the two drivers were together for the first time after their clash.
“It kinda started off a bit tense, and then you kind of get some conversations going back and forth,” Ricciardo told the foxsports.com.au.
“We just spoke privately away from everyone, one-on-one. He apologised and said it was his mistake, his misjudgement, not intentional. I would have been a lot more pissed off if he would’ve blamed it on something or someone or whatever.
“Obviously it doesn’t change my race or anything,” added Ricciardo, who was still frustrated that a good finish was on.
“I think, short term, that’s the best thing we can do. We’ll move on.”
Ricciardo’s sunny disposition and generosity of spirit has been sorely tested though, and it will be highly unlikely that the pair will be as comfortable with each other as in the past. Daniel may have accepted the apology but he won’t forget the cause of it.
Horner and Dr Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s high-profile adviser to Mateschitz, will need to be on their toes to quell any further disharmony.
Poisonous driver relationships within teams in F1 are hardly new; Senna and Prost at McLaren, more recently, Webber and Vettel at Red Bull, and Hamilton and Rosberg at Mercedes.
Even among today’s grid there is some hostility between the Force India lads, Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon.