“We don’t talk much there” are now famous words, said with a sly, sheepish grin, and resulting in much laughter. Fernando Alonso touched upon a chasm between Formula One and American motorsport at a press conference discussing his entry in the 101st Indianapolis 500, for which he will miss the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco.
It is a culture shock, to come to America, it seems. We call people we’ve barely met friend, we smile all the time and bigger than other places, and our racers skip down pit lane arm-in-arm, at least when one of them is Canadian.Why is there such a difference between the friendly openness between competitors in the IndyCar paddock and the insular mind games of F1? I mean, you see plenty of drivers flying together on their private planes between races. Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo could go on the road with a two-man-and-children show. Social media shows those not there any of the shenanigans drivers wish to share. F1 teams, especially those in the mid-pack, are fantastic at maximizing the potential of their Twitter accounts. And, yet, “we don’t talk much there.”
The more I think about it, the more I question. Is it camaraderie between drivers surprising Alonso, or is it the openness amongst teammates? Obviously, the first rule of racing is beat the person in the same machine. You see it in the walls built between teammates in MotoGP. The “handbags at dawn” headlines and mind games.
And, yet, a big part of IndyCar and NASCAR in America is the sharing of data betwixt teammates. Two, three, four, five, six car teams often do better because the engineers have access to a multitude of data and different driving styles. Look at Andretti: Alexander Rossi won the 2016 Indianapolis 500 because, in a big team with big resources, he had a gamble on strategy. Sure, a one-car, only for the 500, team could have tried it and might have succeeded. But it didn’t.
Are Rossi’s teammates pissed they didn’t win? You bet. But they also know the work the other drivers put in on fuel-saving or a little more or less downforce here might be the data that brings them the big win. That’s knowledge only gained by sharing, by talking to each other about lines and entry points.
Why, then, are F1 drivers seemingly so much more acrimonious with teammates? All the sporting money comes down through team points, so obviously the team doesn’t want to see a repeat of Turkey 2010 or Spain 2016. That’s bad for business. Those things happen, and without apology.
In a world as controlled by the team as a F1 driver’s life, is this their form of rebellion? I have to not ruin this one driver’s race, this person requires a little more finesse on the track, so I refuse to speak. Our engineers can share info, but no way am I smiling at that person. That seems unnecessarily childish. Racing is a sport, but it is also a career. You can be happy for the brief moments you’re in the car or learn to enjoy all the other bits and pieces and people that come with you.
It is hard to say which is the better way. For the drivers, their families, their personal lives, it might behoove them to take advantage of this built-in support system. The only other people who know the life you’re living are the ones living it alongside you. I still don’t know: are happy drivers faster drivers? Maybe we’ll only find out when we see where Alonso goes in 2018.