Top 5 'Number 2' Drivers in F1
Updated: Feb 2, 2021
An F1 driver's team-mate is the ultimate barometer of their capability. So for every triumphant World Champion, there's a team-mate on the other side of the garage who's been outperformed despite having the same machinery at their disposal.
For some of these drivers, however, it's the sign of a job well done. The role of the 'Number 2' driver in a team can be underestimated in determining the fate of a Drivers Title, and of course contributing vital points to the Constructors Title.
Here's our take on the most effective Number 2 drivers - even if they might not appreciate being given that label...
5 - Gehard Berger (McLaren - 1990-92)
Berger finished joint 3rd in the 1990 championship and 4th in 1991 - years in which teammate Ayrton Senna took the drivers crown. Berger's consistent performances struck the perfect balance of delivering regular podiums whilst never posing a serious threat to Senna and preventing any tension within the team - ensuring that McLaren sealed the constructors' titles in 90 and 91 despite challenges from Ferrari and Williams respectively. The McLaren was less competitive for 1992, but Berger still managed 2 victories during the season, and only finished a single point behind Senna.
Berger and Senna were close friends and for good measure Berger pulled a number of outrageous 'pranks' on Senna - such as throwing his briefcase out of a helicopter and filling his hotel room with frogs - although we're not quite sure how these helped team nor driver in their achievements...
4 - David Coulthard (McLaren 1996-2004)
Coulthard spent 9 seasons with McLaren, but it was the years between 1997 and 1999 that secures him a place on this list. DC was asked to give way to team mate Mika Hakkinen during the final race of the 1997 season at Jerez, allowing the latter to take his first win, and dutifully repeated the action in Australia 98 when a pit lane miscommunication meant Hakkinen lost the lead , dropping behind Coulthard.
Hakkinen won the drivers title in 98 and 99, with Coulthard helping McLaren to the 98 constructors title, but just falling short in 99. When Hakkinen's performances dropped off in 2001, Coulthard stepped up his performances and posed the biggest threat to Michael Schumacher's dominance (albeit in vain). DC lacked the raw speed of Hakkinen during these years but was an able number 2 driver and deserves his place among the best 'Number 2' drivers.
3 - Eddie Irvine (Ferrari 1996-1999)
He may be the least successful driver on the list statistically, but there can be no doubting Irvine's diligence in his role as number 2 driver - which was in fact written into his contract by Ferrari. The Ulsterman spent 3 and a half seasons supporting Michael Schumacher's bid to become the Scuderia's first drivers champion since 1979. The most obvious example of Irvine fulfilling his role was in Japan 1997, letting Schumacher take the lead and blocking off Jacques Villeneuve, allowing Schumacher to build a gap on his title rival.
When Schumacher broke his leg half way through 1999, Irvine assumed the role of team leader and took on reigning champion Mika Hakkinen, and although all 4 of his wins came during this season, he just missed out on the drivers crown as Hakkinen sealed back to back titles. His performances did manage to secure Ferrari the 99 constructors crown though, and helped to set the foundations for what was to come...
2 - Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari 2000-2005)
Barrichello replaced Irvine at Ferrari for the 2000 season, and whilst Rubens may not have been quite so diligent, his role in Ferrari's dominance during this period - 5 consecutive drivers and constructors titles from 2000 to 2004 - can't be ignored.
Barrichello was infamously asked to move over on the last corner in Austria two years running - gifting Schumacher second place in 2001, and the win in 2002. The latter was widely condemned as Ferrari were so dominant during that season that it was considered unnecessary, and resulted in the banning of team orders until they were brought back in 2011.
Interestingly, Barrichello notched up 9 wins during his time with Ferrari - but every single one was during the second half of a season. Most of these were when Ferrari and Schumacher had all but wrapped up the championships, and in fact Schumacher gifted Rubens the 2002 USA race in return for the controversy at Austria.
1- Peter Collins (Ferrari 1956-58)
Collins takes the 'crown' of being F1's greatest number 2 driver through a single act, the manner of which will surely never be seen again in any professional sport.
The 1956 season finale in Monza arrived with Collins and Juan Manuel Fangio in with a chance of taking the drivers crown. Fangio was on track to seal his a fourth drivers title when his steering arm broke and he retired from the race, leaving Collins all set to become Britain's First F1 world champion. But in an astonishing gesture, Collins handed over his car to Fangio during a pit-stop (which was permitted back in the 50s).
Fangio went on to finish second in the race, and in doing so shared the points with Collins and secured the 4th of his 5 drivers titles. Collins was sadly killed during the 1958 German Grand Prix, but his incredible gesture lives on, and it's impossible to imagine another situation where a driver gives up the world title to their teammate ever happening again.