Sainz and Norris’ approach to teammate rivalries: Why Brundle’s criticism doesn’t hold up

Martin Brundle’s comments about motorsports rivalries have certainly been vocal, but are they really true?

Written by Ivana Ramkishun

March 25, 2021

Rivalries in motorsport are no uncommon occurrence.  The scenes that followed the cars of Hunt and Lauda; memories of Edwards and Keselowski psyching each other out at Talladega or the intelligent, calculated battles played between Hakkinen and Schumacher – all allotted the distinct idea that rivals were never meant to be friends.

Formula One commentator Martin Brundle recently spoke about the topic at 2021 Winter Testing on March 14th, stating, “I don’t think it was particularly healthy..or productive…” referencing the friendship between former McLaren teammates Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr. 

Norris and Sainz Jr. were notorious for getting along so well, a fact that left many people baffled. Regarding the laughs shared between them and their team for the past two years and the substantial amount of time they spent together outside of the paddock: it was inherently clear that the two McLaren drivers had what Sainz Jr. described as something “special.”

(Photo courtesy of Peter Fox)


“Best friends, how can that last? How can you be such an intense rival?” Brundle commented in 2020 regarding Norris’ social media interactions with fellow drivers.

In contrast to  Brundle’s belief that Norris and Sainz Jr’s friendship was unhealthy, Norris shared his opinion on the matter months before. “We ended up being good mates away from the race track, but also fierce and tough competitors against each other, but also good team-mates.” Norris seems to think the friendship was neither unhealthy nor an obstacle in doing what was needed to succeed for the team, but rather a driving force in the season’s outcome. McLaren ended up claiming P3 in the Constructors Championship, something most people would rarely find unproductive.

Both men held each other in high regard, professionally and personally. Being friends didn’t deter them from fighting the other on the track. 

This begs the question; why does  Brundle believe that friendship is impossible between rivals? Some would cite “toxic masculinity” – specifically the need to show emotional detachment and avoidance of showing affection towards other men. Others would say, “Isn’t that how it’s always been?” The answer to that is no, folks. It has not always been that way.

Perhaps, the two teammates who embodied the idea of competition while maintaining a personal relationship would be none other than Jim Clark and Graham Hill. While  Graham’s son, Damon, had his fiery spats with one Michael Schumacher, Graham managed to avoid that with Clark. They competed with each other at the highest level for the title and yet, still close friends. Well, close enough for Hill to invite Clark over to his house and have the man spend time with his son and wife.

(Photo courtesy of Mirrorpix)

When talking about a previous race at Nurburgring, Graham remarked that “It would have been an even harder race if Jimmy had been up with us at the start.” Both men held each other in high regard, professionally and personally. Being friends didn’t deter them from fighting the other on the track. 

Most notably when Clark lost his life at the Hockenheimring in 1968 and Hill was one of the first people sorting through the debris with the mechanics, being handed a scrap of the car by Werner Eisle, the first one to reach the scene of the crash, who’d said to him “Take it with you. In memory of Jimmy.” Hill went on to win the 1968 Championship, and he then dedicated his triumph to his friend, Jim Clark.

“One of the most important things in achieving P3 this year was the combination of good mates and good friendship but also how much we are competitive and how much we want to beat each other,” Norris said, again committing the victory to the work ethic of Carlos and himself. The two drivers never retired under the circumstances of battling the other, unusually without incident.

However much Martin Brundle believes a racing rivalry must be some vaguely-violent dispute handled out on the tarmac, Hill & Clark, as well as Sainz &  Norris – prove otherwise. Maybe, there can be more to a rivalry than conflict, something more than respect. And if rivals can remain friends despite the heat of competition, shouldn’t we let them?


Ivana Ramkishun is currently a student focusing in Community Outreach, hoping to focus on Legal Studies in the near future. As a writing contributor, she also helps with the publication’s branding. Outside of motorsport, Ivana is usually riding her bike by the sea or hiking with her friends.

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