Whilst some may disagree with the idea that F1 drivers can be friends, it appears that it is in fact possible. Some of those on the grid are seemingly able to put the awkwardness of being rivals on track to aside when it comes to life away from the circuit. One thing that is clear though is that most of these friendships no longer exist during the 90 minutes of a Grand Prix. Hence things can get rather awkward for drivers who might have a good off-track relationship should they come together in a race. Just ask Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly, who have always been pals but found this bond tested when Gasly was essentially taken out of the 2021 Styrian Grand Prix by Leclerc. Or cast your mind back to Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the Mercedes duo who went from being childhood mates to teammates whose animosity towards each other impacted the whole team. Here are some of the F1 driver friendships that have survived through on-track incidents - and the ones that burned out.
Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly
After racing alongside each other in junior categories, Leclerc and Gasly became friends. Both drivers graduated to Formula 1 at a similar time, and have been supportive of each other's achievements along the way; Leclerc, for example, shared a social media post praising Gasly following the Frenchman's debut win at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix. In most of their shared time in F1, the pair have managed to avoid coming together on track. But, perhaps almost inevitably, this changed at the 2021 Styrian Grand Prix, where a first-lap collision between Gasly and Leclerc resulted in both sustaining damage to their cars. Leclerc was able to pit for a new front wing and work his way back up through the field to eventually finish the race in seventh. Gasly wasn't as lucky though, and was forced to retire from the Grand Prix. Despite their friendship, Gasly admits that he was very upset by the incident. "He came to see me after the race. I was still p*ssed off, it doesn't matter even if you're friends, I was still quite upset," Gasly told RacingNews365.com and other select media. "But I know him, I know the way he races, he is a fair guy and he didn't do it on purpose. "It's just hard, but it's part of racing. These things happen once in a while. We've been in Formula 1 together for four years, came together quite close many times and unfortunately this time I had to retire. We just need to make sure that doesn't happen any more." So it sounds like - at least for now - Gasly and Leclerc's relationship has remained intact.
Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris
In their two years together as McLaren teammates, Sainz and Norris fortunately never collided on-track. Their amiable relationship away from the circuit didn't stop them from racing each other hard though, yet even in these incidents the duo seemed able to maintain some joviality. When looking back at the 2019 season with Norris in a McLaren YouTube video, Sainz joked about footage from the moment that Norris' car was hit during the Chinese Grand Prix: "Our first collision!" There was another potentially awkward moment at the 2020 Russian Grand Prix, where Norris criticised Sainz over team radio for attempting a manoeuvre which saw the Spaniard crash out of the race. "What's Carlos doing? Trying to be a hero in Turn 1," Norris was heard saying, having had to slow down to avoid colliding with the Sainz. Yet even this did not seem to impact their friendship in the long-term, and the bond has remained since Sainz left McLaren for Ferrari. Ahead of the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix, Norris told press that he had beaten his former teammate at golf during the week between back-to-back races at Austria's Red Bull Ring.
Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo
Former Red Bull teammates Ricciardo and Verstappen became a fan-favourite duo during their seasons together between 2016 and 2018, with their antics in various challenge videos posted by the team proving very entertaining. But their good-humoured relationship was tested more than once by on-track incidents. Firstly, Ricciardo was taken out of the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix by Verstappen on the first lap. The Australian was furious and called the move "amateur", but Verstappen apologised following the race and explained to Sky Sports F1: "Of course it's never my intention to hit anyone, especially not my teammate - especially with the relationship I have with Daniel, it's always very good and we can always have a laugh." Ricciardo accepted the apology and the friendship remained. But there was trouble again at the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where the Red Bull duo famously took each other out. Team boss Christian Horner later revealed that he "lost it" with both drivers in the briefing after the event. The team's handling of the incident seemed to be significant in Ricciardo's decision to leave at the end of the season to join Renault. Yet despite it all, the Australian appears to have stayed good pals with Verstappen, and the pair still take any opportunity to poke fun at each other when it arises.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg
So several F1 drivers manage to stay friends despite what happens on the track. Hamilton and Rosberg, however, did not. The pair had been childhood pals during their karting days, but somewhere along the line things seemed to dramatically change. During their time as Mercedes teammates between 2013 and 2016, the relationship became increasingly strained as their on-track battles intensified, and it most memorably came to a head at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. Hamilton was squeezed by Rosberg as he attempted an overtake on the first lap, prompting the Briton to lose control of his car and run into Rosberg, taking both drivers out of the race. The animosity between the pair became so bad that they were barely on speaking terms, as the late Niki Lauda - who was non-executive chairman at Mercedes - witnessed. "They had no relation, which is always bad. They were so bad that they didn't even say hello in the morning to each other," Lauda said in a YouTube interview with Graham Bensinger in 2017. "I don't expect them to have breakfast together if they don't like each other, I don't expect them to sit down and have breakfast, but the relationship was really bad." Meanwhile Toto Wolff has admitted that nobody truly knew why the relationship had become so hostile, suggesting that it dated back to their younger years. "Nobody actually thought what is the dynamic between the two?" Wolff told Jake Humphrey's High Performance Podcast. "What is the past between the two? There was a lot of historical context that none of us knew, and will never know." Rosberg quit F1 at the end of 2016 after beating Hamilton to win his one and only World Championship, and it appears that the friendship has not been repaired.
Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly
As the seemingly complex history of Rosberg and Hamilton's feud shows, difficult relationships between drivers can have their roots in pre-F1 days. This is the case for Gasly and Ocon, who have both spoken about the fact that they are no longer friends despite having a good relationship in their youth. Gasly has suggested that things turned sour when the competition between them grew on the track. "I started to beat him and he didn’t like it so we’re not friends any more," the AlphaTauri driver told RaceFans in 2018. "We’ve done so many things together with Esteban. When we were like nine, 10 years old we used to go testing in karting when it was snowing, do five laps then come in because it was so cold. "Go out on the track together, trying to get warm and then go back on track for three or four more laps. "We’ve spent a lot of time together but it got to a point where he got a bit too upset and it wasn’t so nice any more. So we kind of stopped [socialising]. Then after we always [had] quite a lot of rivalry. I think we respect each other as drivers." This rivalry has occasionally boiled over during the pair's time in Formula 1. Following a battle during the 2018 Mexican Grand Prix, Gasly was critical of Ocon's racing. "With Ocon it’s always the same thing. I’ve known him for a long time, there are a lot of chances that things happen," Gasly said. There has previously been speculation about the possibility of Gasly joining Alpine in the future. But with Ocon having recently signed a multi-year contract with the French outfit, the team would perhaps want to think carefully about the prospect of having such rivals alongside each other. Just ask Toto Wolff.