Larrousse Abuse: When team-mates collide

At the 2017 Belgian Grand Prix, the intensifying battle for supremacy between Force India team-mates Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon boiled over. Pérez’s recalcitrance to let Ocon through at Montréal became the first sign of tension between the two, and their subsequent collisions at Baku and Spa-Francorchamps left the team in pink looking decidedly red-faced.

It’s certainly not the first time that team-mates have committed the cardinal sin of lacking spatial awareness in close-quarter shoot-outs. Twenty years before, Force India’s predecessor Jordan Grand Prix had to manage an increasingly-turbulent relationship between Giancarlo Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher; the duo clashed twice at Buenos Aires and the Nürburgring, leaving Eddie Jordan reeling in a fit of apoplexy. Championship battles have also been affected by team-mates getting too close, and intra-team title fights like Prost vs. Senna and Rosberg vs. Hamilton got a little bit hot under the collar.

However, the fight for dominance isn’t limited to the action at the front; sometimes, team-mates clamouring for attention from the back of the field can result in the wrong kind of publicity.

When Formula 1 was at the peak of its pre-qualifying powers, drivers at the rear were struggling to get onto the grid, let alone having to then make an impression on the larger teams. In 1992, two drivers were falling over each other – quite literally, sometimes – to try and invigorate their F1 careers. One, a pan-European charger whose ability to pull sponsors was arguably better than his racing chops; the other, a Japanese mountain-climbing enthusiast who was just at the beginning of his time in F1.

CD1HcU0W0AA-5jfBertrand Gachot and Ukyo Katayama signed up for the Larrousse team in ’92 largely on the thickness of their wallets. Both were arguably some of the more capable “pay-drivers” of that era, contributing points as well as finance, but the duo had a lot to prove. Gachot had a reputation to rebuild, having served time in jail the year before having sprayed a taxi driver with CS gas. Save for a half-season in International F3000, Katayama was in his first full season outside his native Japan and had to learn the predominantly-European calendar quickly.

As the season had started to progress, Gachot was starting to get under Katayama’s skin – as the senior driver (and presumably bringing in more cash) Gachot was getting the bulk of the support from the Larrousse team, by then part-owned by French sportscar manufacturer Venturi.

Like the Pérez/Ocon relationship, things took a turn for the worse at Montréal – and both drivers began the weekend off of the back of a mixed Monaco – Gachot scored the team’s first (and only) point of 1992 that weekend, while Katayama had failed to pre-qualify in Monte Carlo.

Katayama managed to qualify 11th at Montreal – the Japanese driver able to stretch the legs of the mercurial Lamborghini V12 on the long straights, with Gachot a little further back on the grid. In the early stages of the race, the two brightly-coloured Venturi-Larrousses soon gravitated toward each other, with Gachot making an electric start to catch up to Katayama. Their battle came to a head at the tight hairpin and, braking far too deep, Gachot speared into the back of Katayama, committing the cardinal sin of team-mate warfare and eliciting a sarcastic “well done, Bertrand” from Eurosport commentator John Watson.

Watch: Katayama vs. Gachot, round 1.

Perhaps karma struck the Luxembourg-born Franco-Belgian, as Gachot then received a disqualification for a jump-start – which perhaps explained how he’d caught up to Katayama so quickly. The Japanese driver was able to carry on, and was running as high as fifth before his Lamborghini engine cried enough with seven laps to spare.

Presumably, team principal Gérard Larrousse read the riot act to his drivers, but that didn’t stop a repeat offense. In his home race at Suzuka, Katayama was unable to use his local knowledge in qualifying to overhaul Gachot, but managed to steal a march on his team-mate as the race got underway.

Once more, Gachot wasn’t about to let his younger team-mate upstage him. Attempting to set himself up for a move on the sister Larrousse at the Casio Triangle, Gachot locked up and caught Katayama’s rear wheel, nearly collecting the home favourite’s head in the process. Amazingly, Katayama managed to limp home to a strong 11th place, while Gachot’s day ended in the gravel following the intra-team contact.

Watch: Katayama vs. Gachot, round 2.

The two managed to keep their hands off each other in the season finale at Adelaide and, having not been able to keep away from each other in 1992, they both wisely kept their distance in the following season. Katayama joined Tyrrell for a four-year stint, becoming “undoubtedly the best Formula One driver that Grand Prix racing has ever produced” in the eyes of Murray Walker, while Gachot took a year out to help the Pacific team gear up for their ultimately pointless crack at Formula 1.

Rule One: don’t hit your team-mate.