Britney, The Professor, Teflonso: What’s in a nickname?
Rather a lot, actually. F1 driver’s nicknames tend to tell us something about their skills, their physical appearance – or how often they get into trouble.
Here are ten memorable and revealing F1 driver nicknames.
The significant thing about this nickname for Juan Manuel Fangio is not just that it’s a mark of extremely high praise for the man who ruled F1 in the fifties.
This wasn’t just a term used by fans and pundits – this was how fellow drivers referred to their greatest rival. It shows the high regard the five-times champion was held in by his peers.
Can you imagine any of today’s drivers referring to the opposition in such terms?
In an era of unpredictable fuel and tyre consumption, one man stood out as the best at playing the long game. Alain Prost was an expert at restraining the urge to drive at ten-tenths, preserving his car until the end of the race, and above all, making sure he did not run out of fuel.
This was easier said than done in the turbo era, when the maximum fuel limit was cut several times, forcing drivers to be ever more canny with their boost levels.
It made for a fascinating rivalry between himself and Ayrton Senna, master of the flying lap in qualifying.
Prost’s calculating style served him equally well outside of the cockpit. His astute political manoeuvrings landed him a seat in the best car in F1 in 1993 – with a veto preventing Senna joining him at the team.
Nicknames can be compliments or criticisms. This early appellation belonging to Michael Schumacher is clearly the latter.
But what’s particularly telling about the phrase is that it was applied by his own countrymen in his native tongue.
The word ‘schummel’ carries connotations of cheating and deviousness. It first appeared in German tabloid newspapers during the 1994 season, when Schumacher was repeatedly accused of bending or breaking the rules.
The charge sheet included the hidden ‘option 13′ menu on his Benetton, alleged to activate a banned launch control system; his disqualification at Silverstone and two-race ban; his team mate’s pit fire following the removal of a filter from Benetton’s refuelling rig; his disqualification at Spa on a technicality; and driving into Damon Hill to clinch the world championship at Adelaide.
It was with this cloud hanging over him that Schumacher eventually decided to leave Benetton and join Ferrari. But despite seven world championship titles and 91 wins, to some he is still Schummel-Schumi.
On similar lines to ‘Schummel-Schumi’, Fernando Alonso’s proximity to the two biggest F1 scandals of recent years has earned him the nickname ‘Teflonso’.
Polytetrafluoroethylene – better known as Teflon – is commonly used as a non-stick coating on kitchenware. It also has a rich tradition of being used to describe people tainted by allegations but never directly implicated in them.
One of its earliest uses was in reference to gangster John Gotti – the ‘Teflon Don’ – who escaped punishment in a series of trials in New York in the eighties.
In Alonso’s case it refers to his involvement in ‘Spygate’ in 2007, where emails revealed he discussed McLaren’s use of confidential Ferrari information, and ‘Crashgate’ in 2008, where his Renault team mate Nelson Piquet Jnr was ordered by his team to crash to help Alonso win.
It was after the latter that the name entered widespread use. BBC F1 commentator Martin Brundle used it during the 2009 Singapore Grand Prix after the real story behind the previous year’s race became public knowledge.
The charges may not have stuck, but the nickname has.
We’re back in the realm of more positive nicknames.
The quickest way for a new Ferrari driver to win over Italy’s passionate Tifosi is to win for them first time out.
That’s exactly what Nigel Mansell did for them against the odds at Brazil in 1989. In a year of McLaren domination, he added a second triumph at Hungary, racing through the field from 12th on the grid.
Though he only spent two years with the team his charging, battling style earned him the nickname ‘il leone’ – the lion.
Hunt the Shunt
Many are the drivers who’ve earned a nickname for their propensity for crashing.
The shunt-prone Andrea de Cesaris was dubbed, somewhat predictably, ‘de Crasheris’ for his efforts.
A young Jody Scheckter earned the more obscure nickname ‘Fletcher’ following a series of crashes.
This is one for more literate F1 fans – Fletcher is the name of a bird in the book Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, who persistently tries to fly before he’s ready and keeps crashing as a result.
But the best example of its type has to be the short-but-sweet Hunt the Shunt. Like Scheckter, James Hunt overcame his crashing ways to claim a championship win in the seventies.
The Pampas Bull
A sub-species of nicknames are those which are more like titles, or something you might imagine being used to describe a wrestler.
The stocky frame of Jose Froilan Gonzalez, the first driver to win an F1 race for Ferrari, earned him the name ‘The Pampas Bull’. This was at least more complimentary than the name those closest to him used – El Cabezon, ‘Fat Head’.
Other examples of this type include The Monza Gorilla (Vittorio Brambilla) and The Abruzzi Robber (Luigi Fagioli).
Not the most flattering of nicknames, but Niki Lauda was dubbed The Rat more for his appearance than his personality.
This was less to do with the damage his horrific crash of 1976 did to his face than the profile of his head and bucked teeth.
As he amassed wins and championships, so the name became more adulatory, progressing to ‘Super Rat’ and ‘King Rat’ before he retired at the end of 1985 with three titles and 25 wins under his belt.
Jack Brabham had a reputation for his uncompromising driving on the track.
But the nickname ‘Black Jack’ owed more to his personality – he had a reputation for not being very forthcoming.
Like Lauda, his appearance was also part of it – Brabham’s dark hair matching his quiet personality.
And so it is today for Nico Rosberg.
His golden locks have led to him being dubbed ‘Britney’, in reference to Britney Spears, since his days as Mark Webber’s team mate at Williams.
Following last year’s season finale in Abu Dhabi Rosberg turned up at Dubai airport to discover someone had substituted the photograph in his passport for one of Britney Spears.
Who says modern F1 drivers don’t have a sense of humour?
Over to you
Which are your favourite F1 nicknames? What about the ones not in this list such as ‘Iceman’ Kimi Räikkönen and ‘Mike the Bike’ Hailwood?
Other names have been applied to more than one driver, like ‘The Flying Finn’ and ‘Rain-master’.
Which other drivers on the grid do you think deserve nicknames? Have your say in the comments.
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