In the paddock: Edd Straw
The idea of implementing team orders is regarded with contempt by Formula 1 fans and nervousness by the teams – and yet it is an essential part of the sport
To paralyse a Formula 1 team with fear, put those in charge into a position where they must impose team orders. The result will be a hamfisted attempt to look like no team orders exist, followed by all sorts of verbal contortions and semantic arguments as they try to convince the rest of the world that something that very obviously happened did not.
The argument that motorsport should be a‘fair’sporting competition is laudable but impractical. The team-orders debate is full of double standards and hypocrisy, and F1 as a whole not only needs to embrace the concept of team orders but celebrate it openly.
Why? Because team orders at their mildest are unavoidable and at their most extreme are blindingly obvious. It’s part of motorsport and F1’s regulations actively encourage it. To name but one rule, each team has a single pit box, so that inevitably means there are times when you must favour one driver over the other with stop timing. Such decisions are legion.
Motorsport’s blend of human and machine makes it uniquely complex, and with complexity comes much of the intrigue. It’s never a battle of one gladiator versus another, it’s a battle of the individual in the cockpit and many others – whether it’s hundreds of people in a team or a handful at a lower level. That makes what happens on track the product of countless influences and variables. It’s that complexity that makes it so endlessly fascinating.
There’s a very simple reason why F1 is so terrified of team orders – the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. What Ferrari did there, with Rubens Barrichello letting Michael Schumacher past on the run to the line, was an egregiously unnecessary example of the practice.
It was only the sixth race of the season and made the difference between Schumacher having a 23 or a 27-point advantage in the championship (at a time when drivers only got 10 for a win). It was unnecessary and, most reprehensibly, appallingly implemented.
While Ferrari was fined $1million, this was actually not as a result of what happened on track but instead after the race. Ferrari was done for a breach of podium-ceremony regulations, with a sheepish Schumacher swapping places on the rostrum with Barrichello the reason found for punishment. There was also a more serious response, and this was a classic kneejerk: a ban on team orders instigated for the 2003 season. The regulation stated simply that“team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited”. Even in that period, there were times when team orders were permitted. For example, when Felipe Massa let Kimi Raikkonen past in the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos to clinch the title. When the title was on the line in a final race, it seemed this rule did not apply – a clear double standard. So where is the line?
It took a long time for the regulation to be tested, and when it was it crumbled to dust. When Ferrari ordered Fernando Alonso past Felipe Massa to win the 2010 German Grand Prix via the famous“fernando is faster than you”series of messages, the stewards fined Ferrari $100,000 for breaching that rule. The case went to the World Motor Sport Council but, although Ferrari could potentially have been excluded, the penalty was unchanged.
Most significantly, the WMSC also referred that regulation to the F1 Sporting Working Group, and the team-orders ban was removed. Why? Because everyone involved recognised it was unworkable. Worse still, it actively forced teams and drivers to lie through their teeth. The post-race press conference at Hockenheim was excruciating for exactly that reason, as question after question was batted away by the two drivers. This was far worse than what happened on track.
Yet unshackled from the regulated need to be dishonest, teams continue to behave as if being misleading is mandatory.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel says he doesn’t want team orders to help him, yet quite rightly he would want to have Raikkonen in a supporting role. Does anyone really think Vettel didn’t want Raikkonen to put up no fight into Turn 1 at Monza? He’d have been very happy had Raikkonen let him past into the first chicane, and with a rear gunner in place would have had every chance of winning the race – and Ferrari might regret not making such an order.
Mercedes also did this at Spa, when the penalty-laden Valtteri Bottas got through to Q3 purely to be available to give Lewis Hamilton a tow. That’s just sound team management.
There is a right way and a wrong way to use team orders. Preordaining the result from the start of the season is not the way to go, but what must not be allowed to happen again is the mendacity that reigns when teams pretend team orders have not been used.
F1 is about teams as well as drivers, and in any sporting contest you want to see those competing using all tools at their disposal to fight as hard as possible to win. Provided it doesn’t go as far as Austria 2002, it’s acceptable to use team orders.
Used responsibly, and openly, they can actually enhance the complex spectacle of motorsport. But used clandestinely, they’ve proved to be a recipe for disaster and dishonesty.
“THERE’S A VERY SIMPLE REASON WHY F1 IS TERRIFIED OF TEAM ORDERS – AUSTRIA 2002”