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

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - EDD STRAW

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.


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