Team Orders – back in the spotlight

Tomorrow (Wednesday) will see the issue of team orders debated again, as Ferrari stand accused of breaking the rules at the German GP, and must answer their case to the World Motorsport Council.

The question of what will happen can only be answered by those presiding over the drama tomorrow. A points deduction and heavy fine seem the likely outcome. Any points deduction should only be levelled at the team however, taking those from the drivers would be an unfair ruling.

But what will happen about the rule (Article 39.1 to the FIA), which many argue ties F1 in knots. Why can’t a team focus on one driver, and make sure that driver wins the championship – especially if the other car is no longer in contention?

Let’s bring the story back a bit, to Austria 2002. This is where the rule stemmed from, and once again, it is all thanks to Ferrari, and (ironically) current FIA President Jean Todt. Just six races into the season, and with Schumacher already coasting to the title, Ferrari were on for a 1-2 win in the Austrian Grand Prix. However, it was Rubens Barrichello leading, as he had done all weekend, being faster than Michael through most of the sessions. The result wouldn’t have harmed Schumacher at all – six points (at the time) would have more than sufficed. Yet Ferrari made the call for drivers to swap positions. Rubens, unhappy at this (and who can blame him), held on to the last corner. Schumacher took the flag to a chorus of boos and jeers. It was very public, and very embarrassing for the FIA and FOM. Ferrari were heavily fined, and the rule imposed.

So has the rule worked? Well not quite. In 2007, Felippe Massa let Kimi Raikonnen pass for the win in Brazil, giving the Finn a win which clinched the drivers title. In 2008, after McLaren hadn’t called Lewis Hamilton for a pit stop under the safety car in Germany, Heikki Kovalainen gave away his place a bit too easily. Team orders happen, but they’re not exactly obvious.

The problem with the above examples is the circumstances in which they were executed. We all expected Massa to let Kimi pass in Brazil – he wasn’t in contention for the Championship, the McLarens were in trouble and a win would give the Ferrari driver the title. In Germany, Kovy was in 4th, and hadn’t been a contender for even a win since the start of the year, while Hamilton was leading the table, and had been leading the race but for the poor pit stop timing.

In Germany 2010 however, Massa was faster than Alonso. The Spanish driver had tried to pass earlier and failed. Massa was holding his own, was on the pace, wasn’t holding anyone up and was leading. Then suddenly came the subdued words of Rob Smedley, Massa’s race engineer – “Ok… Fernando is faster than you… can you confirm you understand that message?” followed by “Ok, good lad, just keep with him now… sorry” after the pass. This was broadcast worldwide, to all fans. Rather than hold Massa in a pit stop, or tell him to save fuel, the message was delivered by, it sounded like, someone who didn’t want to say it.

So should Article 39.1 exist? My answer is no. But should team orders be banned? Yes. Let me explain…

I like to watch drivers race. When two drivers are in identical cars, the better. Look at the 1996 season, Hill vs Villeneuve. Both drivers in the same machinery added an extra spice to the title battle. Neither driver had a car advantage, none of this ‘our car suits slow corners, their car is better on low downforce…’ – they raced each other. I like that.

Yes F1 is a team sport, but both drivers should be free to race. That is unless one driver is out of contention for the championship. Whether mathematically, or because they are a certain percentage of points behind I don’t know. But when that condition is reached, then team orders can come into play. Until then, drivers should be free to race each other, as long as they respect the team wishes (do what we tell you, and don’t take each other off).

So the team orders rule should be disposed of, but another put in its place. The problem for F1 is, how to word it, and prevent further transgressions ruining the spectacle for the fans.

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4 Responses to “Team Orders – back in the spotlight”

  1. To me it would seem a little hypocritical to allow such manoeuvring in some circumstances when it’ll suit certain people but not at other times.

    I think there have been examples just as bad as Germany that have gone completely and utterly UNPunished, most of them being McLaren who claim to always let their drivers race but gave the order to Hold Position in Turkey, and had Jenson give the place back after passing Lewis because Lewis whinged on the radio. Is telling your drivers to hold position when they are together at the front not also a Team Order? If not, why not? If it is, what makes that any less punishable than Ferrari? (and don’t say because what Ferrari did was obvious, this farce in Turkey was just as obvious to me) They BOTH break the rules.

    and does all this REALLY stem from the Ferrari hate that’s out there? Ask yourselves, would there have been such an uproar about Austria 2002 if it had been McLaren doing that with Raikkonen and Coulthard? I think not, seeing as Hakkinen and Coulthard did basically the same thing in Australia 98 and it wasn’t a problem because they gave the excuse of having had a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ …
    It’s the same deal as with one team dominating. No-one ever had a problem with McLaren doing it (even when their car had parts it shouldn’t have had) but when Ferrari did it (in a completely legit car), it was suddenly a reason to change the rules. That’s the same case here, as soon as Ferrari put a foot even slightly wrong, it’s become fashionable to bash them harshly, and that’s a sad state for the sport and it’s so-called ‘fans’ to be in.

    It’s a TEAM sport as well as an individual sport, if they don’t want team orders to happen, then cut the teams down to ONE car, that’s going to be the ONLY way to eradicate Team Orders and any favouritism within a team.

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  3. I feel Article 39.1 was rushed in, not because of Ferrari hate, but because of Ferrari dominance. You’re right, if it had been Kimi and DC I don’t think it would have been as much of an issue, unless McLaren had dominated as Ferrari had done. Aus 98 was the first race of the season, and Mika had been faster than DC all weekend, and was leading but for that trip to the pits. I was still outraged about it I must admit, but the events leading to it were different – At Austria, Rubens had dominated the weekend, Ferrari and Schumacher were leading the title races by miles.

    But you do raise a good issue. I don’t think Jenson let Lewis pass in Turkey, but the order to hold station is one that affects a possible race outcome. But is that order perceived to be as serious as asking one driver to move over for another? Not really, and I think that’s where the problem comes in. Both team orders, both break the rules, but asking a driver to move over, to let another driver who has been beaten (Massa was in front, beating Alonso off the line and defended well until that point) is more visible to the fans (if that makes sense!) That’s why the rule is unworkable. I’m against team orders except when one driver had no chance of winning the title, when they should support their team mate. It’s just a way of working it that will be tough.

  4. The hold station order seemed just as obvious to me, personally, regardless of what team it comes from (Pretty sure I’ve also heard that one given to the Ferrari and Red Bull guys so it’s not just McLaren doing it).

    Todt has now released a statement saying there wasn’t enough evidence to punish the team further. This will anger a lot of people who seem to be suffering selective amnesia and forgetting that Ferrari WERE already punished once, and these people are effectively angry that they weren’t double-punished. I am still convinced were this McLaren they would be saying it shouldn’t have been punished at all, and there’s precedence for this attitude in the Spygate case, many fans being blinkered and not believing that McLaren are capable of doing wrong. No Ferrari fans I have encountered, not even the die-hards have this belief about Ferrari, as they know all teams do wrong at times.

    I don’t see how a ban on Team Orders can be worked even if it does have the convenient condition that one driver has no chance of winning the title, that will be nigh on impossible to enforce consistently, prove violations, and is highly unrealistic.

    I will also await the next time McLaren repeat the performance at Spa with Jenson holding back so far from Lewis (yes he had wing damage, but given that he was still staying ahead of the Red Bull and other cars, I believe the difference was exagerrated by Jenson attempting to slow everyone else and back them up, if the damage was as bad as some make out, the other cars should have had no problem passing him), as what happened there also affected the outcome of the race… but I guess that’s fine until a red team do it in the eyes of (too) many fans 😉

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