Do team orders make a significant difference?

Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Sunday 28 May 2017.
World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Images (Image Courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media)
ref: Digital Image _ONZ0414

Kimi’s face on the podium told a thousand stories, to say he was slightly unhappy with coming second, would be like saying the Pope is slightly religious. He’d gone from leading the Monaco Grand Prix by a good handful of seconds, to finishing second and well off the pace.

The pole sitter had done everything right in the first half of the race and it was only a pitstop disaster which could cost him the race. Coming in before his team-mate to cover off the undercut, would normally have been the right call. Unfortunately, this is Monaco and there is nothing normal about racing a Formula 1 car around these streets.

A few blisteringly quick laps from Vettel and Kimi’s lead had disappeared along with his hopes of the win.

Did Ferrari know this was how it would play out or was it just great driving from a World Champion how was able to put the laps together when he really needed them? Seeing Daniel Ricciardo’s lap times, would give the impression that it might even have been Kimi holding the pack up slightly.

But none of this matters. Ferrari have used team orders before and will use them again. There is no team in the pitlane who would not use team orders to ensure they got the race win. Look at Mercedes telling Rosberg to move over last year in Monaco. They made Nico let his title rival passed and to run away to a lucky victory, whilst Rosberg limped home in seventh.

It’s actually interesting to see how team orders have affected the Driver’s World Championships after they were used.

A quick look at some of the biggest experiences tells us its own story. You cannot mention team orders and not think of Multi 21, Schumacher and Barrichello in Austria, “Fernando is faster than you”, Crashgate or even Coulthard and Hakkinen in Australia.

Multi 21

Mark Webber is ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix. Red Bull use the code ‘Multi 21’ to tell the drivers that car two will finish in front of car 1. They have previously used Multi 12 and Webber has submitted to the order. Unfortunately for Webber, Vettel decided to ignore the order and attacked for the lead. He ended up winning the race and taking the extra seven points.

At the end of the season Vettel beat Alonso by 155 points, making the whole unsavoury episode completely unnecessary.

Schumacher and Barrichello in Austria

In 2002, Ferrari were dominant, winning all but two of the races that season. By the time Austria came around, Schumacher had already won four of the first five races and was easily in the lead of the Driver’s Championship, yet Ferrari still felt completed to issue team orders during the sixth race of the season. With Barrichello in the lead, he was told to move over and let his team-mate win, needless to say that this didn’t go down too well with the Brazilian and he waited until the last

corner of the last lap, to slow down and let Schumacher pass. The crowd immediately reacted and told Ferrari exactly what they thought of it.

The move was condemned by nearly all of the F1 community and when you see that Schumacher won the Driver’s Championship with 144 points; double second-placed Barrichello’s 77. It was completely unnecessary.

Fernando is faster than you

Another Ferrari masterclass in team orders, is the non-team order which was so clearly a team order. During a period of F1 where team orders were banned; imagine telling one of your drivers that the other driver, who happens to be right behind you, is faster than you. Take the hint pal, move over. Alonso was on a charge and went on to win the German Grand Prix.

Interestingly, this team order cost Ferrari $100,000, but kept Alonso in the Championship hunt. At the end of the season, the extra points did make a difference, but not enough. Alonso finished four points behind Vettel and came second once more. If Ferrari had introduced their team orders before Germany, they could have engineered an Alonso championship. In both Australia and Turkey, Massa finished immediately in front of Alonso. Swapping positions in there two races, would have given Alonso and extra 3 points and 2 points respectively.

It makes you wonder if Ferrari were just too late introducing their strategy.

Crashgate

In one of the lowest points of the sports recent history. Nelson Piquet Jr was asked/told to crash in Singapore in a position which would require a safety car. Handily, Alonso his team-mate, had just made a pit stop and inherited the lead when the rest of the field made their stops behind the safety car. It was a lead he didn’t relinquish and went on to win the 2008 race.

This wasn’t about a Championship victory, this was all about Renault needing a result and someone, reportedly Flavio Briatore, feeling enough pressure to ask one of his drivers to risk their lives just to get a win.

It took a year for the true story to leak out and only really came to light when Renault didn’t renew Nelson Piquet Jr’s contract. A bitter Nelson, let some things leak out which made people look back at the accident in a fresh light. The cost was extreme, people were banned from racing and the ramifications for Renault were enough to see them pull out of the sport within three years.

Coulthard and Hakkinen in Australia

When pre-season testing shows that you are in a class of your own, what else would you do? At the start of 1998, the McLaren looked very dominant. Coulthard and Hakkinen were under orders not to take each other out in the season opening Australian Grand Prix. Between themselves and the team, they decided that whoever was in the lead after the first corner, that driver would get the win. Hakkinen got to the first corner in the lead and the plan was put into place. It was all going well until Mika had an unscheduled pitstop and dropped back into second. Appearing to stick to the pre-race agreement, David let his team mate through for the win.

The extra two points made little difference to Mika at the end of the season, where he won the Driver’s Championship by fourteen points. Unfortunately, right at the start of the season, the tone was set with DC as the number two driver and all of McLaren’s upgrades and new components being directed to Mika’s car first.

In all five of these cases, the issued team orders did not make an impact on the Driver’s Championship. They did however make a larger impact on the fans and the perception of F1 to the wider audience. Even when team orders were banned by the FIA, they still leaked through in code and again had no effect on the Driver’s Championship.

Indeed, there is only one case where team orders would have affected the Championship, but Ferrari didn’t start to lay with them until it was too late.

Ban them or hate them, team orders have always been a part of F1 and will always be with us. It’s the ultimate team sport and individual drivers are constantly reminded that they are racing for a team of hundreds of people back in the factories and not just themselves.

Andy Robinson

 

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