Why formula 1 team orders are ok

Over the recent years there has been a lot of talk about team orders and how they're detrimental to Formula 1, especially in the Schumacher years.
July 26 2010

Over the recent years there has been a lot of talk about team orders and how they're detrimental to Formula 1, especially in the Schumacher years.  Throughout the Schumacher years we saw many occasions where a Schumacher team mate had to cede their position to the mighty German, the most sensational being Austria 2002. Schumacher wasn't the only one though, there has been team orders within McLaren, with Hakkinen and Coulthard too.  Team orders have been around either overtly or covertly for at least as I long as I've been following formula 1 (1987).

Austria was the most contentious because the move was blatant, with Rubens Barrichello slowing down at the chequered flag and letting Michael Schumacher by.  Fans and commentators were outraged and I admit a lot of disappointment at both that move and Ferrari's obvious favouritism.  As a result of that race, team orders were banned.

The big problem with banning team orders is policing.  Pretty much saying "Driver 2 please move over and let Driver 1 through.  This is a team order" is an obvious team order, but saying "Driver 2, you are slower than Driver 1" is not obvious and it most cases it's just a fact.  A fact it may be but it's more than likely an explicit team order to move over and let the other driver through.  I'm certain team drivers would be instructed of "code" phrases that relate team orders.

In the German grand prix just run, Massa was told "Alonso is faster than you", and he promptly moved over and let Alonso pass him coming out of turn 6.  From that point on Alonso drove away from him, clearly faster.  There's the problem.  Alonso was faster than Massa, that was clear.  It's the pass that might tick fans off.  Alonso didn't have to work for it, Massa relived his Schumacher years and moved aside.

The way I see it, Formula 1 is a team sport.  Not only is a result in the sport determined by more than just one person per car, there are two cars per team.  The biggest tell for me is that there's a constructors championship, a teams championship, where at the end of each season, a team is declared the winner.  Seriously, how can you have a team championship and not have team orders?  It'd be like soccer and not being able to instruct all your team members about the plays to use during the game.

You could argue that what difference does the order the drivers finish make to the team points, and the answer is none.  However, if the lead driver is going slower than the trailing driver and the result is both end up getting overtaken, when at least one could finish further up, then that's sub optimal for the team and it's legitimate championship.

I say bring team orders back, they're a vital part of a team championship.  Unfortunately that's not the case right now.  The reality is Ferrari broke the rules of the sport by implementing team orders.  Alonso overtook Massa, but it's not like he gained a massive boost to pass, he just maintained his usual speed, while Massa slowed.  Massa slowed.  That's the key here, Massa obeyed a team order and did something that possibly changed the outcome of the race.  Alonso did nothing wrong by the letter of the law, regardless of if his words to the team initiated the team order to Massa.  Ferrari could have said "no team orders here, sorry Fred" and left it at that.  They didn't, so they're guilty.  Massa could have ignored the team order, but that would have created much tension within the team.  In most situations disobeying a directive is ground for dismissal, unless found to breech of laws (not racing or sporting laws, but actual civil law). I think it's asking a bit much to punish Massa, and therfore only the team should be punished.

What Ferrari did wrong, probably something that other teams take more care in executing was the manner in which the team order was carried out.  Massa should have slowed less dramatically, or "accidently" oversteered out of a corner, once Alonso was close enough to discreetly take advantage.  I'm sure other teams knowingly execute team orders, they just exercise discretion.  Team orders won't ever go away and I'm sure Alonso and other drivers chase (succesfully) number #1 clauses in their contracts that in effect ensure team orders are carried out.

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