Outrage over McLaren ‘team orders’

Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Monte-Carlo, 2007, 2McLaren are under investigation for allegedly using team orders to influence the outcome of yesterday’s race in favour of Fernando Alonso over Lewis Hamilton.

Team orders were banned after the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, when Ferrari ordered Rubens Barrichello to let Michael Schumacher win. McLaren ordered their drivers to hold station after the first round of pit stops in yesterday’s race.

But this is not unusual – on many occasions since the banning of team orders drivers have received instructions from the pit wall to hold stations until the end of the race.

The outrage may be surprising to long-term fans of F1 but it is a forceful reminder that team orders are unsporting. The FIA needs to take more intelligent steps than simply declaring them banned and only looking into the problem when the press kicks up a stink.

There’s a long history of team orders in F1. In 1956 Peter Collins lost the world championship to team mate Juan Manuel Fangio because he was ordered to hand his Ferrari over after Fangio’s had failed.

But in the 51 years since then F1 has transformed from a gentleman’s pursuit into a sporting profession. You can’t expect a sportsman to be happy to relinquish victory – or the public to understand or accept it.

Today team orders have to be more subtle because article 147 of the sporting regulations specifically states: “Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited.”

But they still exist. Teams have often told drivers running first and second to hold position until the end of the race, usually after the final pit stops. Renault did so with Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella at Sepang last year.

Watching last year’s French Grand Prix it seemed inconceivable that Felipe Massa wasn’t ordered to hold up Alonso in the opening stages of the race to benefit team mate Schumacher. Massa drove the odd suspiciously slow in-lap last year as well.

No-one seemed to care when Toyota ordered Jarno Trulli to let Ralf Schumacher past at Suzuka last year.

Teams are always going to want to impose such orders. The FIA should be working to make it impossible for them to do so – and there are two clear and obvious ways to do it:

Make passing easier. Races are almost entirely decided by strategy – which the teams have total control over.

Ban refuelling. Nobody cares about race strategies, they aren’t entertaining and they serve only to make races confusing. Banning refuelling will greatly reduce teams’ control over the races an make team orders a virtual impossibility overnight.

It would be wrong of the FIA to punish McLaren for doing something that others have been doing for years. And given Max Mosley’s outspoken and indecorous criticism of Ron Dennis it would also be highly suspect.

They should turn their attention to their own rulebook instead.

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22 comments on Outrage over McLaren ‘team orders’

  1. Magnus said on 28th May 2007, 16:35

    I really don’t see what the fuss is about. On TV it sure looked like they were racing for it. Certainly up to the first pit stop, and even after that they were putting in some fast laps now and then when they weren’t stuck in traffic.

    And to complain they didn’t get to try and pass each other in the final stint.. this is Monaco after all. Not even Raikonnen in a (presumably) faster car than Button, Heidfeld (with the tank full and cold tyres) etc did any.

    So all I saw was Hamilton making some comments after the race about the team bringing him in earlier than expected and the british press getting all excited.

  2. Nikos Darzentas said on 28th May 2007, 22:27

    “Team strategy is what you bring to bear to win a Grand Prix; team orders are what you bring to bear to manipulate a Grand Prix.”
    Ron Dennis

    The fact is that what happened was against competition and racing. Couldn’t Ferrari say that what happened in Austria back then was team strategy as well?

    Anyway, I agree that what happened at Monaco with McLaren is hardly THE problem in F1 nowadays, but I’m a bit upset that Ron Dennis is trying to massage the facts.

    Let’s hope Ferrari and BMW and whoever else catch up fast, so that Ron doesn’t get another chance like that…

  3. “They should turn their attention to their own rulebook instead.”

    never a truer word spoken. i can’t see that the team put a foot wrong.

    let’s be honest, lewis banged the barriers several times in the closing stages while not racing. given a free reign, he’d have buried it in a tyre wall for sure.

    lewis should be happy that ron did what he did. as should the pathetic british tabloids.

  4. I am not too keen on the rather silly ban on ‘team orders’. But whatever, the rule was brought in to stop something ridiculous like Austria 2002 happening again. What McLaren did at Monaco was nothing like as bad as that.

    The rule says:

    “Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited.”

    In Austria 2002, Ferrari interfered with the race result by swapping 1st and 2nd place. In Monaco yesterday, McLaren didn’t interfere with the race result by keeping 1st in 1st and 2nd in 2nd.

    As ought to be obvious to even the most pathetic of British tabloids, any other course of action would have been suicide. As I pointed out on my blog, if the McLarens crashed out of the race yesterday, Ferrari would be leading the championship instead of trailing by 20 points.

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th May 2007, 23:40

    Various drafts of this post were chucked before it went up but I think I should have kept in the bit about Hamilton being the tabloid’s meal ticket at the moment.

    Especially as the Premiership’s just finished and it’s hard to sell papers on bank holiday Monday.

  6. It must be hard to move tabloid papers this time of year after all, because frankly, I didn’t perceive team orders either, though I don’t really understand Formula 1’s fuss about them either. If they don’t expect the teams to connect at some kind of level, why do they have only one garage, or why let teams race two cars?

    The only reasons I can think of relate to the design of the car (it’s not like GT or stock cars that can shunt each other and still run) and to keep people from nagging that the season is all about McLaren and Ferrari… except of course, that it is…

    I completely understand the notion of banning refueling. I’ve seen enough efforts ruined by untightened lugnuts and pitlane collisions to know that pitstops are anticompetitive and stupid.

    I’m not sure I gather how to promote overtaking without the use of contrivances like penalty weight, or making rather grave changes in the sport, like, banning aerodynamic development or forcing all the circuits to become wider, and therefore, easier to drive.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  7. Journeyer said on 29th May 2007, 6:43

    Chunter, I think the article meant to ban refuelling, but not necessarily tire changes. A good number of people thought they liked F1 with the tire changes when it was removed in 2005.

    As for overtaking, yes, it’s hard to think of a good solution. But I think one must impede the speed of finding new technology, because that is what’s allowing teams to do more complex (and expensive) solutions, which, while effective for their car, creates more dirty air, making it harder for the car behind.

  8. Nathan Jones said on 29th May 2007, 8:57

    the thing that gets me here is,
    every team would have done the same, also how stupid would they look if they had faught and taken each other out? considering they were miles in front.
    they need to use these engines in canada so y push them harder than required.
    if hamilton had have won and alonso 2nd in same circumstances then the british press would not have written anything about it!
    simple as that
    we have schumacher and ferrari to thank for this stupid rule in the 1st place!
    what if, say at the end of the yr alonso needs to win n overtake hamilton on the last lap to win the title by a point over say massa or raikkonen?
    how stupid of them to not let him through as after all the $ spent during the yr they lose th title in that way
    it’s simply rediculous!

  9. Journeyer said on 29th May 2007, 12:06

    Well, I think Alonso would be smart enough in that case to “voluntarily help” Lewis. Otherwise, Fernando would not hear the end of it.

    This rule was meant to be skirted around, to be ignored when needed. But, its vagueness means how it will be “interpreted” or applied completely depends on the FIA.

  10. Number 38 said on 29th May 2007, 14:27

    There’s no shortage of opinion on this subject, I’m not interested in taking sides as I think Hamilton KNEW he couldn’t get past Alonso, he did the right thing staying as close as possible, ‘just in case’ the Champ made an error but there should be no surprise in the outcome. The GREATER concern which so many seem to overlook……in the 2002 incident Jean Todt ordered Barrichello to allow Schumacher to pass. In last Sundays race Ron
    Dennis may have manipulated Hamilton to follow Alonso, but I say “So what?” They are EMPLOYEES working for an EMPLOYER. This is NOT sport, it is BUSINESS !!! Constructors points are worth money, drivers count for little. Drivers, (employees) can be replaced at any time and we have seen that so many times recently. How one can apply a “sporting rule” to a business decision is the real subject. The FIA will huff and puff as they do so often. Don’t expect Alonso or Hamilton to lose their points although that would allow Ferrari and Kimi to “catch up” and hold interest a few races longer!

  11. Number 38 said on 29th May 2007, 14:43

    Read my last response again, esspecially the last line. If the FIA recinded Alonso and Hamilton’s points as a penalty,
    wouldn’t that be “Interfering with a race result” !!!!! The FIA infracting their own rules. Food for thought.

    p.s. The “regs” don’t apply to the FIA, only the participants.

  12. Lewis wasn’t fast enough to pass Fernando at any stage of the race, bearing in mind that this is Monaco and passing places do not exactly grow on trees there. McLaren probably didn’t even need team orders – if they did implement any, it was for the purposes sidepodcast.com, doctorvee and others have suggested – to avoid an embarrassing and costly collision. Every team boss forbids collisions because that’s common sense. If the FIA wants to ban common sense, then that’s their lookout. But I for one will not support them in the action.

  13. Evil said on 29th May 2007, 18:29

    Alonso (allegedly) saved 2 laps worth of fuel in the first stint as he hadn’t needed to drive fast. According to the Press, Hamilton was fuelled for 6 more laps than Alonso, but came in only three laps later. Could he not have also saved 2 laps of fuel (he admitted to fronts graining in the first few laps, but that doesn’t cost fuel, just time)? And Alonso’s first stop (lap 26) was 7.5 seconds to fuel him till lap 51 (25 laps) whilst Hamilton’s, on lap 29 took 8.9 seconds to fuel him to lap 53 (a mere 24 laps). So is it the fuel rigs that are influencing the results of the race? (Stop times and laps are the Team’s press release, not ITV’s)

  14. John said on 29th May 2007, 20:39

    I was really enthusiastic with Lewis Hamilton`s appearance in F1
    and pleased to see him on the front row and spectacularly on the podium so often. However, I am now sadly disappointed following his disparaging remarks at the weekend about his fellow drivers.
    I am sure that if anyone else had called their fellow competitors `monkeys` as he did in his interview with Steve Rider, there would have been uproar. This I feel shows a previously unseen chink in his armour.

  15. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th May 2007, 21:12

    I think the ‘monkeys’ thing has been blown out of proportion by a few people. I’d far rather hear drivers speak their minds than be turned into PR robots.

    If that means they occasionally get misinterpreted or cause mild offence it’s not the end of the world.

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