Outrage over McLaren ‘team orders’

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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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