Carlos Di Bello asked this question vis Skribit:
Does “Help from Kimi Raikkonen (or Heikki Kovalainen)” mean “Team orders”? Is it legal? Can teams encourage it?
As we all know, team orders are banned. But we also know teams can get away with doing certain things to manipulate the running order of their drivers. What can and can’t they get away with?
Team orders were banned in Formula 1 after Ferrari’s actions during the 2002 season. The team infamously ordered Rubens Barrichello to surrender what would have been a hard-fought win over Michael Schumacher in Austria.
Ferrari are not the only F1 team to have used team orders, nor are team orders a recent invention. But public criticism of F1 following the A1 Ring farce was so vehement the FIA decided a repeat of such blatant race-fixing would not be in the sports’ best interests.
Thus article 39.1 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations states quite explicity:
39.1 Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited.
Does this mean team orders are banished in F1? No, the teams are just a lot more subtle about it.
Sleight of hand
To spot the occasions where teams have influenced race outcomes in the past 12 months you don’t need to be a cynic – just a realist.
Ferrari shuffled Felipe Massa out of Kimi Raikkonen’s path at Interlagos last year to deliver the drivers’ championship to his team mate; Nick Heidfeld presented Robert Kubica with no resistance at Montreal this year, allowing Kubica to score the team’s maiden victory; Heikki Kovalainen refrained from racing Lewis Hamilton at Hockenheim in the closing stages.
A brutally tough interpretation of article 39.1 could brand any of these decisions as interference with a race result.
But, as we discussed a few weeks ago, unwritten rules play just as big a role in how F1 works. In the case of team orders, teams can get away with a lot of things you might expect Article 39.1 to prevent. They would have to be quite blatant to get caught and punished.
Why did the stewards leave McLaren, Ferrari and BMW alone in these examples? Probably because there was no radio communication between team and driver beforehand giving an instruction, as we heard at Austria in 2002 (“Let Michael past for the championship, Rubens, please” – Jean Todt.) Presumably the teams now tell their drivers beforehand what is expected of them in these situations.
At Interlagos last year, Massa was out of the championship running and was surely told by the team before the race that if he could guarantee the championship for Raikkonen by moving aside he must do it. In the event, with a comfortable one-two, Ferrari were able to take the most low-profile way of pulling the old switcheroo – doing it via the pit stops.
Similarly it makes sense for teams not to allow their drivers to hold each other up when the following car is much faster than the leading one – as was the case for BMW and McLaren this year in the other examples above.
Suzuka 2006 – Toyota
If teams are going to manipulate the race outcome it surely makes sense for them not to discuss it on the radio. In an unusual incident in 2006 Toyota did just that.
Jarno Trulli was ordered three times to move over for Ralf Schumacher at Suzuka – but refused. The team were not investigated for the incident, but might it have been different if Trulli had let Schumacher past? Or if Toyota had been one of the teams in contention for the championship?
It is surely not something either Ferrari or McLaren would risk this year.
Monaco 2007 – McLaren
The 2007 Monaco Grand Prix is a useful precedent. During the race, McLaren brought second-placed Lewis Hamilton into the pits several laps ahead of his planned pit stop. An unimpressed Hamilton complained this robbed him of the chance to press home a strategic advantage over Fernando Alonso, who was leading.
The FIA investigated the incident but agreed with McLaren’s defence that Hamilton’s pit stop had been brought forward to keep him from being caught out by the ‘pit lane closure’ rule if the safety car was deployed (which we discussed earlier this week).
More extreme team orders
Letting your team mate past is one thing, but what about more aggressive team orders – like delaying your team mate’s rival?
This is something we haven’t seen much of recently. Perhaps that’s because no-one’s had the need and the opportunity. Or perhaps the teams have been quietly told they will be hauled over the coals if they do it.
In 1999 alone we saw David Coulthard holding up Michael Schumacher (Suzuka), Michael Schumacher holding up Mika Hakkinen (Sepang), and Mika Salo holding up Ralf Schumacher (Spa-Francorchamps) for tactical reasons. This year, with the Finnish McLaren and Ferrari drivers likely to be reduced to supporting their team mates’ title bids over the final races, their teams might be tempted to try more of the same – if they know they can get away with it.
What team orders should teams be allowed to use – all, some or none? Have your say in the comments.
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