F1’s unwritten rules: team orders edition

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

How can Ferrari use Raikkonen to help Massa without getting in trouble?
How can Ferrari use Raikkonen to help Massa without getting in trouble?

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?

The rules

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 ?ǣ as was the case for BMW and McLaren this year in the other examples above.

Suzuka 2006 – Toyota

\'Jarno, let Ralf past!\' \'La la la la I can\'t hear you la la la la la...\'
'Jarno, let Ralf past!' 'La la la la I can't hear you la la la la la...'

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 ?ǣ 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 ?ǣ 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 ?ǣ all, some or none? Have your say in the comments.

This article was suggested by Carlos Di Bello using Skribit. To suggest an idea for an F1 Fanatic article, use the Skribit box in the middle column on this page. You can also vote for other people’s article ideas.

41 comments on “F1’s unwritten rules: team orders edition”

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  1. I think there is definitely a line, where that is I’m not sure though.

    Ferrari were over it with the Schumi/Rubens incident. But I don’t think asking one of your drivers to let a position up to his team mate who is clearly faster should be classed as team orders. Nor should one of your drivers holding up the opposition be.

  2. No such thing is wrong until it is caught. They can do whatever they want, provided they do it in a suble way.

  3. I often wonder if sometimes more “extreme” forms of “team orders” are not happening . Take the last race in Singapore , for instance. Piquet crashes out , which results in a safety car , which in a way results in his team-mate (Alonso) winning the race . As I said above , “extreme” , and unlikely , but maybe not impossible. On a number of other occasions , I have seen cars spin , and get themselves odly stuck half on and half off the track in a manner that almost looks like it was done deliberately , and resulting in a safety car. Makes one wonder , doesn’t it ?

  4. F1 is a team sport, always has been. If a team boss spends ~$400 million putting two cars on the grid 20 times a year he should be able to choose what they do when they get there. Whilst Ferrari’s actions in 2002 were crass I didn’t feel there was anything wrong with them. In terms of talent and contracts Rubens was always the number 2 driver, the only person surprised at the request was him and a few people who were presumably watching F1 for the first time that weekend.

    This rule has had a much greater (and worse) impact on F1 than the action that caused it. It is another one that should be binned.

  5. i dont have any problem with team orders and i dont feel “cheated” if a race result is affected. Its mainly an issue with the non F1 savvy press and bookmakers and Im not going to lose any sleep over them.

    I think the question more alludes to how Kimi can help Massa. Firstly he needs to qualify ahead of Lewis then he needs to hold them up. They can delay pitting him or even do a Renault and have him “make a mistake- sorry team” just after Massa has pitted, if it suits. Im not saying Renault did that at SIngapore but its an interesting tactic to deploy.

  6. I think the Piquet crash was just what it was – a crash. No denying it was convenient for his team mate, but there are less dangerous ways than that to bring the safety car out.

    Of course team orders can involve more than one team: remember the Norberto Fontana episode during the Jacques Villeneuve-Michael Schumacher title decider in 1997.

  7. thats an outrageous slur on Schumachers taintless career. It does remind me of the comment made by some engineer or other who said that Jean Todt could light up a room, by leaving it.

  8. I wonder if there’s ever been an incident, whether team ordered or not, where a team mate has “deliberately” taken his team mates championship rival car? I keep having dreams* of Kimi or Heikki getting a bit late on the brakes and collecting a championship contender.

    (*Actual dreams, not wishful thinking!)

  9. In principle I had no problem with Barrichello moving over for Schumacher. What did strike me, and millions of others, as odd, was the fact that it happend in race 6 of 17, and so blatantly obvious, too.

    The crowd’s reaction at the time was understandable, because most people like seeing an underdog win once in a while. Hence the popularity of Jordan’s first victory, and Vettel’s Monza win.

  10. bandini could be said to have got his come uppance. Senna took Prost out at Suzuka in 84 and ushered in the cynical era we are still in.

  11. Antonyob – you may be referring to 1990 there. But let’s remember, Prost himself took Senna out the year before (1989), also in Suzuka!

    More on that in my Japan GP retrospective next week. :)

  12. yes quite right journeyer.why didnt i just google it!

    And not forgetting the stinger Prost put across the adelaide straight in 87 that “collosally” did for Mansell :)

  13. I agree with PhilB and antonyob – it’s ridiculous not to have team orders. What’s the point in having 2 cars if teams can’t use them strategically?

    In fact, why do teams have 2 cars?

  14. Kimi, is not even motivated to help himsself, do we believe he will find the motivation to help Massa?
    Heikki is never anywhere near the scene in which he is needed.

    Realistically, team order only makes sense right now, when the common good of the team is at stake, as a team stands to benefit from having one if their drivers winning the world championship. If a team can score the maximum points possible with team orders then they must use it. Otherwise, why spend $400 Million and come last.

  15. Well ask Honda they specialise in that

  16. Keith now u mention that Fontana episode. In Canada, Vettel held Alonso up so badly at the hairpin, that Kimi went past. We later saw Kimi wave to Vettel. The manner in which he made Alonso lose momentum struck me as real odd at the time.

  17. schumi the greatest
    3rd October 2008, 14:03

    I Havent got a problem with team orders, as a few have mentioned the teams are spending millions on running their team its up to them whiuch driver finishes in front in my opinion, the drivers are employees of the team.

    The Ferrari incident, well i can see peoples point because schumahcer already had a good lead in the championship by that point, but what if it had gone pear shaped from then on in the same people who criticised ferrari for letting shcumacher pass rubens would have said they were stupid for letting rubens win.
    Formula 1 is a sport but its alos a business the amount of money involves places alot of pressure on people to succeed. ferrari were paying scumacher $25million a year to win the world championship, they didnt care whether rubens one the odd race, all they were concerned with was winning. i’d agree they overstepped the mark but its all part of the sport in my opinion.

    if you look at sport in general, people cut corners to succeed, football for example, players winding eachother up to get an advantage, subtle things like that are a big part of sport. I dont thinki anyone who really understands sport can complain about team orders, especially at the highest level when there’s so much money involved.

    i hope it doesnt decide the championship this year but if it did i wouldnt be suprised,.

  18. cetainly schumacher knew it and took full advantage but for those of us who just want to see straight racing then accepting that it goes on is another mile down the road of it being accepted practice. It shouldnt be, it should always be criticised and the driver always tainted by it. And certainly schumacher is that.

  19. One example of team orders that I have seen is in ALMS (Penske LMP2 @ Detroit 2008). If you’re team mate is ahead of you, just bring them in for a lengthy check on the car for safety reasons and then send them back out when the team-mate is ahead of them.
    This helped the championship leading car gain some extra points in the closing stages of the race.
    It’s an option that can be implemented at the track.
    However, I have wondered what influence the team could have over a uncooperative team-mate. Can they electronically cut the engine from the pits? Or maybe stick up a false warning light for the driver? :D

    F1 is a team game, and team orders are expected especially to help one driver clinch the title.
    As Oliver said:

    why spend $400 Million and come last.

    Blatant team orders (Ferrari Austria 02) or team agreements (DC \ Hakkinen Australia 1998) should not happen, hence the new rule? I reckon the Hakkinen \ DC one was worse than Ferrari at Austria 2002, as it was the 1st round of the championship. Who in their right mind works to get in F1 and then gives up the chance to win the opening round and lead the championship?

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