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. F1 is a team sport, there should absolutely be an affect on one car depending on how his team mate is doing. A finn holding up Massa/Hamilton is absolutely right, not necessarily because it helps their team mate, but because it makes their own team more likely to win the Constructor’s Championship.

    I think teams should be able to do whatever they want to increase their chances of winning as a team, but interfering with positions between their own drivers is not on.

  2. This is just one more hazy rule that needs to be cleared up to my mind.

    No-one minds team orders in the last couple of rounds of a championship but to implement them in early spring is a bit of a joke.
    But where’s the cut-off?

  3. Team Orders are as old as motor racing. But I do hate it when they can affect the winner of a race. I kind of like how they are not so blatent in F1, kinda give you the chance to go well, did they need to do that or was it team orders hmmm. A little mystery is fun from time to time.

  4. Keith – You mentioned Norberto Fontana at Jerez in 1997. Interesting race for a team orders discussion – weren’t McLaren and Williams also suspected of colluding to influence the result?

  5. Thanks Keith, the background info provided is exhaustive, as ever. Didn’t know until now the role fellow Argentinean Fontana played in the Schumy-Jacques brawl!
    I agree with several posters that, if there are teams then orders must follow! It is interesting to note that, had not the “no orders” rule being in effect, perhaps McLaren could have asked Alonso to imitate Massa and make room for the point Hamilton needed to grasp the WDC at Interlagos last season (probably Fernando wouldn’t have submitted anyway, but we’ll never know).
    Another aspect of the question (for me, at least) is that if orders are banned, can bosses make public statements “suggesting” help is needed and so trying to influence their drivers’ own judgement, à la Montezemolo or Domenicali?
    I agree with Alex Cooper, the rule is so hazy it only manages to muddy things further…
    And if a driver takes another out of the track à la Prost-Senna-Schumacher, I think he could be penalized without the need of the “team orders” rule.

  6. An appropriate time of the season to ask this question Keith, with the last three races coming and only seven points separating the top 2.

    As many have stated, team racing would be chaos without team…..orders, or “strategy” if you like. Anything short of condoning collisions should be allowed, including the universally reviled Schumi gift win by Barrichello in Austria.

    Why should teammates not be regulated by their teams based upon the teams judgment of who has the better chance of winning races or championships?

    If you want to avoid team orders limit each team to one car each and find a more economical way of more teams getting into the sport, ala customer cars.

  7. I tought there also was a (un)written rule about ‘team orders’ stating that they are allowed when it’s championship deciding (like massa – kimi last year)
    Though Ferrari did it quietly…

    But anyway as long as it’s not as abvious as at the A1 ring it’s ok by me… it’s a team sport aswell!

  8. Since so much rides now on qualifying, race fuel loads and pit stop strategy, ‘team orders’ are almost there every race. Last year was decided by Massa in two ways: off the grid at the start where he boxed in Lewis (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJmZGtLiIPk) allowing Raikkonen to pull into second, and via the pits as Keith noted. Okay or unsporting? It really depends on whether you see F1 as a team sport (as the teams evidently do) or an individual sport (as the drivers would probably prefer). I can’t see much wrong with a slower team-mate pulling over to allow the faster driver to pass without incident, but for me the opposite (as at Interlagos) denatures F1 somewhat as a sport. You could argue, I suppose, that it’s up to the other teams to ensure the team in question isn’t in a position to exploit this maneouvre.

    The real issue, though, could well be whether a hyped-up Kimi would be ready to ‘take out’ Lewis Hamilton trying to pass him at some point in the last 3 races by basically giving zero room, even if it means a DNF for himself. I really can’t see Heikki doing the same to Massa, but Raikkonen-Hamilton already has history and you just get the feeling Kimi’s dying to do it…

  9. yeah i wont be surprised if kimi nails ham…remember he showed no mercy when ham tried to pass him at spa..

  10. I don’t have a problem with team orders as long as they are subtle,like Massa did for Kimi last year for the championship-perfectly executed.How could you possibly expect them to do anything else in that situation?However,I do not agree with putting another life in danger with aggressive moves like running another off track or,blatant passes that insults the hell out of us race fans.

  11. What some of us might have missed is that in the contract they would always have a clause about being No2 driver etc. Peterson for Andretti 78 Cevert for stewart 73, also the infamous villeneuve/pironi to schumacher/barrichello.

    It is always wrong to do it at the beginning of the season, however this season should be different as i personally think that massa and hamilton should be supported by their teammates as they don’t seem to be in contention.

  12. Massa did not pull over for Kimi, Kimi got himself past Hamilton and then put in quite fast laps to leapfrog Felipe Massa.

    Hamilton has had Heikki pull right over and qualify near the back for him.

  13. “Hamilton has had Heikki pull right over and qualify near the back for him.”

    Now that scenario is unrealistic because in spite of any team orders each team tries to qualify both cars as close to the front as possible, because there is always the constructor’s crown to fight for. Every point counts.

    How would you explain Kimi’s failures at qualifying this year? Team orders as well? I don’t think so. Team orders usually come into play relative to championships, and usually later in the season….unless it’s a Schumi led Ferrari squad.

    And as I offered earlier, I don’t have a problem with that either, but a bit of discretion by the team and a lot less bawling from Rubens on the podium would have made it more palatable by the fans.

  14. Obviously team orders are going to play a factor, and for me, Raikkonen is going to be the biggest threat to McLaren for several reasons. The main one is that he is far more consistent than Kovalainen, who to be honest, has disappointed me this season. Raikkonen has made mistakes, but he has had the pressure of being the defending world champion, something very few people get to experience.
    Now that that pressure has been relieved of Raikkonen, I believe he is going to show real pace in the next trio of races left, something that is going to be crucial to Massa.
    Also not lost on Raikkonen or on his team, is the role Massa played in Brazil last year in helping Kimi clinch the championship. Massa was in Kimi’s shoes a year ago, having been eliminated from the title race, and seriously hampered the McLarens at the start of the race, to enable Raikkonen to pass Hamilton into turn one. Something simular to this, I expect to see from the Finn in the next three rounds.
    Thirdly, there is the revenge factor. Hamilton maywell have lost his victory at Spa in the courts, but Raikkonen lost his championship defence during the closing stages of that race, fighting Lewis. By the ferocity of that battle, you could tell that there was no love lost. The Canadian race, inwhich Hamilton rearended Kimi, costing him a possible victory, will no doubt linger in Raikkonen’s mind.
    I don’t care how cool and carm he may appear outside of the car, a competitive person does not forget moments like those easily.
    Kovalainen, as promising a driver as he is, lacks the crucial experience that only time can provide. So in the sense of having an edge concerning possible team orders and tactics, then I would easily give that to Ferrari

  15. To the Limit,

    i like your attitude, I hope we see all out war between ferrari and McLaren, all four of them. no restrictions…. well other than that measily rule of course.

  16. I’ve never had much of a problem with team orders.

    If your team mate is fighting for the championship and you’re out of the fight then it is perfectly acceptable for you to let him past you and to do your best to hold up his championship rivals, as long as you don’t purposely run them off the track.

    One of the limitations of team orders should be the point in the season that they occur.
    The galling thing about Schumi & Rubens in Austria was that it was so early on in the season, the championship had loads of races left for Schumi to win.
    In circumstances like that I, as a Ferrari fan, wanted to see Rubens get a win, he deserved it both for his driving on the day and for the service he gave to the team.

    Once it’s down to the last few races though, almost anything goes and it’s your responsibility as a team mate to help your team win the championships.

  17. Like any other great sport, F1 has a long history of controversy and claims of injustice towards particular teams or drivers. That is because there are written rules (that can be changed if deemed inappropriate for whatever reason) and a sea of competitors trying to get away with as much as they can.

    Controversy is not an essential ingredient for a sport, but a crucial byproduct. There is no sport without rules, and there are no rules without controversy. That is the same with any sport, whether its referees have access to video footage before making a decision (F1, Cricket, now even Tennis) or not (Football, Basketball, etc).

    The point is that, from the audience’s perspective, complaining about whatever decisions get made by the refs is pointless. Individual competitors/teams that feel prejudiced by any decision can, and should, appeal. But this is why I write this post:

    Great competitors in any sport are those that can find the line that separates punishment from reward. This means taking well assessed risks consistently, being conservative when appropriate and even going all out when absolutely necessary.

    And that is why, plain and simple, Felipe has been the best driver this season so far.

  18. ZappBrannigan
    5th October 2008, 10:34

    Chalky said:

    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

    Well actually this something Alonso complained about last year at McLaren. He insisted the team wouldn’t cooperte with him because they internally favored Hamilton. To make sure he, Hamilton, has an advantage they would give him “Alonso” tires with wrong pressure. However, as mentioned before it is hard to envisage why a team would dare to do something like this. It obviously cuts down the chances to get best positions for both cars and the best result for the team. Even if the drivers championship is a neat thing every team would like to win it’s the Constructors Championship which is the most important championship for the team.

  19. Alianora La Canta
    5th October 2008, 12:22

    Teams can’t cut engines or stick up false warning lights from the pits because that would require two-way electronic communication between driver and pit, and since 2003 only radio contact is allowed to be like that. However, there’s nothing to prevent a false pit-stop from being called, or a radio message to the effect that the telemetry had picked up a problem and could the driver please slow down a bit/not go over X rpm/stop and thump the engine cover three times to sort it out?

  20. Mmmmmmm, if you don’t want team orders don’t race as a team. There are two cars and two drivers, either they support each other (which is usual) or they don’t (which is not so usual). So, if the whole team is supporting the stronger driver (or the preferred driver), that must include the other driver surely? Thats so obvious even Bernie couldn’t argue against it.
    When the drivers are at each others throats on and off the track, then, yes, lets see them racing each other properly. But if you think about it the rest of the team still has orders to allow them to do it!
    As for the holding up the opposition, thats been going on for so long it doesn’t count as any more than ‘racemanship’.
    If F1 wasn’t a team sport, we would have separate Pit Boxes for the cars so that they could be run independantly (as they are in NASCAR). And that would allow for different sponsors/colours on each car and no team orders whatsoever. I’m surprised Bernie hasn’t seen that one yet!

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