Why the team orders rule must stay


Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Hockenheimring, 2010

“Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited”, says article 39.1 of the Sporting Regulations.

It’s had little use since it was introduced eight years ago, but on Sunday Ferrari were found to have broken it, given a $100,000 fine and ordered to appear before the World Motor Sports Council.

This has led to criticism of the rule but those who call for it to be scrapped have failed to understand why Sunday’s events were controversial and why a repeat must be prevented.

Massa’s position in the championship

Ferrari justified their decision to let Fernando Alonso past Felipe Massa in terms of what was going on the race – claiming the drivers were under pressure from Sebastian Vettel. But it’s inconceivable the decision would have been taken had the championship situation been reversed.

Here’s how the top half of the drivers’ standings looked before the race:

Position Driver Points
1 Lewis Hamilton 145
2 Jenson Button 133
3 Mark Webber 128
4 Sebastian Vettel 121
5 Fernando Alonso 98
6 Nico Rosberg 90
7 Robert Kubica 83
8 Felipe Massa 67

With a total of 225 points to be won Massa was still in contention for the championship.

The new championship points system makes it harder to compare this situation with what’s happened in years’ past. Because the points on offer has increased it makes Massa’s position appear worse than it is.

The current championship system is very much like last years, but with the points on offer for each position multiplied by 2.5. With that in mind, here’s how the situation would have looked under the 2009 points scheme:

Position Driver Points
1 Lewis Hamilton 65
2 Jenson Button 58
3 Sebastian Vettel 55
4 Mark Webber 53
5 Fernando Alonso 49
6 Nico Rosberg 36
7 Robert Kubica 35
8 Felipe Massa 34

That makes it a little easier to understand that Massa was actually not that far behind his team mate at all. Had Ferrari not taken his win off him, the pair would now be fifth and sixth in the drivers’ championship with a win apiece.

We could argue what point a driver is not “realistically” likely to win a championship until the cows come home. The fact of the matter is, no-one can ever say for sure until the championship is over.

Yes, Massa has been largely behind his team mate so far this year. But sometimes the balance of power shifts within a team – like it did at Brawn last year.

Just three years ago, Kimi R??ikk??nen overcame a deficit equal to 1.7 wins in two races to win the championship. In 1976, James Hunt clawed back a deficit of 3.88 wins over seven races to become champion (helped by rival Niki Lauda missing three races due to injury).

Massa was 3.1 wins behind with nine races left on Saturday evening. A long way behind, yes, but other drivers came from further behind to win the championship.

Why the championship situation matters

Ferrari also used team orders in two of the last three seasons – putting R??ikk??nen ahead of Massa in the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix, and vice-versa at the 2008 Chinese Grand Prix.

On neither occasion did they attract anything like the kind of criticism they received last weekend.

Why? Because in both cases the driver who was giving up the place was no longer in a position to be able to win the world championship.

This is a crucial distinction. Part of the reason so many criticised Ferrari (77% in a poll of over 2,500 on this site) is because they expect drivers to be allowed to challenge for the championship as long as they are mathematically in the running.

That is an entirely reasonable expectation – people want the driver who wins the championship to have deserved it, and not just because his team mate was sacrificed.

F1 must understand this if it is to prevent repeats of the kind of criticism it attracted on Sunday.

How team radio played a role

Since article 39.1 was introduced in 2008 there have been other occasions where it seems very likely that team orders were used on drivers when both were in contention for the championship.

Lewis Hamilton charged past Heikki Kovalainen with little difficulty at the same circuit in 2008. Also that year Nick Heidfeld put up little resistance to Robert Kubica’s pass – which effectively put him in the lead of the race – in Canada.

It’s worth remembering that on both occasions the two pairs of drivers were on different strategies. Nor had the lead driver spent the entire race in front of the driver behind him.

But the most significant reason why these examples failed to attract criticism the same way Ferrari’s did was that on Sunday we were able to hear Ferrari’s thinly-veiled instructions to Massa as they were issued. This was not the case in 2008.

Now fans are able to hear the radio of all the teams future team orders will attract the same kind of criticism – if the FIA does not step in to prevent it.

A clear team order

When it came, Ferrari’s coded message to Massa was unmistakeably a team order.

To begin with, it was a dead giveaway that the team felt the need to tell Massa “Alonso is faster than you”. It clearly was not an attempt to help Massa go faster, the only possible positive interpretation of that comment, because it offered no indication of how he might find the lost time to Alonso.

Here’s an example of what a genuine message explaining the pace of other drivers looks like. During the same race Hamilton asked his team what the cars behind him (the first of which was his team mate) were doing. The reply came back:

Cars behind are matching our pace. Jenson slightly quicker in first sector, we’re slightly quicker in last sector.

Massa’s unhelpful instruction came with the pointed question “do you understand” added on the end, making it clear there was a subtext to the message.

Then, to cap it all, Massa’s race engineer Rob Smedley apologised to him. Some claimed this act gave the game away. But it had become obvious long before then what was really going on.

Why the team orders rules must stay

In reaction to the controversy some prominent figures including Bernie Ecclestone and Martin Brundle have called for the team orders ban to be scrapped.

This would be a grave mistake which would lead to worse controversies that would further damage the image of Formula One.

It would open the way for even more contentious acts of race-fixing, similar to those we saw at Suzuka and Jerez in 1997. Surely we don’t want a Formula One where half the drivers on the track are only there to hold up the other drivers for the benefit of their team mate?

Yes, team orders have always been a part of F1. And no, I don’t believe they can or should be eradicated completely.

But as increasing transparency in F1 put the teams’ every move under scrutiny those that try to manipulate the championship will only bring Formula One into disrepute.

It’s clear from the vehement reaction to Austria 2002 and Germany 2010, and the muted response to Brazil 2007 and China 2008, that fans have far less objection to team orders being used when one driver is out of the running for the championship.

But they expect teams to allow their drivers to compete for the championship as long as both are in contention. It’s clear F1 needs a rule to enforce that and I see no reason why the existing article 39.1 can’t be updated to do so.

That is the best way to prevent future rows over team orders and safeguard the integrity of the world championship.


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343 comments on Why the team orders rule must stay

  1. MacademiaNut said on 27th July 2010, 14:14

    Count me in the camp against the ban. Team orders to swap their position are fine with me (especially when they are running next to each other). Even now, one racer can hold other racers to benefit his teammate from closing the gap (if he is behind) or extending the gap (if he is ahead).. all done in a not-so-explicit way.

    But, with situation as in Germany 2010, the teams should be allowed to do this – they could have done it in a non-to-explicit manner, but hey.. that’s like making things sweeter for a kid when the reality isn’t. We are not kids.

    Allow team orders – and as far as other team racers’ points are not compromised – I am all for it.

  2. marco said on 27th July 2010, 14:14

    This rule must be revoked. Every team should be allowed to decide on his own.. This is the reason why we have teams, not single cars

  3. RioF said on 27th July 2010, 14:14

    A good article but the article forget to point out that Formula 1 is a TEAM sport. For example, does Mclaren work for Button or does Button work for Mclaren?

    It has always been the drivers working for the teams. Like in recently concluded Tour de France, Lance Armstrong or Contador could not have won their championships without the help of their team.

    Then, you would say this is MOTORSPORTS… sure it is… Look at the World Rally Championship, teams always issue orders to drivers to purposely slow down to allow another driver throught… Think Loeb and Citezon.

    So, are the above examples also wrong? I don’t understand :/

    Of course, if you feel that the team works for the driver, then you have set your mind.

  4. Again Alonso is the subject of a bad situation. Remember Singapore? Remember his emails and the fine to McLaren? Ferrari is not doing well with Alonso, and they are making big mistakes such this one in Germany.

    • Adam Tate said on 27th July 2010, 22:26

      So true, thet probably feel foolish having paid Kimi not to race with all the trouble ‘nando is set to bring them.

  5. Sabatino said on 27th July 2010, 14:16

    In my opinion Ferrari has not mistaken ! Alonso is clearly the first driver of Scuderia ! Team orders are a part of F1 !

  6. Charles Carroll said on 27th July 2010, 14:22

    Selfishness. Some teams clearly cannot see beyond their own self-interests for what is actually good for the sport.

    Had Massa and Alonso fought each other, this race may have gone down as one of the greatest ever. Who knows? It may have been a real dog fight, with Vettel mixed in. Ratings soar with such drama. This is what the PAYING public wants to see…actual races with very competitive and hungry DRIVERS.

    What we don’t want to see are races manipulated by funny-looking old men with too many buttons undone on their shirts and bad hair styles.

  7. Roberto Fratelli said on 27th July 2010, 14:30

    Superb article ! congratulations ! I whish someone at FIA to read it.

  8. Sandman said on 27th July 2010, 14:34

    I posted it before, i’ll call it out again.

    I am fairly sure Domenicali didn’t want the team order to look like it did. I’m also sure he asked for the driver swap to be camouflaged in some way or another.
    But in the end, it was entirely up to Rob Smedley and Felippe Massa how to run it.

    I really think the decision to make it so obvious and blatant came from that pair. And you know what? I’m proud of them. In no way were Ferrari in a position to order such a thing and the media hype is all they really deserve.

    • bernification said on 27th July 2010, 14:57

      Well, of course it was down to Smedley and Massa how it was managed.

      That was why Rob was so blatant and Filippe so disappointed- neither thought it fair or just.
      Alonso was not under pressure (when the cheating occurred) from Vettel and not fast enough to pass whilst Felippe’s tyres were not up to temperature (laps earlier).
      Also, it is too early in the season to do something like this ( I will admit it happens)

      But more than anything- Massa finally came back to form on the anniversary of an incident that very nearly claimed his life.

      This last point should not be dismissed. It truly shows Ferrari in a non-compassionate light (especially following the outpourings of emotion from the team after the crash).

      Was that all false, or is it business first for the red ones really?

      Good on you Rob- looks like you fought for your driver all the way. You should consider a job acting- don’t know how you kept a straight face when you were interviewed about your radio comments.

      • Adam Tate said on 27th July 2010, 22:29

        Bernification, I agree with everything you just said! Smedley is the best race engineer in the paddock. He and Massa should be proud for exposing Ferrari’s seedy underbelly. I always thought Domenicali a nice guy, maybe not, maybe it was from dryer or even Montezemolo.

    • f1yankee said on 28th July 2010, 0:06

      i was under the impression the order was executed so poorly, it HAD to be intentional.

  9. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 27th July 2010, 14:35

    What i can’t understand about this is why Ferrari changed the way they challenge for the title?

    After the obvious No. 1 Schumacher era, Massa won at Turkey leading Kimi, who had more points at that point, and both had pretty unrealistic chances. In 2008, Kimi could’ve won at Magny Cours, even if he had less points than Massa at that point.

    That said, Ferrari implemented another way of racing; both their drivers had the same chances until one of them was clearly out of the race.

    Wonder WHY this wasn’t the case last sunday. We also have to remember the emotional part of this. Massa’s accident that nearly took his life was exactly 1 year ago last Sunday. I’m sure Ferrari team members (appert from the directives, it seems) would’ve been so happy to see him win, after all what happened. I’d have been an amaizing comeback, something like Lauda’s first win after his horrible accident in Nurburgring ’76.

    • Adam Tate said on 27th July 2010, 22:32

      Exactly it would have been truly beautiful! And on top off that it would have earned the sport much needed praise in the press. It just goes to show the bosses at Ferrari care more about Ferrari than they do Formula One. I hope Massa takes points off Alonso all season, wins again and beats him in the driver’s championship and that McLaren and RedBull continue to run away from Ferrari and take the Constructors Championship with them.

  10. xabregas said on 27th July 2010, 14:35

    First i would like to thank Keith for his great job, that isn´t a day that i don´t come here to at least check what´s happening.
    But, in this case i don´t agree with him, and the reasons are quite simple, in my home i´m the one who give the orders not the neighbor. When i´m working i follow orders so the company can grow with my help.
    It was pointed of several situations of team orders that had been given in some grands prixs in the past and weren´t critisized and not fined, why not, does the rule only apply in this case. This inconcistency it´s out sock me the most. If Massa, for example, had simulated a run off to let Alonso pass, we all would think the same but now no fine would be applyied and we would be talking the same thing here.
    Sorry guys, this way doesn´t work for me.
    I´m giving Ferrari example but we saw other teams do the same. As long as this rule exists, it´ll be passed over, so better ruled it out, and lets not forget THIS IS A TEAMS SPORTS, the drivers are only emploees.

    • Charles Carroll said on 27th July 2010, 14:55

      If F1 is more about teams than drivers, then count me out.

      I find it very difficult to get behind “teams” whose names and sponsors change every fifteen minutes, and who are owned and operated by extremely sketchy individuals who wouldn’t know sport if it smacked them on their diamond-encrusted briefs.

      Face it, you don’t really believe this “team” garbage yourself. When you look on the history of the sport, what gets you more excited? The racers themselves and their personal stories of triumph or defeat? Or is it the “riveting” tale about how Ferrari and Malboro signed a contract for sponsorship. Or how about the “fascinating” story about Luca’s latest yacht purchase.

      Please. Its the drivers we watch and care about. The fact that they switch teams more often than they change shirts only underscores the fact that there is no “team loyalty”, just drivers and the those who pay them.

      We want the drivers to compete fairly against each other, regardless of the teams which nobody really cares about anyway.

      I’m sure that someone has a nice BMW Sauber poster at home, with BMW crossed out because of the sponsor change. How can you be loyal to a team when you cannot be sure what they will be called one year to the next?

      • xabregas said on 27th July 2010, 16:57

        I can understand your point, after all it´s the driver that brings excitment to the races.
        I´m a F1 fan since 1978, actually it was a driver that brought atencion, it was Gilles Villeneuve, he was incredible, but after his death there wasn´t any driver nearer is driving style so i started following F1 in another angle, suporting a team that gave the opurtunity to Gilles V. As you may know Ferrari didn´t won basicaly nothing in 20 years till Schumaker come around.
        So, you may not believe but i don´t give a dam whose driving the Ferraris as long as they win, actually i don´t like Alonso or Massa or even Schumaker when he was there.
        So, F1 for me, it´s all about battles between Maclarens, Williams, Ferraris, RBR, Renauts or the others, the sponsors provide the money to pay the drivers that drive them.

        • Charles Carroll said on 27th July 2010, 17:52

          And if Ferrari pulls out? And remember, don’t put that past them.

          What then?

          • xabregas said on 27th July 2010, 18:09

            If Ferrari pulls out, i´ll be devastated like i was when Gilles died, but i´ll keep watching F1 like i do in other series, wtcc, btcc, nascar or indy where i can find good racing.
            At the end of the day i´m a motorsports fan.

      • Roberto Fratelli said on 27th July 2010, 20:07

        you said it all Charles !

      • Adam Tate said on 27th July 2010, 22:33

        Go Charles! So well said and so true. Without the drivers there would be no F1 to begin with.

      • chemakal said on 28th July 2010, 0:27

        Correct, and you are speaking mainly about British and German teams. I’m I wrong or Ferrari has never changed the team’s name and “has had” a long lasting sponsor relationship with Marlboro? I’m sure you remember a few weeks ago about the Marlboro code bars on the cars. Therefore, the best team fans in the word are the Tifosi, only comparable to the Ducati fans in bikes. A cultural thing I guess (I’m Spanish, we do feel close to the Italians, and Ducati rider) that says a lot. No doubt Ferrari spends loads but Ferrari is a luxury brand, unthinkable is a minor F1team, surrounded by a unique atmosphere that has always made jealous the F1 Establishment in the islands. 2010: Ferrari + the most hated man by British “press” Alonso (Zero credibility to British press, still cant believe the 3 pictures from Casillas and reporter-girlfriend in the 1st page of THE TIMES!!!). This video says all. Watch it imaging it’s a red car with Alonso under the Helmet: http://vimeo.com/13002137

    • DaveW said on 27th July 2010, 16:27

      It’s no good to go on about this or that precedent or hypocrisy or what other “orders” have fit within the four corners of the text. We are not parsing the civil code here.

      It’s very easy to see where the line is. The FIA is focused very narrowly on specific cases: Orders that blatantly alter the outcome through direct orders that diminish the spectable of the race thus bring disrepute to the sport. And the outcome they are concerned about is who wins the race. This is why they don’t care about Hockenheim 08—Kovalainen was not going to win except maybe later at checkers. And why they don’t care about Canada and BMW—there was no blatant ploy here. It’s also why “hold station” is ultimately ignored provided that there has been some period before when the driver behind could have a go, e.g. Monaco 07, Turkey 10. Also, note that in these cases, the benefit to the team as a whole, weighed against the order had a clear result in the team’s favor. In Austria and in Hockenheim, there was no team benefit to the decision. The FIA lets stuff slide when the team value is substantial. And, sorry, we can’t credit the suggestion that letting teammates race means they crash. Ferrari is then admitting that their drivers are not as competent as McLaren’s.

      Ferrari’s mistake and why they will be punished sharply, is that they have broken a trust among the teams that they will all use team-tactics when they need to provided they don’t do it in a way to embarass the sport to spectators or to diminish the spectacle of the race. Ferrari have said to the FIA and the teams, “we do as we please in the way that we please because we are more important than the sport,” and this cannot stand.

      I don’t think there is a way to re-write the rule to separate the damaging, egregious cases from the ones that are a natural part of the sport. It’s a complex balance that will not benefit from putting down on paper but one that is crucial to the sport.

      There is only one WDC and still a WCC, so there is no way getting around retaining the team orders rule. But the teams need to behave, and this norm absolutely must be enforced.

  11. bernification said on 27th July 2010, 14:37

    It’s quite strange how Formula 1 conducts itself relative to other sporting events.
    There have been massive investigations into horse doping, football fixing and snooker players throwing matches, often involving the fraud squad.

    This is what it is- fraud.

    Formula 1 should be brought to book, should it wish to remain credible.

    How convenient that John the toad doesn’t take away Ferrari’s result (the only real way to stop this occuring) and instead insults our intelligence that the fine he gives Ferrari will in anyway deter them.


  12. Matt Hubbert said on 27th July 2010, 14:48

    My real problem with this whole mess is Ferrari’s attitude to the situation pretending that it did not issue team orders and that it was Massa’s idea to let him pass.(How many true F1 drivers would let another driver past if he was a bit quicker.They must really think very little of the fans if they think that we believe the pack of lies that they keep on feeding us over the years. I am fuuly aware that team orders exist and have always have done and always will do but to come out and say that this is not the case is pathetic and insulting and for that they deserve the flak that they will get. The way that they carried it out was a disgrace and Massa made it so obvious that he did not want to do this and then the way the drivers behaved after the race said it all treating us all like idiots. I can understand to a degree why they did it but at least make it look right. I believe that drivers should be allowed to race and the best man win after all isnt that what the sports about?. And for Alonso to say that he had been fast all weekend and deserved to win is just another case of him moaning how does been fastest in practice have anything to do with the race. Its the race that counts and the fact is Massa made the better start and deserved to be in the lead and it is upto Alonso to take this off him not have it manufactured badly by the team. Team orders must stay but the wording does need looking at but even then it will be hard to enforce. Its my view that Ferrari should have the constructors points for this race removed. Team orders will always be there but please traet the fans with a bit of respect in the sport that we love or should i say business.

    • Charles Carroll said on 27th July 2010, 14:59

      The fact is that Bernie and Ferrari are not very business saavy in reality. In their worlds, they truly think they are making good decisions here. Ferrari would only really be satisfied if the F1 stood for “Ferrari 1″, and all of the cars would be red Ferraris and the championship trophy would be a bust of Luca. Bernie would get behind it if he would be allowed to drive.

      This is why other racing leagues have grown and taken away viewers from F1. People want to see racing, with drivers competing fairly against one another. People do not tune it to see politics and old men yapping about their latest romps and ex-wives.

  13. Charles Carroll said on 27th July 2010, 15:02

    Do we want this:


    and this:


    to be the face of Formula 1?

    Or do we want it to be the Sennas, the Mansells, the Stewarts, the Clarks, and the DRIVERS to be the faces of F1?

    Ferrari and Bernie want it to be about them. This is why fewer and fewer people watch.

    • DaveW said on 27th July 2010, 16:49

      By the way, F1 viewership grew for five straight years until 2009, with the decline blamed on TV times in Asia, according to the sports official propaganda. In any event, it’s innacurate to say the sport is in decline in viewers minds, and certainly not due to the “lack” of “passing” or the politics or whatever, as that situation was not appreciably different from 2004-2009. It always bugs me when people say F1 is losing viewers to IndyCar, or harness racing, because of this or that shortcoming, which needs to be fixed ASAP. It’s not true. This year, we have close competition among three teams, great drivers, great driving, we have had successive WDC’s go down to the wire. The only thing lacking are the frequent NASCAR?IndyCar/GP2 style constant barrages of wrecks and other events caused by bad driving and I’ll pass on that, thanks.

  14. Calum said on 27th July 2010, 15:03

    Instead of
    “Okay Felipe, Fernando. Is. Faster. Than you…. Understand”
    I think I would have said something like:
    “fernando is faster, you will gain lots by taking turn 1 flat”
    then he could pretend to overshoots the corner and use te runoff to not lose too much time to vettel and allow Alonso through, my way is still illegal but get awayable

  15. Dan Thorn (@dan-thorn) said on 27th July 2010, 15:06

    Whenever the technical regs are tightened up the teams find the loopholes to gain an advantage and the same goes for the sporting regs. No matter how cleverly and concisely they word the rule about the banning of team orders, the teams will always find a way to circumvent it.

    For me, team orders are a natural part of the sport – the fact that teams go out of their way with lethargic pit stops, coded messages etc shows that. What a team does between its own two drivers is their business and it’s not the FIA’s place to get involved (Hungary 2007 is one example, and while Alonso was right to be penalised there, no way should the FIA have stopped McLaren taking their constructor points or accepting the trophies.)

    If the fans don’t like what a team does in terms of team orders, then they have enough of a punishment in terms of negative press, loss of fans and possible upset sponsors and they don’t need the governing body interfering with their business.

    • Matt Hubbert said on 27th July 2010, 15:11

      Is there such a thing as negative press?
      To say that they dont need the governing body interfering is ridiculous if that were the case it would become a farce with teams doing as they please.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th July 2010, 15:13

      Whenever the technical regs are tightened up the teams find the loopholes to gain an advantage and the same goes for the sporting regs. No matter how cleverly and concisely they word the rule about the banning of team orders, the teams will always find a way to circumvent it.

      That’s not really true though, is it? Yes, there are changes to the technical regulations that are designed to slow the cars down but it’s rare that those regulations are actually defied usually it’s just a case of the teams making improvements in areas where they can develop the cars.

      Double diffusers might be considered an exception, but it’s hardly akin to the days of raising and lowering ground effect skirts and ‘water-cooled brakes’ – that sort of thing just doesn’t happen any more.

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