The drivers who defied team orders

F1 history

Carlos Reutemann, Alan Jones, Jacarepagua, 1989In three weeks’ time Ferrari face a meeting of the World Motor Sport Council to examine whether they broke the rules by imposing team orders during the German Grand Prix.

The rule banning team orders was introduced in 2002. We’d seen team orders used many times before then – but not always successfully.

Here are three drivers who refused to let their team mates pass – or overtook them when they weren’t supposed to. Food for thought for Felipe Massa?

Carlos Reutemann

1981 Brazilian Grand Prix

Round: 2 of 15
Points before race: Jones – 9 (first), Reutemann – 6 (second)

The scenario at the 1981 Brazilian Grand Prix was simple. The two Williams cars led from the first lap, Carlos Reutemann ahead of Alan Jones.

According to Reutemann’s contract, should the pair find themselves in the lead of the race, Reutemann was supposed to let Jones win. The pair had swapped positions the previous year, in which Jones had won the world championship.

These being the days before pit-to-car radio, Reutemann was shown a pit board reading “Jones-Reut” – the 1981 equivalent of a cryptic radio message telling him his team mate was faster.

Neil Oatley was manning the pit board and was told several times by Frank Williams to display the order instructing his drivers to change places.

But Reutemann, approaching his 39th birthday and with his home Grand Prix coming up, decided he had other plans. He’d lost a win to Jones at Long Beach a few weeks earlier and wanted to keep this one for himself.

Peter Windsor, who was working for Williams at the time, shed more light on the situation last year in Maurice Hamilton’s book “Williams”:

In 1979 Carlos had a long talk with Gilles Villeneuve before Monza. He told Gilles [to] never play around with the world championship. ‘If you have a chance to win, take it. You’re not going to have many opportunities. Why would you want to give this race to Jody? Don’t even think about it.’

But that’s what Gilles did. And then he was killed in 1982. It upset Carlos a lot that Gilles gave the 1979 championship to Jody and then lost his life.

At that point, in 1981, Gilles was still in the shit and I think Carlos thought, ‘Well, I’m never going to let that happen to me. If I have a chance of winning the world championship, I’m going to take it.’ He knew 1981 was his big chance.
Peter Windsor

Reutemann narrowly lost the world championship to Nelson Piquet in the final round of the world championship. The events of the Brazilian Grand Prix turned him and Jones into bitter rivals.

Didier Pironi

1982 San Marino Grand Prix

Round: 4 of 16
Points before race: Pironi 1 (12th), Villeneuve 0

Surely the most notorious example of team orders gone wrong, because of its tragic consequences.

Ferrari team mates Villeneuve and Didier Pironi held first and second positions in the closing stages of the San Marino Grand Prix.

But on the fast Imola circuit with several long, flat-out sections, fuel consumption was a serious concern for the turbo-powered Ferraris. Both cars had been topped-up on the grid and, once their main rivals had retired, the Ferrari drivers were signalled to “slow”.

Believing that to be a signal to hold position, Villeneuve duly backed off – only for Pironi to storm past him. Villeneuve responded, matched Pironi’s lap times, and took the lead back.

Again he slowed, reducing the pace by around three seconds per laps – and again Pironi blasted by. The exasperated Villeneuve took the place back on the penultimate lap – only for Pironi to pass him for good on the final lap.

Villeneuve was seething – and his mood was not improved when the team initially refused to back up his story. It wasn’t until two days later that Ferrari issued a press release confirming Villeneuve’s version of events.

It was too late to prevent the mood between the drivers turning toxic. Villeneuve vowed never to speak to Pironi again.

During qualifying for the next race at Zolder Villeneuve, trying to better Pironi’s time, hit a slower car and crashed to his death.

Rene Arnoux

1982 French Grand Prix

Round: 11 of 16
Points before race: Prost 19 (fifth), Arnoux 4 (16th)

Ferrari’s disastrous experience with team orders did not stop rivals Renault from trying to impose them too. But, in a repeat of what happened with Reutemann the year before, Rene Arnoux was having none of it.

Arnoux had been with the Renault since 1979 but found his place in the team threatened by Alain Prost who joined them in 1981.

By late 1982 he’d been without race win for over two years and when presented with the opportunity to end his losing streak in his home race, he decided to take it.

Leading by over 20 seconds, Arnoux repeatedly ignored instructions from his team to pull over. Afterwards accusations flew in all directions: senior figures in the team claimed Arnoux had volunteered to give up victory to Prost, which Arnoux denied, while Prost believed they had equal status.

There was little surprise when Arnoux left the team at the end of the year.

In an amusing coda to the story, Prost pulled in at a petrol station later that evening, where the attendant mistook him for Arnoux and congratulated him on beating “that little prick” Prost.

Over to you

There are very likely more stories of ignored team orders that never came to light.

And by no means all team instructions come during a race – Lewis Hamilton famously ignored a request to let Fernando Alonso by during qualifying at Hungary in 2007, which had all kinds of ramifications.

What do you think of drivers who disregard team instructions like these? Whether you think they are entirely correct in protecting their own interests or selfishly putting themselves before their team is probably rooted in your philosophy of F1 racing. Share your point of view in the comments.

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171 comments on The drivers who defied team orders

  1. DaveW said on 18th August 2010, 19:32

    The Ferrari-Monza and McLaren-Turkey examples are amazingly parallel. These are examples of where the lead driver had to assert himself when the orders were flouted by the #2. Rewind to Hungary 2007 and you see the similar example of Hamilton essentially wresting the #1 spot or at least gaining equal status by flouting the team order, though it was an order designed to keep equals equal, or whatever. In that case it worked, as Alonso’s retaliation backfired–and begun Alonso’s demise at the team altogether, with his blackmail threats, his hoarding the Ferrari data, etc.

    The point being, if you want to graduate to the lead or at least a fighting equal, sooner or later you must throw down the gauntlet—or slap your rival in the face with it. You don’t do it by being frequently quicker or talking big. Ask Barrichello.

    Massa had his chance at Hockenheim. He will regret letting it slip by forever.

    Many hate Hamilton for, among other things, being so devious in 2007 but his ploy at the Hungaroring secured his position with the team and secured his shot at the 2007 title. And by effectively pushing out Alonso, it secured his title, the next year.

    Alonso’s reward for losing his cool at VMM was 3 years in the wilderness, subsisting on Hamilton-flavor Haterarde, and he is only now, just now, returning—and the irony is that he needs a situation he couldn’t get at McLaren to do it, if he will do it.

  2. Ads21 (@ads21) said on 18th August 2010, 19:36

    What I find interesting is that at the time the team mates who stood to benifit from the team orders at the time were often dismissed as saw losers like Prost who was seen as a spoilt child for demanding his team mate move over, a description that would seem very familiar if you take a look at most of the comments about Alonso the other week.

    Yet in reality it was Arnoux who had broken his word, as before the race when in the pre-race team meeting Rene was asked if they ended up in a 1-2 situation would he let Prost through for the championship he replied “yes” Prost had preserved his car and presumed that Arnoux was going to let him through. When he realised this wasn’t going to happen it was too late for Prost to chase him down.

    It was also the case with Ferrari this year that there was an agreement in place that if one driver was behind but clearly faster the lead driver would let the faster driver through. This agreement like Arnoux’s in France ’82 shows that the spoilt child label though convenient doesn’t fit either Alonso or Prost.

    When you look at both the way Arnoux and Pironi disobeyed the team orders they are ultimately judged poorly by history when its clear that they broke a pre-race agreement with the team.

  3. Patrickl said on 18th August 2010, 21:21

    My favorite response to a “team order” would be Rubens’ “Don’t make me laugh” when the team informed him that Button was 2 seconds quicker.

  4. Personally, I don’t like team orders but whether to obey them is a different matter. If there is an agreement pre-race then I don’t see why they shouldn’t be followed through. You make an agreement you stick by it.

    If there is no agreement in place then the drivers should just do what they want and race. That’s what is meant to happen. If a teammate is the only one with a realistic chance at the title or a mathmatical chance, I’d hope (I know it would be awful, these are winning machines) that they’d help the team. If it was just an act of favouritism when the title was quite open, or it was just for one victory or stolen like in one of the examples above then the driver should absolutely not sell himself short, the team wouldn’t be loyal in that case and therefore the driver has to look after himself.

    It’s a complicated issue really. Whether the driver follows through and risks being seen as a number 2 or just a team player. Trusting the team, the guy in the garage next door and not selling themselves short.

  5. theRoswellite said on 18th August 2010, 22:16

    I think Steph has the right idea.

    There are really at least two main issues here: first…team orders…right or wrong; and the drivers AGREEMENT within the team…do they keep their word?

    I think Red Bull has the best idea..follow the regulations as a team. If it comes down to the last race and one driver needs to help the other for a championship…nothing needs to be decided BY THE TEAM, the drivers should obviously work this out, or simply realize what needs to take place.

    Team orders have been more destructive of “teamwork” than they have been beneficial.

    • Andy W said on 18th August 2010, 23:24

      I actually think most of the teams on the grid have a good handle on the situation, and have shown in the past that they understand how to work orders.

      The problem comes when they feel the need to force the issue, this season Massa was (and still is 2 race results later) a title contender and when you do the maths he was still in strong contention for the title even if sitting 6th in the championship because it was (and still is) that close. That said I think everyone who follows the sport realises that Alonso is the better racer and the stronger contender (love him or hate him), even if Massa did a better job on the day – he seized the lead and was holding it strongly until ordered to give it up. This was then further complicated by the fact that the race was 1 year to the day of Massa’s horrific accident in Hungry.

      Ferrari did what they believed was right for the team, I just hope that the WMSC shows the same amount of balls as Ferrari did and strips them of at least the points for Germany (both drivers and the constructors) for fixing the race in the obvious manner they did.

      • chemakal said on 23rd August 2010, 12:48

        So according to you the new FIA rule for team orders should be: team orders are legal, even if interferring results, and illegal if it’s made obvious…
        We would have avoid all this if Vettel “the kid” wouldn’t have blocked Alonso in the start lane (shoudn’t this have been punished?). Alonso would have reached 1st curve in 1st pos. and finished 20 secons ahead of Massa

  6. tharris19 said on 18th August 2010, 23:02

    Since most knowledgeable viewers are aware that team orders exist and know what circumstances they will be used, why call it racing? Why watch?
    To be honest, when Massa gave up P1 to Alonso I went and took a nap. I was hoping he would fight for the win but he didn’t, he quit, orders or not, he gave up a win without a fight. To me, that’s just plain weak and does not deserve any pity.

    • Daniel said on 19th August 2010, 4:23

      Well, because the sport is motor racing not driver racing.

      The fundamental problem I have is that if team orders are ok, then the rule book should reflect that. If the rule book says they are banned, then sorry, you can’t do it.

  7. kowalsky said on 19th August 2010, 0:37

    it’s funny how people focus on 2007 like it was the only year of any interest in the history of the sport. Team orders always existed, and there were some pilots that just didn’t obey them. If massa was not one of them, then he will keep his drive,but lose my respect.
    He is entitled to act as he wishes, but be a man, and don’t cry like a baby.

    • Andy W said on 19th August 2010, 9:56

      Its also funny how the Ferrari defenders tend to forget that Kimi was helped to win his 2006 title by Massa….

  8. MtlRacer said on 19th August 2010, 1:02

    The team orders I like the least is this summer break we have to put up with… the sheer volume of comments shows we’re all starved for F1.
    Spa better be sweet!

  9. I seem to remember a few cases of team orders during Williams’s ridiculously dominant years in 1992 and 1993. Patrese and Hill were both asked to let Mansell and Prost past on at least one occasion.

  10. QIMUZUOLUO said on 19th August 2010, 2:17

    “Reutemann was was supposed to let Jones win.”

  11. Daniel said on 19th August 2010, 4:20

    Team orders go back as far as motor racing does. Can we not find something earlier than 1981? Some one must know some history, come on guys.

    • plushpile said on 19th August 2010, 8:46

      Luigi Musso refused to hand his car over to Fangio at the 1956 Italian Grand Prix…

    • plushpile said on 19th August 2010, 8:47

      Luigi Musso refused to hand his car over to Fangio at the 1956 Italian Grand Prix…
      Early enough?
      There would surely be examples in the pre-war racing as well…

  12. Gleeson@Geelong said on 19th August 2010, 6:24

    I think the FIA is more concerned with things that may happen outside of the sport. Like betting on the race winner.

    There is a large amount of people who bet on F1 and with that they would like to have what to know that the sport is fair, with the correct (there is a better word for it) driver winning.

    I would suggest that it will become more like horse racing where you are not allowed to tamper with the result in any artificial way.

    Imagine having a 1000 on Massa to win, for 11:1 for a win, only to know that he would have won but the team told him to let Alonso pass. So you lose your 1000 and you don’t collect 11,000.

    The 11:1 is currently for Mass to win the Belgian Grand Prix.

    Here in Australia one of the sponsors for the coming Australian cricket summer is sportsbet.

    Could it be a sponsor for a F1 team?

    • BasCB said on 19th August 2010, 7:54

      I imagine, the fact that Massa is not going to win, if Alonso is not out or at least some positions behind makes the wager higer anyhow. So that’s a fair deal, it’s a bet after all, i.e. risking money on sports results.

  13. Daniel said on 19th August 2010, 8:39

    Of course team orders wouldn’t be an issue if the constructors championship was valued more highly.

    Given that it is in the regs, what’s a fair punishment for swapping drivers by team orders when it wouldn’t have helped the team’s points tally? Swap the results of the drivers, and dock the constructor points. That’ll stop them doing it again (at least in any obvious way).

  14. SPA 09 said on 19th August 2010, 8:51

    Why i took this up in this thread is that now when Q´s are light and there is no refueling, teams has to give these kind of (2002, 2010 Germany) orders if they want to influence the race. In Kimis Ferrari era there was many different ways to put one driver down.

    My view what happened at Ferrari during Kimis time:

    08 Kimi lead the championship up until 4th or 5th race and then Alonsos deal was probably sealed.(santander, economy crisis etc. reasons) After that team did everything they could to keep Kimi from winning. 1)Changed F60 balance more towards Massas style,2) phucked up his Qs with fuel loads, and 3)made poor pit tactics the rest of the season. He still did 10 race fastest when he was equal fuel loaded mostly after 2:nd pit stop.

    The problem for Ferrari was 09 season, when Massa was injured. The whole plot reveiled when they had to back up Kimi, the second part of 09 when Ferrari 4)had stopped the development. Still Kimi stormed his way with the doggy F60 (SPA 09 etc.), while others had 100% development rate the whole second part of 09. (Clearly something had stopped his true performance during second part of 08 and first part of 09)

    My point is that Santanders money killed Kimis career, already at 08. These kind of deals are poison for the sport. And i think this is the first case in this scale of money influence. F1 lost one great talent and i cant see why it wouldnt repeat in coming years. What if Bill Gates wants Nakajima in Macca and they buy Hammi out?!?!
    About the cars balance/change, Schumi has admitted it happened. Everyone with eyes saw about the pit stop strategies at 08, and clearly Kimi struggled in Qs with heavier car than rest of the top drivers.
    Santander and Ferrari have admitted Kimi was bought out. They announced it so late 09 that all the seats had pretty much been taken. (and with Kimis rep pretty much destroyed)

    … so the point is, we might see more of these kind of team orders now when there is less possibilities for teams to play with.

  15. SPA 09 said on 19th August 2010, 9:06

    … 08 it was ofcourse F2008 not F60, sorry.

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