The chase for the championship (thumbnail)

The problems with a two-tier championship

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

The chase for the championship
The chase for the championship

Riccardo Patrese waving the sister Williams of Nigel Mansell by at Magny-Cours in 1992. David Coulthard blending out of the throttle at Melbourne to let Mika Hakkinen win in the other McLaren. A chorus of boos at Austria in 2002 as Rubens Barrichello surrenders victory for Ferrari to team mate Michael Schumacher.

A driver giving up without a fight is an ugly sight that makes a mockery of Formula 1.

We’ve seen it again this year and inevitably it’s sparked a long-running argument. One which never really went away after what happened at Hockenheim, but has increased in volume since Fernando Alonso took over the top of the championship standings in Korea.

But while anti-Ferrari and Alonso vitriol has been in plentiful supply from some quarters, the greater concern is the damage the sport is voluntarily doing to its own image.

Since Hockenheim we’ve been watching a two-tier championship: two teams each backing two drivers versus one team supporting a single driver, and that does not reflect well on Formula 1.

The weak case for team orders

Various arguments are put forward in defence of the so-called “team orders” that have allowed this to happen and none of them are very convincing.

Let’s be clear: we’re not talking about a team having to choose which of its drivers get the only example of a new performance upgrade, we’re talking about a team ordering a driver to give up his chance of winning a race to help his team mate.

The retort that team orders have been around for a long time is no argument for keeping them. It’s hard to think of any comparable examples in mainstream sport where participants allow themselves to be beaten.

Damp-eyed nostalgics recall the days when Peter Collins surrendered his car and his championship hopes to Juan Manuel Fangio, saying “I have plenty of time to win the championship on my own.”

The bit they leave out is that Collins was killed two years later having never won the title.

Another, even more cynical explanation insists that Ferrari were only in the wrong at Hockenheim because what they did was “blatant”. As if it becomes less wrong when it’s made harder to detect.

The idea that you can sweep it all under the carpet and everything will be fine is flawed. Circumstances will inevitably arise where a team will wish to swap the running order of its drivers and there is no subtle means available to them – especially now that refuelling has been banned.

A team sport, a drivers’ sport, or both?

“Team orders have to be allowed because F1 is a team sport”, goes another defence.

The problem with saying “it’s a team sport” is it isn’t true. Nor is it an individual’s sport. Confusingly, it’s both. We have a drivers’ championship and a constructors’ championship.

And this is the root of the problem: while teams have a championship of their own to win it tends to be treated as a “consolation prize” while the real focus of their efforts is making sure one of their drivers wins the drivers’ championship.

One solution could be to scrap the drivers’ championship. But I doubt that would ever happen because more people tune in to see who will win the drivers’ championship than the constructors’.

Ask someone who won the 2009 F1 championship and they’ll answer “Jenson Button“, not “Brawn GP”.

Why a ban is essential

The only realistic solution therefore is to uphold the team orders ban.

The idea that the ban is not enforceable is palpable nonsense. The FIA has access to radio communications, extensive telemetry from the cars and hours of video replays from every race.

In September the World Motor Sport Council had no difficulty in concluding that Ferrari had used team orders and interfered with the race result in Hockenheim.

The only thing that’s missing is a willingness to enforce the rules with meaningful punishments rather than tokenistic fines. Regrettably, the FIA now seems set on scrapping the team orders ban.

This is a great shame. The kind of race manipulation, of which Hockenheim was only the most recent example, is widely and correctly perceived as unsporting.

Who can say a championship is not devalued if it is won by someone who had one fewer competitor than everyone else?

The advantage of not having to compete against the only other person who has the exact same equipment as you cannot be underestimated. This is why the early years of the 2000s were a turn-off for so many.

This brings us back to the distinction between the drivers’ and the constructors’ championship. The teams may spend the money and build the cars, but it’s the drivers who take the risk of driving them.

Felipe Massa knows this all too well – the German Grand Prix was the first anniversary of his horror crash at the Hungaroring.

Why, one might reasonably ask, should a driver like Massa be expected to risk his life to help Alonso win a world championship?


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Thanks to Neil Davies of the Caricature Club for allowing me to use his excellent illustration. See more of Neil’s work on his blog.

198 comments on “The problems with a two-tier championship”

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  1. Great Job Neil by the way…

  2. Why, one might reasonably ask, should a driver like Massa be expected to risk his life to help Alonso win a world championship?

    I don’t get this at all. Helping another driver has got nothing to do with risking his life.

    This is the real world anyway. If fairness must be applied here, make it 1 driver per team.

  3. well, team orders are common in le mans, cyclism, etc where the team manager decides of the tactics.

    personnally, I think the alonso/hockenheim thing is just insignificant.
    actually, i think the problem is that this story is coming back because of what alonso/ferrari have achieved, coming back from so far in the championship and take the lead.
    well hockenheim didn’t do it all. the others should blame themselves. redbull should have won it already and hamilton did many mistakes under pressure.

    at the end of the day all what matter is winning. incident like austria 2002 are only remembered by F1 fans, 95% of the people remember that ferrari was dominating in 2000/2004. those who care about being fair, following the rules to the letter etc, loose.

    it reminds me the football worldcup. england had a goal refused, and everyone focalised on this. “it is not fair, blablabla”. it became the reason why they didn’t do well in the rest of the competition. no, they lost because they were not good.

  4. The comment section of this article is going to send the site into meltdown……….

  5. Let me see if i can put my thoughts into words.

    Kimi raikonnen won the 07 title due to Massa moving over in brazil right? Now keith says its Ok to do it because Massa was not in the championship any more. So it didnt hurt Massa’s chances. But my point is it did hurt Hamilton’s chances. He could have won if Massa didnt move over. So was it the right thing ? Keith says it was logical? But if you dont win on your own and dont beat your teammate on your own,then its not deserving,isnt it? Kimi had the advantage which mclaren drivers didnt. Judging by that 2007 was also a two tier championship comparing Ferrari and Mclaren isnt it ?? But you didnt protest it at that time nor did any other media sources.

    So judging by this my reasoning would be that the whole post-hockenheim articles by you were based on fact that massa’s chances were supposedly robbed by ferrari. But ferrari didnt botch a pit stop or so.They may have asked massa to move over. But at the end of day, it was Massa who said that it was his decision to move over. In other words, he surrendered his championship chances or admitted he couldnt win it. He gave up. So a question of two tier doesnt arise so long as 2007 is justified IMO..

  6. Will you ban the “save fuel” orders when a driver is behind his team mate as well?

    What you are saying is that ferrari team orders should be banned while redbull and mclaren’s team orders should be allowed. Yes, “SAVE FUEL” IS ANOTHER FORM OF TEAM ORDER.

    1. Younger Hamilton
      5th November 2010, 10:05

      The ‘Save fuel’ order means hold position because the Red Bulls were just acting like animals and end up crashing into each other McLaren wanted to avoid that so they did that plus i think though unlikely that they had the Fuel consumption problem before the beginning of the race

      1. And, that’s still an order once you break it down enough.

    2. Yes it is an order by the team, who know exactly how much fuel they have in the car and how much they need to actually finish the race with a car running.

      This was rather about the team nervous with their drivers not only enthusiastically risking taking each other out of the race, but actually using the last kg of fuel to dice it out instead of making sure they finish.

  7. In it’s current form, it’s unenforceable. Fuel saving and other codewords cannot be proven and are used routinely. It can, and probably is even be done before the race starts

    Even McLaren who claimed not to use them, used to openly admit to allowing Hakkinnen and Coulthard to race to the first bend, only, so the other 98% of the race, they were under team orders not to overtake.

    It seems that people find it unnacceptable only when one driver pulls over for the other early in the championship, and although this is the least palatable, it is no different to, for example deliberately backing slowing down a pursuer in order to help your team mate build up a lead, in both casea one driver compromises his race for the other.

    The only way to do it would be to make it illegal under all circumstances and in all forms. And the only way to do that would be to split the teams in two, with different crews and chinese walls, or to have single drivers per team.

    1. Slowing down a pursuer to let a team-mate go has been banned, at least in certain forms, since Belgium 2005.

      It’s a bit like Article 30.8 of the Sporting Regulations: taken literally, it bans anyone going off the track in any way, shape or form, implying a drive-through penalty at minimum every time it happens. Everyone knows that it would be impractical, not to mention silly, to penalise everyone who does it whether they gain time, lose it, are unaffected or turn half their car into carbon fibre fragments in the process*. However, everyone also accepts that it would be a good idea to get everyone in the race to at least try to stay on the track.

      Kerbs, “how many tyres” and extenuating circumstances provide ambiguity, but as a general rule we can work out in both cases when the rule has been broken. Also, the bigger the breach, the easier it is for us to spot. Improvements in seemingly unrelated areas are making it ever more difficult to hide.

      I would argue team orders should be treated as Article 30.8 is (ideally) treated: as a principle where anyone taking advantage from a breach receives an appropriate penalty, proper efforts are made to spot those who take advantage and those breaches where no benefit was attained are left alone.

      * – In case you’re wondering, I can remember at least one instance where following a team order led to this [i]by accident[/i] in Monaco 2002, as well as the deliberate Singapore 2008 one. Hence why the variable results of breaching Article 30.8 did not deter me from using it as an analogy.

    2. But the fact that McLaren used to order Hakkinen and Coulthard around supports only the fact, that TO have been in the sport in the past.
      McLaren not using team orders nor wanting to favour one of their drivers started to be a thing with Kimmi and Montoya, was highlighted in 2007 with Alonso and Hamilton and this have now spurred them on to go to great efforts from the start of this year to show their new WDC signee (JB) that they are serious and will support both drivers equally.

      It does not go against our (the Fans) plea to really cut them out and have higher quality competition.

  8. HAHA! That picture is amazing!

    What the FIA have struggled to do is clearly define that team orders are illegal, in a concise, quantative and easily interpreted rule. At the minute it states ‘team orders which affect the outcome of a race’ is way too vague. It should be ‘messages to and from the driver and the team, coded or uncoded, that deliberately seek to dictate the outcome of a race…’ etc. It’s the code bit which needs to be sorted out.

  9. Q. If you miss out, do you think you will have lost fair and square?
    MW: Yep.
    Q. You’ll have no problem with it?
    MW: Fernando won Hockenheim and was the fastest driver on the day.
    Q. But he wasn’t…
    MW: Absolutely he was. He passed Felipe and pulled away from him, otherwise he probably would’ve crashed into him. If Felipe was 10 seconds down the road, they would never have done that.

    Mark Webber, today.

    1. He’s got a point, but Alonso should have passed Felipe by himself.

    2. I’ve got big respect for Webber, he’s got such an no nonsence veiw of F1 and says it how it is. Its not politically correct to say Alonso deserved to win in Germany but Webber says it anyway.

    3. People have been stuck in second despite being faster than the eventually winner on quite a few previous occasions. That’s F1 aero for you…

      1. And more often than not we have applauded the guy in front for being as good in keeping the obviously faster one behind him and hailed his defensive driving.

  10. Younger Hamilton
    5th November 2010, 9:39

    Yeah anyone notice any Biased stuff,the two McLaren drivers are behind the others,Keith whoever made this should have put the cartoons in the Championship standings as of now.By the Way Haha funny cartoons, nice post

    1. I couldn’t put the drivers in the championship order they are in now because the team-mates needed to be together for the idea to work. No bias involved ;)

      1. Yeah that’s why they’re in the order they are. It also kind of puts them in order of team momentum at the minute and where they are on current form.

    2. It’s a bit difficult to do that when they’re running a three-legged race… ;)

    3. Ok, now you look at the picture in big format, then maybe you will get what it is about.

      Clue: how is the relationship between the drivers?

  11. When are teams going to introduce driver nr. 1 and driver nr. 2 (or 1B) Just every teams this is our driver nr. 1 and that is our teammate. It will make everything much more easier and discussion of teamorders is gone. If there is a moment of a error of driver nr.1 the teamdriver will gladly move over.
    Or if there is a ban on teamorder the teamdriver will make a brake mistake. Same results

  12. “Why, one might reasonably ask, should a driver like Massa be expected to risk his life to help Alonso win a world championship?”

    Why should a driver risk his life just to come last in a Hispania? They do it anyway…


    From a F1, Ferrari and Alonso fan…what can I say?

    I love pure racing and I would prefer Alonso would overtake Massa by his own in Germany. For me that was a team order, team order are banned and I think Ferrari were very lucky with such a little fine.

    But when you have two drivers on a single team and overtake is real hard on this aerodynamics times and the WDC is the main target… I try to put behind the wall on the skin of team principal and… I don’t want a RBR-Turkey incident.

    The FIA has the team radios, video footage, everything to detect team orders…really? The team can give orders before the race to their drivers, they don’t need radio or coded messages, is as simple as ‘I you are in front of your teammate at the ending laps, let him go through’ And the driver only has to say it was his own decision for the benefit of the team. Team orders are imposible to eradicate

    There are many motor sports where team orders are allowed, are their champions unfair?

  14. Team orders exist, always have and always will, legal or not. If there is a complete ban do teams then have to prove in court that a pit lane engineer dropped a wheel nut by accident or a driver deliberately went wide on a corner? What happens in football when a striker passes a ball to a team mate in front of goal instead of shooting himself, ban him as well? Can we let it go please, it’s been going on much longer than most people on this site.

    1. HewisLamilton
      5th November 2010, 15:14

      I’ve noticed that the articles that draw the most posts and thus site traffic are the ones regarding team orders. Not a bad idea for Keith to keep writing articles about such an obvious contraversy that draws so many people.

      (I agree with you by the way)

  15. Just an example of how subjective this is: in 2008 Kovalainen was in the strongest team and had one only objective, to race the other teams and to let Hamilton past. This in Germany led to Hamilton winning the race instead of finishing in fourth (just watch the race if anyone is in doubt of that, Hamilton didn’t have a car capable of overtaking Kov – due to their specific setups, Hamilton’s was fastest but Kov’s was better in the infield where the overtaking could be made or avoided).
    Even so, in this community of F1 lovers one see from the comments that some people don’t take that in account just because they root for Hamilton. It’s an emotional support from all of us and that really makes reason blind, or selectively blind.
    So if the teams are going to have to have a good first and second driver or whatever their tactics will be, let’s leave it to them.
    The important thing is a team or a driver not having an unfair advantage and that doesn’t include a first and second driver because that’s how it works. So all these events and discussions are good so we fans become conscious of the state of affairs and don’t feel betrayed.
    I don’t devalue Jenson’s title last year but I’m sure Ross Brawn had to choose someone to back up and he did, right from the beginning of the championship.
    These nuances will evolve, as everything, as the sport evolves. It’s becoming more internationalized and also everything is becoming more open.

  16. I have no problem with things like the Peter Collins story because he genuinely did it on his own back. The Old Man never gave him an envelop that said “Juan is faster than you”. Like Keith rightly says, it has never been an example of the worth of team orders, even if you wrongly consider it one.

    To me there will always be situations where an actual team order makes sense. But if the FIA want to bring in a total blanket ban of every team order, then the teams know what they’re working with. By not enforcing certain situations, the FIA only have themselves to blame if certain situations are considered okay by the teams and so the arguments of “what about Monaco 2007, Canada/Germany 2008” are irrelevant to the discussion. Personally I don’t believe in “hold station” orders but the FIA do.

    The latter two situations interfered with genuine racing to a greater or lesser degree, but the rule states that it will be judged to be broken only if interferes with the race result. Clearly it didn’t in the latter example and probably not in the former (given the size of the gaps between the two in question at the end of the race and when the switches took place).

    (I bet someone will pop up with another use of the Turkey myth, so I’ll take the space here to say it was proven to be a genuine fuel issue.)

    So I have to say, wonderful article Keith and spot-on in everything )except the Melbourne example, which was a strange situation indeed because of Hakkinen’s mysterious pit order that McLaren never gave, but I agree it was very unbecoming for there to be an actual switch on the race track). Probably your best ever.

  17. “The problem with saying “it’s a team sport” is it isn’t true. Nor is it an individual’s sport. Confusingly, it’s both. We have a drivers’ championship and a constructors’ championship….and this is the root of the problem”

    For myself, I think that’s what makes F1 unique and unlike any other sport. I really don’t think it’s as big a problem as you feel it is. All these inter-team relationships make the sport more interesting.

  18. you can not separate drivers from teams, they are all a single body which we call as a team.

    fangio favoured by the teams he drove because ha was clearly the better driver of the team.
    schumacher favoured with the same reason
    so did alonso
    so did hamilton, i think people didnt forget mclaren team favoured hamilton from the race one when kovalainen was driving for them and they did the right thing, no need to remind hamiton won the title just by one point difference at the end of 2008 season.

    favouring a driver or team orders or what else you named it are all same and if you like it or not, they are just part of this game, an integrated part of F1 history and it can not change easily just because some people are not happy.

    teams which are making big noise about equal treatment this season may easily find themselves favouring one of their drivers next season. (mclaren is a good example of it). team orders or favouring a driver is just related with performance of drivers teams have and shaped according the performances of drivers during a season.

    i really hope alonso wins this year with just one point difference to show this is a team sport and as much as being fast tactics are a part of this game.

  19. Poor British guys… it must be frustrating to see that Hamilton’s star doesn’t shine anymore. TEAM ORDERS ARE TO SUPPORT REAL DRIVERS: GO FERNANDO ALONSO!!!!

  20. Why, one might reasonably ask, should a driver like Massa be expected to risk his life to help Alonso win a world championship?

    Why? ..because Ferrari pays his salary!!
    So, if he prefers , he could leave and drive a Sauber or a Force India.. :)

    1. Agreed. Thanks to Ferrari, Massa will be able to retire at age 30 without a care in the world. Not bad work if you can get it.

      Ferrari’s handling has been fair this season and in prior seasons as well. Massa was given equal opportunity at the seasons start but simply fell to far behind. Next year will be the same.

      Massa has been frustrated at several points in his Ferrari career but has always acted in the team interest and been rewarded with lucrative contract extensions. I can respect that more then someone taking the money and then whinging after the fact ala’Rubens.

      1. Massa is a decent person but he will never be a driver of the caliber of Alonso or Lewis.
        he is fast but he is not an analytical thinker like Alonso or ruthless and pure racer like Lewis.
        He does the work but that is it. So consider himself lucky to get paid so handsomely.
        Oh, by the way that is valid for Ruben as well.
        They are just second tier drivers, no offense intended.

    2. That is not so much about the salary as it is about Ferrari giving him a car capable of winning.

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