The problems with a two-tier championship

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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.

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198 comments on The problems with a two-tier championship

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  1. Paul McCaffrey said on 5th November 2010, 12:43

    Oh please, Keith. GIVE IT A REST

  2. blackbaa said on 5th November 2010, 13:36

    Can we please just leave the racing on the track? The fewer rules the better. The fact is, a “no team orders” rule cannot be consistently enforced. So ditch it.

  3. graham228221 said on 5th November 2010, 13:54

    Keith, this is getting laughable. I think continuing the debate is starting to get slightly pointless and very tiresome now, especially as you turned down my offer of a “pro-team orders” reply piece :(

    The arguments you’ve used in this article in support of team orders are paper thin, and I think you know there are better reasons out there.

    I’m now really hoping that this weekend we see team orders abound among everyone (Jenson still has the slimmest glimmer of hope that he could still win the title, so imagine THE OUTRAGE OF EVEN CONSIDERING HIM SUPPORTING HIS TEAMMATE!!!!!!) and I hope that the FIA drops the team orders ban completely, as I think they will, just so you’ll shut up about it.

    Interestingly, the other main F1 blog I read (Joe Saward’s) is also anti-team orders; I sincerely hope that the FIA don’t blindingly look to these blogs as the voice of “the people”.

  4. William Wilgus said on 5th November 2010, 14:49

    As long as there are two-car teams, this situation will exist. Regardless, as others have stated or implied within these posts, a ‘Driver’s Championship’ is really invalid because of the difference in the capabilities between the cars of each team. Likewise, the ‘Manufacturer’s Championship’ is invalid not only because of the difference in the capabilities of the driver’s, but the fact that only two teams currently manufacture both engine and chassis. Even those teams don’t manufacture the entire car. Therefore, the only valid championship would be a ‘Team Championship’.

  5. A Singh said on 5th November 2010, 15:08

    The last two paragraphs were right on the money, but Teflonso just is incapable of comprehending that in any way.

  6. The Limit said on 5th November 2010, 15:25

    However you look at this argument, I can never see this sport ever finding a solution to it. All the alternatives are at best unworkable unless the FIA hand out points deductions to teams that implement team orders. Then there is the problem of ‘proving’ a team knowingly broke the rules, so on and so on.
    At the 2007 Brazilian Grands Prix Kimi Raikkonen won the championship due to ‘assistance’ from team mate Felipe Massa. Many claim this was ‘legitimate’ due to the fact that Massa could not win the title at that stage and Raikkonen could. Personally that is frankly laughable.
    How can you have rules that are only ‘breakable’ in some people’s eyes at certain points of the season, but not at the one race where the championship itself is won or lost? It has to be even and balanced, but it is not!
    As I said earlier, this is very difficult to prove. Other racing series suffer from the same problem no doubt, having some teams with as many as three or even four drivers in the same team! Then there is the cash incentive. To racing purists it is all about the racing, but with the billions of dollars involved in racing at the highest level, there is far more at stake for those involved.
    The days of the leather crash helmet and bales of straw are long gone!

  7. HewisLamilton said on 5th November 2010, 15:54

    I have a simple question.

    How many pit boxes are allowed (per the rules) per team during a race?

  8. Francuis said on 5th November 2010, 16:14

    I have been reading your Web site for years now Keith. I have never commented on any of your articles before. I can no longer keep quite. It annoys me that over the last couple months, since Hockenheim you been pushing this issue of team orders. Never done so before, as I can recall, when other drivers and teams done so, even to win championships. McLaren with Hamilton and Ferrari with Kimi. No body complained about team orders in the past decades. It all started when a clearly dominant Schumacher leading the points table was let passed by Barrichello, witch had a brilliant drive on that day and was faster than Schumacher on that day. There was no need for Schumacher or Ferrari to do so and would not have made the difference in that years championship.

    Hence the debate started. It heats up if Alonso does it. Not mention if Kimi or Hamilton did it. It seems that most (not all) of the British fans hate Alonso. Schumacher hatred was replaced by Alonso hatred by most British fans. As a South African, I lived in London for 3 years and the Brits were quite fond of Alonso when he was beating Schumacher. But when anyone races against a brit they loose there senses, just like soccer hooligans supporting there teams. Since Hamilton entered the sport and the British media hype around Hamilton made him a god like driver, they lost there objectivity. Now Alonso is hated by most Brits. They will say things like “He does not deserve the championship because he is a cheater”. If he wins the championship with less those 7 points they slam him as cheater. If he wins the championship with more than 7 points they will find other excuses to slam him. If he wins the WDC they will feel it is not deservingly and it will be tainted. No Max you are tainted. tainted in black. Then Kimi and Louis championships should also be tainted, should it not?

    When Alonso wins the WDC he would be the youngest drive to win a 3rd WDC. In my opinion he would have won all 3 championships with the 2nd fastest car.

    I believe he will win the Championship. Maybe even win a 4th and 5th WDC. Hamilton will also in his career win 3 to 5. He might be even faster than Alonso. But his championship will always be in a fastest car. Maybe in his later part of his career he will be able mentally to do it in the 2nd fastest car. He maybe faster on a single lap and maybe even in race trim, but he is far too erratic. But he will improve with experience. He will learn valuable lessons.

    Webber is solid; he has good days and then average days. His experience got him thus far in the championship. His mistake in Korea will cost him the championship. He will not get another change. He can still win in my opinion, if two things happen, 1 Alonso DNF, 2 team orders in Red Bull. This is highly unlikely. Vettel is fast, very fast, but an immature loose canon, unpredictable and can’t over take. But again give him time. He will also win a WDC. My prediction is that Red bull will look by on this year and wonder what went wrong. Outwardly they will pat them self on the back and says “we have won the constructor championship, we have done a good job and we played by the rules”. Nobody will remember that in years to come and in fact they have not done a good job, they did not manage the drivers well and they should have won 3 races ago the championship. Both McLaren and Ferrari would have if they had that car.

    Hamilton did not have the car this year and that is arguably why he “over drive” the car and made crucial mistakes that have cost him. But he will learn out of this.

    Button will not win another championship. Unless he gets a fastest car and 2nd class team mate. This is my opinion. All this talk about smooth driving style that looks after his tires is nonsense. He is average, and his tires were worst of than most by the end off the race. His strategies were based on luck and on the false premis that hiss smooth driving style looks after his tires. In his “smoothness” he can’t heat up the tires when need in Quali. In wet or cold weather, if he does not choose a lucky strategy, he can’t get heat in the tires and thus the tires goes off faster. In general I will not bet on him being faster than Hamilton.

    Team order will stay as it is and always be a team sport. The 150 + members of a team built and supply the cars not the drivers. It is there cars and they can develop it for there chosen driver as they see fit. No car can be developed for both drivers driving style. And if they tell you so, it is bull. Red bull likes to say they support both drivers equally but in the same breath they already said that they develop the car around Vettel. This year’s car and next year’s car. They don’t pay there divers equal salaries do they? So they can’t be equal. That then is what I call hypocrisy. Just by doing this it can’t be equal to both drivers. So Mark is still ahead of Vettel in a car developed for Vettel. That is wat I call Ausie spirit. This is why there is conflict in the team. One thing said to the fans, but an other standard is implemented in reality. We the fans are not stupid, maybe miss informed. The once “open and encouraged to speak your mind” team now under pressure to produce results doing the same as the big boys. Ferrari knows who to back as a driver and knows how to win WDC. They are open about it. In 2007 it was Kimi, in 2008 it was Massa. At some point in the year they decide to maximize there chances. As they do every year. Massa has had that benefit in 2008 but was unlucky to win the WDC. They give them all that they need to win to the WDC, to the detriment of there team mate. That is understood in the team by both drivers and that is wat is expected in the team. If the tables were reverse between Massa and Alonso this year they would have expected the same of Alonso. So don’t disrespect Massa when he is a team player. That is why they win Championships. That is why McLaren have lost Championships. Maybe the Brits just like in all sports they loose, will say “poor sportsmanship chap” and they grudgingly mock they guy or team that done the job and win. They have not learned this lesson yet. There is lots of money involved. Prestige of the WDC is much more worth than the Constructor Championship. These are not tennis players, or golf player all for themselves. They get a salary from the team, not price money. They can not do it without a Team. If they don’t want to do it, get another team. It is more like a Cyclists were the team assist one team mate to win the tile. Prestige for the team. One man takes the honor. Dislike it if you want, but just stop complaining.

    What is the alternative? One drive entrance and a car bought and supplied by who ever. Then it will be a driver sport only. Like golf, tennis or what ever. Not F1.

    So stop complaining about team orders.

    • tharris19 said on 6th November 2010, 2:52

      Can’t stop complaining if it is wrong. You say “one man takes the honor”, in this case it is being given to him. Massa was psychologically raped, violated by his team, in full view of the world. People who have participated in sport saw what happen and felt his pain.
      From their pain arose anger; anger at Ferrari, anger at Massa and anger at the FIA for it’s failure to truly address the wrong everyone saw. Indirectly, Hockenheim hurt a lot of people. That’s why this won’t go away.
      Again, I would suggest that F1 not bring team orders to America, it could kill the sport here.

      • Noname said on 6th November 2010, 10:06

        So it’s wrong only where Ferrari does it? You said nothing about the previous times it has been done, when it is no less “illegal” then it is today.

        • tharris19 said on 6th November 2010, 18:38

          My comment was not about previous times. It was about Hockenhiem 2010. And yes, Ferrari did it and had no remorse about it. FIA then gave everyone license to do it when every they choose by their response at the hearing.
          Fortunately, some drivers would not stand for it and refuse to move over. The first person that come to mind is Alonso.

  9. Omegaz3ro said on 5th November 2010, 17:58

    As I’ve anticipated in my yesterday comment, I think money is the culprit.

    Let me explain.

    Why do a team want one of their drivers to win?
    My answer: cash. BIG cash.

    Nowadays, when a driver wins the DWC, money goes to the winner, money goes to the team.

    Now, my solution: only the driver should have an economical gain from winning the DWC, not the team.
    We just need to shift the money that actually goes to the team, by one of their drivers winning the Driver’s World Championship, to the Constructors World Championship.

    A simple, practical, example.

    Let’s say Alonso wins the championship. The driver gets 10€, the team gets 10€ too. Let’s say Ferrari wins the Constructor’s Championship too, and they get another 10€ for that.

    Teams obviously wants to win both, gaining a total of 20€, and they favour one driver out of another in order to do that.

    My solution is quite simple.

    10€ for the drivers who wins the DWC, 0€ to the team.

    Let’s shift the “old” 10€ to the Constructor’s WC, which is now worth 20€.

    Now the teams have NO INTEREST whatsoever in which of their drivers will win the DWC. They don’t even need that, because with that system they are prized for consistency. They’ll be interested in getting both of their drivers in the points at the end of that race.

    Take money out of the equation and you solve the team orders problem.

    You may also argue: “What’s the point in trying and win the DWC then, if the team doesn’t gain anything from that?”
    Sponsorships are the answer. You may not directly win money from one of your drivers winning the DWC, but you gain sponsorships from that. We’ve seen many times nowadays, the way big names support one particular driver. Take Sandander with Alonso, for instance.

    Obviously that’s a bit too simplistic. But I think the matter should be considered and evaluated.

    By the way, that were just my two cents :)

    • Astonished said on 5th November 2010, 23:18

      Money comes from sponsors and sponsors want the WDC in their ads and campaigns. It is difficult to regulate a market and markets are not efficient on their own. On the other hand these inefficiencies are gold for the smart investor.

      • The team already doesn’t earn any money from the FIA for driver positions, only team ones. You’d have to ban sponsors for the proposal to work, for it is the sponsors that give the teams money for their drivers’ deeds…

  10. No radio= No team orders (during race).
    It would be something like chess.
    There would be more DNFs, due to no fuel, no breaks, no engine. There could be some security problems. Perhaps the radio should be only for communication between drivers and Race Control.

  11. 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.

    AUGH, yes, THANK YOU. Steve Matchett made this argument yet again during SpeedTV’s coverage of practice today — that team orders are a fine and noble tradition that must be upheld, but it’s important for teams to be really sneaky about it so fans don’t feel like they’ve been deprived of, you know, an actual sporting event. I like Steve Matchett, but man…I am so sick of hearing this.

    I was trying to explain this whole issue to my brother a couple of days ago — he’s a massive sports fan but knows nothing about F1 — and his response was “That’s a tradition in F1? Ah. Well, that’s why F1 will never be big in the US.” I hope he’s wrong…

    • Maciek said on 6th November 2010, 2:26

      Hmmm… I’d say that US pro sports and integrity are not exactly synonyms, though.

      But besides that, when a player in hockey (granted, tot the most popular sport in the US) is going for his 50th goal of the season and everybody on his team tries to give him the puck so he’ll score it, no one cries foul.

      For me this debate is not really about team orders-it’s about the questionable ethics of collecting points that wouldn’t be yours if your team mate wouldn’t give them to you. Except that that applies to many other cases than Alonso at Hockenheim.

      • dyslexicbunny said on 6th November 2010, 3:10

        To be honest though, the guy also has to make a decent shot and the goalie is still trying to block it and the defense is still trying to stop him. They aren’t just giving him the puck on an open net and watching him tap it in.

        That’s not an example of what I thought happened in Germany.

        I do think it will be a hindrance to commonplace F1 acceptance in the US. I’d be curious what sports you think don’t maintain integrity. Pete Rose gambled as a player and manager and is banned for life. NFL drug tests and takes it seriously. You could argue baseball didn’t but they allegedly care now.

    • tharris19 said on 6th November 2010, 2:55

      I agree with your brother, the media will kill F1.

  12. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 6th November 2010, 1:59

    First of all it tool me a while to understand that Massa was carrying Alonso on his shoulder. Nice picture.

    The rules aren’t clear as with the FIA, if they want to ban team-order then do it, you are right why will I risk my life for my team-mate? Or if they think that team-order is Ok as this is a team-sport then lets have it.

  13. Tom Johnson said on 6th November 2010, 5:52

    One car per team, problem solved.

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