Red Bull and Mercedes not the only ones resorting to team orders

2013 Malaysian Grand Prix

Red Bull and Mercedes attempted to impose team orders on their drivers in Malaysia with varying degrees of success.

But they aren’t the only ones to have done so this year. Team radio excerpts not broadcast on the main television feed reveal more of the orders others teams have issued and the dissent they have faced from some of their drivers.

Here’s what was heard during the first two races including more details on the controversies at Red Bull and Mercedes during yesterday’s Grand Prix.

Australia

In Australia at least three teams intervened in the proceedings to impose a running order on their drivers. As early as lap 13 Caterham were orchestrating a position swap between their drivers, telling Charles Pic: “Giedo [van der Garde] will let you past on the main straight. Use DRS.”

Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Melbourne, 2013Williams tried to do the same after their drivers’ first pit stops but with less success.

Pastor Maldonado came out of the pits behind Valtteri Bottas on lap 16. Shortly afterwards Bottas’s race engineer Jonathan Eddolls told him “Pastor’s faster than you, don’t hold him up.”

But the change of places never happened. The two FW35s came past the pits for three consecutive laps with Maldonado less than half a second behind his team mate.

A Williams spokesperson told F1 Fanatic the message was given to Bottas “to position the drivers ahead of the pit stops for strategy,” however the teams’ engineers were “comfortable that Valtteri was not able to let Pastor through”. Given they weren’t under immediate threat from cars behind it’s not clear why that was the case.

After being rebuffed by Bottas for several laps Maldonado dropped back and was around five seconds in arrears when Bottas came into the pits. At the very next corner Maldonado spun into retirement.

If Bottas spurned a team instruction in the manner of Vettel, Paul di Resta was grudgingly compliant in the manner of Nico Rosberg.

Di Resta was hauling team mate Adrian Sutil in at a considerable rate in the final stint of the race when Sutil was suffering with graining on his super soft tyres. The team told Di Resta to hold position, though no instructions were heard during the race broadcast.

However after the race Di Resta made his displeasure clear, telling his team it was “unfair on the last lap to stop me pushing”.

Another change of running order between team mates attracted speculation over whether team orders had been involved. Felipe Massa lost a position to Fernando Alonso when he had he advantage of making his second pit stop early.

Though the team did not indicate whether this was a deliberate tactical move to at Massa’s expense their track record on this subject understandably makes it hard for some people to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Malaysia: Red Bull

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Sepang, 2013Red Bull’s preoccupation with not destroying their tyres is the vital context to understanding the controversy that unfolded during the Malaysian Grand Prix.

“You still have to drive the grands prix these days at eight-tenths,” said Mark Webber after the race. “It’s not like the old day when grand prix drivers are driving flat out and leaning on the tyres like hell because the tyres are wearing out.”

Vettel lost the lead to Webber during the first round of pit stops and by the middle of the race he was on his team mate’s tail. Around lap 26 race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin warned him to drop back: “Try to look after your tyres, you’re too close in the fast corners.”

Meanwhile Webber was being given a lap time target of “high 41s” which he rarely went quicker than, setting a 1’42.5 on lap 27. But Vettel had Hamilton on his tail and was more concerned with overtaking the car in front of him – Webber.

On lap 28 Vettel said: “Mark is too slow, get him out of the way, he’s too slow”. “Understood, look after your tyres,” replied Rocquelin. Shortly afterwards came the confirmation the team would not be imposing any orders just yet: “Sebastian be patient, only half race yet.”

Despite falling 4.2s behind Webber while being stuck behind Hamilton, hard in- and out-laps brought Vettel onto the tail of his team mate. “Careful, Sebastian, careful,” said Rocquelin after his final pit stop. “Sebastian you need to make it to the end with these tyres, 13 laps with these tyres don’t forget.”

This was similar to the situation Vettel faced in Korea last year, when Rocquelin repeatedly warned him about potential tyre damage. Perhaps on that occasion he drew some conclusions about how realistic his team’s warnings about tyre life truly were.

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Sepang, 2013The urgency with which Red Bull were telling Vettel to back down from his pursuit of Webber can be gauged by the fact that the messages started to come from Christian Horner instead of Rocquelin.

“This is silly, Seb, come on,” said Horner. By that time that was broadcast Vettel had already passed Webber. Simon Rennie tried to placate his furious driver: “OK Mark, he was told.”

An excerpt from Vettel’s explanation for his pass was also played, though it sounded like it had been edited for broadcast: “I was really scared… main straight all the time he was moving and I had to leave the line.”

Webber didn’t take it lying down and put in some quick laps of his own in an attempt to put Vettel under pressure. “Obviously Seb and I had a push in the middle in our last stint,” he said afterwards.

Vettel responded, and Rocquelin again pleaded with him to back off: “Sebastian you need to get out of the KERS button, get out of the KERS overtake button, the system won’t take it. No KERS overtake button. Use KERS normally.” Later he added: “Sebastian be careful of front tyre wear, front tyre wear is high, both front and rear high wear.”

Rocquelin’s final words hinted at the recriminations that would follow: “Good job Sebastian, you looked like you wanted it badly enough. Still, there’ll be some explaining to do.”

Malaysia: Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sepang, 2013The dust had only just settled on Vettel’s sensational pass when another dispute over team orders arose at Mercedes.

Rosberg had passed Lewis Hamilton immediately after their final pit stops, but Hamilton hit back, re-passing his team mate on the next lap.

Mercedes had been telling Hamilton to save fuel for most of the race and now their warnings grew more serious: “OK Lewis so that was on target, on target. That is the minimum we expect from you,” he was told early in the final stint.

Behind him Rosberg was getting impatient: “I can go so much faster, just let me go past,” he said. As at Red Bull the team principal was on hand to lay down the law: “Negative Nico” said Ross Brawn.

“Nico, Lewis’s pace is what we’re asking him to do, he can go a lot faster as well so please be in control as well,” he added. “Then let’s go try and get the Red Bulls,” replied Rosberg, “they might have tyre problems”. “Understood but hold position please Nico,” was the reply.

As Hamilton’s lap times rose an increasingly impatient Rosberg complained again: “Tell him to speed up a bit this is too slow.” It was to no avail: “Nico please drop back, leave a gap,” said Brawn, “We have to look after the cars. There’s a massive gap behind and there’s nothing to gain in front. I want to bring these cars home, please.”

After telling Rosberg Hamilton “can go a lot faster”, Brawn pressed the radio button for Hamilton and told him to slow down some more: “OK Lewis we need maximum fuel saving for this last part of the race, please.”

When the chequered flag came down neither driver was happy with what had unfolded: “Fantastic job this weekend guys,” said Hamilton before adding it “definitely didn’t feel right for me”.

After complimenting Rosberg on a “good drive” Brawn added: “We’ll discuss the last stint later.” Rosberg’s parting shot was simply: “Remember this one”.

Team orders in 2013

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sepang, 2013Is 2013 going to be a season in which we see much more in the way of team orders? Webber believes it will, and he singles out the current generation of tyres as the cause:

“At the moment we’re driving at eight and a half tenths, eight tenths, conserving our pace and some more situations like this will probably happen in the future because there’s a lot of ambiguity in who’s (on the) pace and who’s quick.”

“I’m a big sports fan and the fans of any sport will want it to be a perfect world always,” he added. “We want it to be pure, we want it to be as we see ?����ǣ football, boxing, cycling, whatever. We want it to be real.”

“But there is an element of naivety… for me watching some sport as well and in the case of some Formula One fans watching this situation. It’s impossible for everybody to understand everything and that’s the same for me watching a football match or a Champions League match.

“Sometimes there are things you don’t understand because sometimes there is naivety.”

2013 Malaysian Grand Prix

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Image © Williams/LAT, Red Bull/Getty, Mercedes/Hoch Zwei

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195 comments on Red Bull and Mercedes not the only ones resorting to team orders

  1. MB (@muralibhats) said on 26th March 2013, 4:55

    Why is Red Bull or Mercedes so scared to let the team mates battle it out? Do they doubt on their drivers capabilities? At the highest form of sport, such measures do seem silly.

  2. Hal Buruto said on 26th March 2013, 5:09

    Let’s say Vettel followed team orders and Mark won. Would everyone watching F1 be happy or dissapointed by the 15 or so lap procession? Its like the equivalent of match fixing or tanking. Would Mark have felt the same way as Hamilton — that the win didn’t feel right because they weren’t allowed to race? Seems like the only race happening these days are in the pits rather than on the race track.

  3. If Mark knew Vettel would race to the end he would have simply pitted first and denied Vettel the chance to try the undercut. Mark was pulling away by the last pit stop, which Vettel knew was when the race between them would be over.

  4. wsrgo (@wsrgo) said on 26th March 2013, 5:36

    Some people really know how to make mountains out of molehills…grow up, guys!!!

  5. andae23 (@andae23) said on 26th March 2013, 6:38

    I think Mark Webber really nailed it with that quote at the end: we as fans want to see fair racing between teammates, but it’s just not feasible. With the amount of money that goes into Formula 1, teams more than often want to fix the results to be as beneficial to them as possible.

    Maybe comparing this to soccer, another sport where the amount of money is ridiculously high: there have been allegations of teams fixing the result before the match has started. For instance, the way Ajax was eliminated in the previous Champions League season was controversial to say the least: Lyon needed to score a lot of goals to go through to the next round, and sure enough they won 7-1 from Dinamo Zagreb. I can also remember a match with Real Madrid where at the end players with a yellow card deliberately got another yellow card, so they woudn’t be suspended for the next match.

    Returning to the actual discussion: I don’t like it when a team doesn’t let their two drivers race for position. But you cannot simply ban team orders, as the exact meaning of a ‘team order’ is in a grey area. Sometimes their two drivers are on completely different strategies, so this team order could be described as commensalism. But other occasion like Mercedes and Red Bull in Malaysia are clearly detrimental for one driver. And how is the FIA ever going to ensure that no team is using team orders – does a pre-race agreement count as a team order? A driver ‘accidentally’ running wide to let his teammate through? Bringing in one driver before the other? Faking a gearbox issue to let your teammate win the season finale?

    In my opinion, it’s up to the teams to decide whether they have team orders or not, and we as fans just have to deal with that. It would be great if teams would allow their two drivers to race fairly, like Red Bull claimed they were doing a few years ago, but in today’s Formula 1 we can almost assume this isn’t going to happen. I thought it was at least fair of Red Bull and Mercedes to not give either driver a ‘number one’ status but let the result of the race depend on the position they were holding at some point during the race.

    That being said, I think the worst thing a driver can do is ignore team orders: at the end of the day, Red Bull pays Sebastian Vettel more in a day than a common European household makes in a year. And then to disobey an order from your boss is just unacceptable, as it is incredibly disrespectful.

    • Manule said on 26th March 2013, 9:58

      How conveniently has Mark wisened up! Look at his quotes after the British Grand Prix 2011. It was perfectly feasible for him at the time to ignore team orders and attack Seb (whose KERS failed) because ‘he’s a real racer’. Personally I have lost all the respect I had for Webber because it is clear to me now that he is not an honest-to-god guy but rather clever PR manipulator who enjoys painting himself as an underdog. I’ve seen enough from Webber (including Brazil 2012) to realize that he, in fact, doesn’t give a damn about ‘the team’ and only remembers the word when it suits him.

      Now Horner faces a very difficult situation, but most of it is of his own doing. If he had put his foot down and reprimanded Webber for his blatant disregard of team orders earlier, maybe this wouldn’t happen the way it did. It is hardly possible to convince one driver to follow orders, when the other one was stuffing them on multiple occasions (and was being publicly proud of that to boot) and got away every time.

  6. sebsronnie (@sebsronnie) said on 26th March 2013, 6:39

    @keithcollantine – could you have missed the radio message instructing Chilton to stay at least half a lap behind Bianchi?

  7. SundarF1 (@sundarf1) said on 26th March 2013, 6:49

    At the end of the day, some people still value sportsmanship and gentlemanly behaviour in motorsport, some prefer the ruthless, tough-as-nails, out-and-out racer, and most people like Webber over Vettel.

    Personally, I can take both, as long as the drivers have the balls to say “I did what I thought was right”. In this age of manufactured press statements and interviews, I suppose that’s an unrealistic expectation. But if Vettel had said, “I’ve won the championship by 4pts and 3pts in the last three years and I don’t want to give away 7 today” that might’ve been unsporting, but justifiable. To say he didn’t do it deliberately, to pretend he didn’t know he was supposed to hold station was insulting to the viewer’s intelligence. Atleast when Webber went against team orders at Silverstone 2011 he had the courage to admit he needed every point he could get and that’s why he went for it. In 2011 Seb was leading by a huge margin, and in actual fact it would’ve made more sense for Red Bull to get Webber ahead, thus increasing their chances of having a 1-2 in the driver’s championship.

    Also I suspect people are taking Webber’s side because we’ve seen Red Bull take Vettel’s side too often in the past. Some people might say Red Bull was right, and Seb’s three world titles prove it, but Mark’s a popular bloke, and if the fans feel he was unfairly treated by the team over the past few years, of course they’re going to root for him. In the fans’ eyes he becomes the poor man fighting the evil empire single-handedly and Vettel becomes the tyrant who misuses his power. Right or wrong, that’s how people are going to see it. Vettel’s characteristic condescension on the radio ‘he’s too slow, get him out of the way’ only made that worse.

    • Jono (@me262) said on 27th March 2013, 9:09

      exactly right! Vettel is such a sore loser, I struggle to remember driver who goes from child like tantrums, calling fellow drivers cucumbers, so ungracious in defeat when he dosent end up at the top step of the podium to petting his car and reminding everyone who is the number one driver in the world with his index finger when he wins. Maybe he will mature one day and show some likeable sportsmanship but atm I enjoy seeing his sulking when he loses

  8. BasCB (@bascb) said on 26th March 2013, 7:18

    Thanks very much for the article @keithcollantine, its a bit sad to see how common team orders are. And I think we should support drivers not to heed them often enough to make teams think twice about using them.

    I have been thinking a lot about where the difference is between DiResta complying but complaining, Bottas ignoring them, Rosberg protesting them but complying and Vettel deciding he will take his chances thank you. I think Bottas clearly did the right thing, because I did not get the impression Maldonado was all that much quicker. On the other hand VdGarde also did the right thing, because Pic seemed to be able to get much further in the race than his teammate. DiResta holding station in the last 2 laps – I guess its a bit disappointing but I do have some sympathy for the team not wanting them to fight with Sutil struggling to keep it on the track, that could have ended badly.

    Is Vettel a hero for ignoring them and taking a win as the competitive animal he is? Is he a villain for disregarding his team principal and showing no respect? And is Rosberg a douchebag for heeding instructions to stay behind? I think they were in very different situations, because Vettel had a lot of evidence to suggest that a. the team were holding them back more than needed and b. he had ignored them before (as had his teammate) without much repercussion. As shown by the comments from Horner (would a boss say “this is silly Seb” and stating there would be no use in calling him to give it back). I am pretty sure that had Rosberg ignored Ross there, his boss would not have gone over his driver ignoring him that easily.

    I would say that in both cases it had to be done (its not always nice), Vettel ignoring TO made it harder for the team to apply them when its just being overly carefull. Rosberg making this public has already gotten Mercedes to think about themselves (Niki Lauda on live TV mentioning he did not like them), so both helped in keeping teams honest – as in not overuse them – and that should be applauded.

    • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 26th March 2013, 10:30

      Very well said @bascb, I completely agree – and another great article from @keithcollantine to separate facts from emotion, providing an objective view of how team orders work (or don’t) in current day F1.

      I don’t care much for the way Vettel excused his decicion, but it certainly provided one of the best bits of racing of the race, as did the Merc. back and forth, instead of a boring last 15min.

  9. Alzarius (@alzarius) said on 26th March 2013, 7:22

    Any guesses to what Webber was hinting when he said he thought about a lot of things in the last laps (when Seb already did his thing), needing some time off surfing and to see if that would be enough medicine for him, and then a quick wink to the Sky interviewer?

    My guess is he is really thinking hard about what to do with his career at this point. He could well be in his last year even without this latest tussle with Seb, and it would be highly unlikely for him to get a seat at another top team. His choices are:
    1) to just accept Seb’s apology and continue on with business as usual, and help Red Bull with another WCC (you need both drivers for this as Seb can’t win the WCC for Red Bull by himself)
    2) try to win the WDC for himself, team orders be damned
    3) quit now and retire as a “screw you” to Red Bull for losing control of Seb, because with Mark vacating his seat, it could probably be quite detrimental to Red Bull’s WCC chances (who would they get to drive in his spot?) and a replacement driver probably can’t give them as much useful info about the car as Mark can since he’s been with them for so long.

    Not many people talking about scenario #3 but I don’t think it is that far-fetched.

    • Proesterchen (@proesterchen) said on 26th March 2013, 8:43

      It’s not being talked about because it is silly.

      Do you really think RBR would have any issue adequately filling the quickest car on the grid? You can’t think of at least half a dozen out-of-work and 19 1/2 current race drivers who want nothing more than that seat?

      Seriously, WEB had his chance in 2010 and threw it away. (Oh what a fun time that was, with all the ridiculous arguments in favour of another ’96.) He’s the slower driver, it’s been proven over and over again.

      Throwing tantrums might feel satisfying in the short term, but there’s no leverage there. No one will come to WEB and plead for him to return. It’s silly, and I expect WEB to realize that.

    • TMF (@tmf42) said on 26th March 2013, 11:31

      @alzarius

      Option 3) appears close in the heat of the moment but in reality is extremely far fetched.

      He’ll continue his drive and there will be tension till the end of the season just like 2010 and RBR will try to manage this somehow.
      For 2014 – it depends on so many variables that it’s too early to tell but everything seems possible.

  10. Joe Papp (@joepa) said on 26th March 2013, 8:27

    I’m fine with team orders, as long as there’s a modicum of transparency – and decency – in the issuing and execution of such orders! (unlike what we saw w/ Vettel) As long as cost-savings is seen as important in Formula 1, teams will use orders to manage resources and preserve consumables, like engine kms!

    “I’m a big sports fan and the fans of any sport will want it to be a perfect world always. We want it to be pure, we want it to be as we see – football, boxing, cycling, whatever. We want it to be real.”

    I like Webber because he’s a no-** straight-shooter (unlike Vettel). He admits and accepts his own naivete outside the realm of his professional competency. For example, Mark speaks of wanting to believe that the bike race he sees on the telly is “real,” but team orders have been an integral part of pro cycling (my sport) for decades! Perhaps the most famous instance was the 1996 Paris-Roubaix Classic, when Mapei team swept the podium, with the result dictated from the team car after a conversation captured by the mobile broadcasters!!

    Their conversation over the Mapei team car radio signal was picked up by Italian satellite TV station Italia Uno:

    Lefevere to Bortolami: “You’ve got to convince Andrea to keep cool- if he doesn’t, he’ll be looking for another team!”

    Bortolami to Tafi: “Andrea, don’t forget the deal. Don’t try anything, Johan has to win.”

    Tafi: “I don’t want to win; I just want you to let me take second. But you won’t even let me do that!”

    In the previous year’s race, Bortolami and Tafi, the workhorse stalwarts of the team, had been away with Italian teamate Franco Ballerini, and provided textbook team support as he soloed away to victory. This time they both thought they had earned a chance at individual glory and were less inclined to throw away a rare chance to win the Queen of the Classics.

    Spectators along the race route and all over the world via television were treated to some very animated discussions between the Mapei trio and the team car, with each man taking a turn to drop back to the team car to plead his case with Lefevere, their raised voices easily heard on the televion coverage.

    • Joe Papp (@joepa) said on 26th March 2013, 8:28

      My point in sharing that anecdote is that Formula 1 is hardly unique in the world of sport with respect to the existence of team orders, and as spectators we can still derive great enjoyment from the spectacle, as long as there is as little ambiguity as possible, per Webber’s comments.

      “But there is an element of naivety… for me watching some sport as well and in the case of some Formula One fans watching this situation. It’s impossible for everybody to understand everything and that’s the same for me watching a football match or a Champions League match.”

  11. ajokay (@ajokay) said on 26th March 2013, 9:00

    Why doesn’t Charlie Whiting just walk onto the front of the grid before the beginning of a race, read out a list of where everyone is to finish? Then they can all pack up and go home.

  12. Robert (@rob8k) said on 26th March 2013, 11:00

    I don’t necessarily like team orders and would rather see racing from lights to flag but this is a different era of F1. You can’t compare this era of F1 to the senna/prost era. The reason for team orders isn’t just to guarantee the points for the race, but also to preserve the cars. Remember this is a long season and the teams only get so many engines a year and have to make the gearbox last 5 GP. Therefore we have to presume that the racing between Vettel and Webber wasn’t fair as one driver was handicapped over another.

    The bigger problem for Red Bull and Christian Horner is can he honestly say the next time a scenario occurs where he has to use team orders that his drivers are going to listen? I doubt it. I would rather be in Ross Brawn shoes knowing that his drivers respect him and will listen to what is ultimately there boss.

    Also, food for thought. 1956 Italian GP. Peter Collins is holding P2 and is poised to win the title hands his car to Fangio so that he could win the title. Can you say that this would happen in the modern day F1? Shows how one era can’t be compared to another.

  13. Aussie Rod (@aussierod) said on 26th March 2013, 11:11

    I can’t stand the term ‘Team orders’. It has such negative connotations and is a term that is so often mis-used or understood.

    A team has to manage two drivers and get them BOTH to the finish in the best position. ‘Team orders’ happen all the time, during practice, during qualy, determining pre-race strategy, as well as during the race. They are an un-avoidable and totally necessary part of managing a team of TWO. Most team orders happen without our knowledge, so we accept them even though they may provide small but real benefits to one driver over another. Other times team orders happen in a slightly more visible way, such as those mentioned in Keith’s article above, but again we accept them because the drivers are only racing for minor placings or they happen at a non-critical part of the race.

    Then sometimes ‘team orders’ are highly visible and affect the major placings and they create headlines and up-roar amongst some fans. Why? The are no different in principle to the ones mentioned above that we commonly accept. For a team principle, compromising the result for the team by having one driver negatively impact on the performance of another, or risking a solid result for no potential gain to the team, is basically F1’s equivalent of an ‘own goal’.

    If any of you were in Christian Horner’s shoes for that final stint in Malaysia with a 1-2 in the bag, and you radioed Vettel during that last stint in Malaysia and said ‘push Sebastian push, you must go for the win. Engine and KERS settings on maximum for the entire stint please’… then radioed Webber and said ‘we have told Seb to push for the win Mark, do not let him past, repeat, do not let him past. Engine and KERS settings on maximum. You’re racing to the flag’… if this is what you would seriously say to your drivers then IMHO you do not have enough of an understanding of modern-day F1 to contribute to this topic.

    Great article Keith in trying to shed more informed light onto this topic.

  14. AbeyG (@1abe) said on 26th March 2013, 11:19

    Excellent article here Keith. However, i am not sure if the fuss is about Vettel overtaking Webber despite a team order or Red Bull having a team order in the first place. I think Vettel did the right thing in ignoring the team order but it was also wrong considering the fact that there was an agreement to hold the position between the team, Webber and him after the last pit stops. If a Vettel wanted to ignore team orders during a race, he should not have agreed to them before the race itself.

  15. bpacman (@bpacman) said on 26th March 2013, 11:52

    Great article Keith. I just wish we got to hear more of the team radio on the main FOM feed during the race. Alternatively it’d be great if FOM could offer a website or app where you could choose the team/driver who’s radio you wanted to tune into throughout the race.

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