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

2013 Malaysian Grand PrixPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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.


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

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

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  1. 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.

    1. A lot safer that way too!

    2. But maybe we should then bring back single lap qualifying (in random order), so no cars cannot obstruct others too @ajokay, its been far too exiting and hard to control the outcome lately :-)

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. @aussierod – in hindsight it’s easy to judge but if I were Horner I would have considered 3 options
      a) pick Mark for the win an pit him first
      b) pick Seb for the win and pit Mark 2 laps later
      c) stay off the radio for 3 laps

      a and b would be the stress free solutions but then it wouldn’t mean equal status.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. @bpacman I put as much of it on F1 Fanatic Live as I can during the races via the Twitter account.

  6. Many people are saying that Vettel did what he did as he is a true racer and I do see where they are coming from. However all he has done is proven that he behaves like a spoilt child when things do not go his way. You would expect someone of his talent to realise that it is early days in the championship and that he was just taking a massively excessive and unnecessary risk.
    And I know that himself and Webber have never had the greatest of relationships but surely as it is early days he would have just given him a small repayment for all of the times that Webber has been harmed by the teams preferential treatment to him. Although I know that you need a certain amount of ruthlessness to succeed in this sport.
    Finally I think Vettel has just caused himself and the team a certain number of problems for the future. Although Red Bull have had the best car for the last few seasons, what driver with any ambition is going to want to go there when they know that they will have to fight their corner alone almost every weekend? In terms of other teams signing Vettel, as Ferrari are often reported to be trying to do, they all now know the full extent of the baggage attached to Vettel, although you would expect him to have matured ina few years time. I personally hope that he does move to another team in the future. I know that Hamilton moved to try and prove himself and he might well do that, but I hope that Vettel gets the mother of all wake up calls sometime in the future

    1. all of the times that Webber has been harmed by the teams preferential treatment to him.

      Can you list “all” of those times for me? It’s going to be a one instance list.

    2. In terms of other teams signing Vettel, as Ferrari are often reported to be trying to do, they all now know the full extent of the baggage attached to Vettel

      Yes, I’ sure Ferrari would be simply appalled if their No 1 driver expected to be treated differently from their No 2 driver. Nothing but strict equality between the drivers, that’s the Ferrari way!

  7. It’s amazing what the broadcaster can do to shape the views of the supporters.
    Ross Brawn is now being vilified for something the entire field is doing….?

  8. I’m by now means an expert on F1 and i’ve just read a few comments. In order to reduce team orders and increase the excitement in the racing…why not disallow communication between car and pit? Only allow the Race officials to inform drivers of emergencies and what not?


  9. Why watch F1 anymore?Drive at 8/10th.No passing allowed with 13! laps remaining.At least three teams with team orders.Common ECU.No tweaking of engines.No testing.Boooooring…….Wake me up if anyone’s going racing.

  10. @KeithCollantine A very good article. Moving aside from the center of the Storm, It could be very well that Red Bull has more to gain from this storm than people think. I guess Red Bull is sending a strong message to Pirelli and FIA that ” because these tyres are so sensitive this year, the whole quality of racing has come down and teams have to resort to these kind of tactics”. That is the same suttle message coming from Webber. Red Bull were pushing Pirelli already to change the tyres even before this race.

  11. Team order should stay.. Formula 1 is a team sport after all. And the team are well within their right to instruct their employees (drivers in this case) as wished, within the letter of the law of course…
    It may not be the most exciting thing for the fans, but the teams care less for that, than their championship position. At least the viewers know where they stand. The instructions aren’t coded and the whole situation isn’t blurred or murky (ie Ferrari, German Grand Prix 2010).

  12. Caterham was really ruining the sanctity of fighting for 16th by asking Van Der Garde to let Pic by…

  13. can somebody find me another sport where team leaders issuing instructions is frowned upon or prohibited? or for that matter, another sport where practice is prohibited?

  14. A few days have passed now and I have had time to think about it. Everyone saying sure Webber did it at Silverstone so Vettel should do it in Malaysia. Ask urself why did Webber try and do it at Silverstone? It goes back to the day in Turkey in 2010 when Helmut Marko came out and criticised Webber for causing the crash between himself and Vettel. No one else in the team came out to say both were at fault for the incident. Vettel came out on the higher ground.
    Then we get to Silverstone, both drivers get new wings, Vettel’s one falls off during practice and is damaged. You could say tough luck, he won’t get another wing as he is treated equally to Webber in the team. What happens when there is only 1 wing available? Yes thats right it is given to Vettel. Webber goes on the race to prove a point. You can see clearly that Webber sees that he is treated as a 2nd class driver. gets an order to slow down in the 2011 Silverstone race, Webber thinks, screw this, I am not treated the same, I am going for this. inished behind Vettel who already had 6 wins in the championship and miles clear like Schumacher in Austria in 2002.
    Comes to last Sunday, Webber is told to turn down his engine and is reassured TWICE that there will be no racing between him and Vettel. Vettel then uses his full power to catch up and overtake Webber. All Horner says is “this is silly”. comes out later and says “I couldn’t tell him to give the place back as he wouldn’t have given it back”. What a team manager. Webber says Seb will be as usual protected by the management. You can hardly blame Webber for his outburst. The trust is definetely gone between the 2 drivers and Webber won’t be around next year for sure at Red Bull. Maybe Lotus instead of Grosjean

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