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

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