Red Bull and Mercedes’ instructions to their drivers not to race each other during the final quarter of the race, and Sebastian Vettel’s refusal to comply, sparked fresh debate about when team orders should be issued.
Even one of the drivers who benefitted from the instructions given on Sunday had misgiving about them. Lewis Hamilton said after the race his team mate should have been on the podium instead of him.
He wasn’t the only person at Mercedes unhappy with the instruction: the team’s non-executive chairman Niki Lauda said Rosberg should have been allowed to race Hamilton.
Bernie Ecclestone also voiced his displeasure over the use of team orders by Red Bull and Mercedes. But they aren’t the only teams to have used them so far this year.
Were they right to do so on Sunday?
Red Bull did not want their drivers racing each other after their last pit stops as they were concerned about tyre wear.
Mercedes had similar concerns but a more pressing problem was the shortage of fuel on Hamilton’s car. He and Rosberg swapped places more than once after their last pit stops but as Hamilton was repeatedly told to save fuel, Rosberg was ordered to stay behind him.
Both teams felt allowing their drivers to race for position put their chances to score points at risk. In Red Bull’s case they were heading for a one-two, and Mercedes were on course for their largest points haul since returning to Formula One.
Had it not been for Vettel’s act of defiance the last quarter of the Malaysian Grand Prix would have consisted of four drivers at the front of the field following each other around being forbidden to race each other. Is this the sporting spectacle F1 is spending billions of pounds to produce?
Both teams imposed an arbitrary cut-off point of the last pit stop as the point at which their drivers were not allowed to race each other. If teams are to impose ‘hold position’ orders at this point then one-stop races will be particularly dull.
But the objections of Rosberg – who told his team to “remember this one” after the race – and the disobedience of Vettel shows the orders given were inappropriate and ineffective.
It will come as no surprise to long-time F1 Fanatic readers that, as a fan of motor racing, I’m not keen on drivers being told not to race each other. But what struck me most about the messages broadcast on Sunday was how little faith the teams have in their drivers.
Ross Brawn tried to placate Rosberg by telling him Hamilton could go faster – yet his repeated urging of Hamilton to go slower showed that was not the case. Christian Horner’s message to Vettel telling him not to be “silly” was as patronising as it was impotent.
The teams tried to remove the drivers’ ability to judge for themselves how to drive their cars, with varying degrees of success. But Lewis Hamilton does not need a dozen radio messages per race telling him to save fuel – he needs a fuel gauge.
Both Red Bull drivers finishing despite pushing beyond the boundaries imposed by their teams, racing each other hard for the lead and putting on another burst of pace in the middle of the stint when Webber tried to catch Vettel.
As in Korea last year, it proved the men in the cockpits are best placed to judge the state of their tyres, not the prat perch dwellers who think they know better. So let them race.
Did Red Bull and Mercedes get it right in Malaysia? Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.
- 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix: Should Lotus have used team orders?
- 2011 British Grand Prix: Were Red Bull right to order Webber not to pass Vettel?
- 2010 German Grand Prix: Should Ferrari be penalised for using team orders?
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