Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Sepang, 2013

Were Red Bull & Mercedes right to use team orders?

Debates and PollsPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Sepang, 2013The events of the closing laps of the Malaysian Grand Prix provoked huge debate and thousands of comments here.

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.

I say

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.

You say

Did Red Bull and Mercedes get it right in Malaysia? Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.

Were Red Bull right to order Vettel not to pass Webber?

  • Yes (49%)
  • No (46%)
  • No opinion (5%)

Total Voters: 747

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Were Mercedes right to order Rosberg not to pass Hamilton?

  • Yes (24%)
  • No (72%)
  • No opinion (4%)

Total Voters: 737

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352 comments on “Were Red Bull & Mercedes right to use team orders?”

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  1. Team orders so early in the season are ridiculous. So I voted “no” to both polls.

  2. no matter what people think, team orders will always be issued, whether against the rules or not. These drivers are PAID by the teams to drive the TEAMS cars, the drivers are employees and therefore must listen to their boss. Whether we like it or not this is the case and ye it may seem wrong as they are meant to drive to win, but those are the rules, the drivers need to deal with it and the consequences.

  3. I voted yes on both questions, from the team’s perspective it makes total sence to save the engine ( only 8 per year) and not to stress the tires.

    However if if @keithcollantine was to open a second poll asking:

    1) was vettel right to pass webber?

    2) should rosberg have passed hamilton?

    I would vote yes on both subjects too, because from the driver’s standpoint , you want to WIN.

    In the all the thousands of comments al boil down to one thing, what is more important the team’s aspirations, or the driver’s. And on that subject you’re most likely never going te get everyone to agree.

    1. In the all the thousands of comments al boil down to one thing, what is more important the team’s aspirations, or the driver’s. And on that subject you’re most likely never going te get everyone to agree.

      Exactly +1 Sir!

  4. I think when Ross was saying Hamilton could go faster, he didn’t mean that Hamilton could race faster, so much as meaning that IF he didn’t have the fuel issue, he could go faster.

    1. That was my interpretation too @mike

    2. Only because you heard the Ross-Ham radio contact that Nico had no privy to and Ross new exactly well that Nico had no idea about the fuel issue.

  5. I was waiting for this poll and the results are not surprising at all. They are showing only the double standards (for now, only 63 voters). It’s ok to have team orders as long as they restrict Vettel, but it’s not OK to have team orders for the oder drivers. I am failing to see the logic here. Anyway – in both cases – definitely “no”. The fight between Vettel and Webber was great and that’s what i want to see from a race. I know, the German is not popular here and if he listened to Horner now all the hate comments were going to explain us that he can’t overtake and he is counting only on strategy and team orders. There was going to be ZERO respect if he obeyed. So i think he definitely did the right thing.

    1. I agree: It was a case of 0 respect, or 0 respect plus 7 points…

  6. i think if pirelli makes the tyres last longer and drivers dont have to preserve them, then we won’t have these problems

  7. I don’t like Vettel, nor do I like Red Bull’s (to be exact: Marko’s) way of doing things, but this is preposterous. Team orders are either wrong or right, regardless of the team doing this. They can’t be both right and wrong. I find the results of poll ridiculous.

    As far as I’m concerned – no all the way. In both cases. We should see racing, we should trust drivers’ judgement.

    Also it’s pretty clear why the results of the poll are so biased – it’s because Vettel asked for team orders favoring him and ignored the ones in favor of Webber. Had he not asked for “getting Mark out of his way” he would have been applauded for what he’s done. Now he’s just seen as a spoiled kid who doesn’t need to obey rules and when something goes against his will he’s just crying and asking uncle Christian and uncle Helmut for help. There’s also a strong hint of Red Bull not being consistent about their own policy. One may find it hard to believe that “multi 21” order was really followed by the team itself when it was Webber who found himself leading. Slap on the wrist which Vettel got for his misbehavior is also not very convincing, to say the least. It all stinks and that’s why people have biased views regarding this situation.

    1. There’s also a strong hint of Red Bull not being consistent about their own policy


      That part is true, if not in the sense you intended. Vettel seems to be in much more hot water for this incident than Webber ever was for ignoring team orders in the past.

  8. No and no. Team orders make our sport dull, always leave bad aftertaste and the finger-pointing after them looks just silly.

    F1 drivers are the best racers in the world. Team orders unnecessarily diminish their achievements. Hamilton and Rosberg didn’t crash into each other at Bahrain last year even though they were in different teams and Rosberg took it to the limit. And Webber knew how to behave last Sunday even though he seemingly didn’t expect the attack and was very angry.

    I’m sure that drivers are professionals and that fans place exciting racing above all. So FIA should ban team orders and teams should stop using them now.

  9. Team orders have a time and a place. The 2nd race of the season is not the time nor the place for team orders, regardless. Both no from me. Shows a lack of respect and trust from the pit wall to the drivers, and anyone who goes and disobeys them (both Vettel and Webber in different circumstances) are no better.

  10. It’s funny how more people have said it’s right that RedBull employed team orders than Mercedes.
    For me it’s either one or the other, they were both right to or both wrong to, I can’t see how you can be like “yeah it’s fine for Merc to do it but shame on RedBull for doing the same”… Therefore I voted “No” for both.

  11. Someone commented here (and rightly) that banning team order means banning prostitution. But, a team principal should have the authority to dictate the team desires. My solution is simple: Didi Mateschietz should either sack Vettel or Webber (he’s got money for compensation) but don’t have any remedy for Mercedes. Finally, a racing driver should be trusted and allowed to race and not be a chicken. The bottom line is, the culprits are the team principals for team order so early in the season. The biggest losers are the teams, then MW and RS. And I have a strange feeling that Webber retaliates, even if it would cost him and Vettel the title.

  12. The OZ Cynic
    27th March 2013, 12:38

    This is a different era completely to the drive 100% to the flag. They cannot change the engine and gearbox after every race. The tires have to be managed every race according to each team. So they have to balance speed with performance every race to the last detail. Which means as soon as its safe to pull back with no challenge from anyone else it makes 100% sense to do so as the season is long and at the end you do not want to manage races with engines or gearboxes that are marginal.

  13. I get why the teams want to impose orders. They just want to maximize the points and bring home both cars. What bugs me is that most of the time we, the viewer, don’t know whether or not team orders are employed. You think you see proper racing, but in reality it’s just a carefully choreographed procession. It feels as if F1 is more about politics rather than racing. And maybe it is, and that would be very sad in my opinion.

    I wouldn’t be in favor of banning team orders either. In the current F1 environment it’s far to easy to masquerade a team order as fuel saving, tyre saving or even a slightly slower pit stop. Might as well allow it then, right? I also don’t agree with Mr. E’s statements about it being too early in the season for team orders. You don’t know what the season is going to bring, and I get why a team would rather settle the championship early. I don’t like it, but I understand it.

    Was Vettel right to overtake Webber? Maybe. I’m happy he did, because it spiced up the race, post race and gives us plenty to talk about in the coming weeks. It also gives Formula 1 plenty of extra coverage. But on the other hand, there was an agreement within the team, and there’s supposed to be mutual respect for each other and a certain level of trust. Vettel showed he cannot be trusted, neither by the team nor by his team mate. It’ll hurt him in the long run. Where the team might previously decide to support him at some point, they might not be so willing anymore. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. That kind of thing. Except Vettel shouldn’t expect to receive any scratching anymore.

    As for the situation at Mercedes, I don’t think it’s much better. Hamilton mentioned he felt Rosberg should be up the podium. But at the end of the day it was Hamilton getting the trophy. If Hamilton really feels that way (which remains to be seen), he’ll owe one to Rosberg now.

  14. I disagree about the team orders issued by both RB and Mercedes.

  15. Race is race, no team orders should be allowed. Well done Vettel! **** of the ones that likes that a faster car stays behind is slower team mate. For example, since that day we all saw that Rosberg will never became a World Champion. Who doesn’t remember Shumi or Senna, they will never stay behind is team mate, never! This is the behavior of the champions and Vettel is a champion, as Alonso or Hamilton. Someone believes that one of these doesn’t overtake? Of course they will!

    1. Oh Schumacher did play #2 to Irvine in the last 4 races in 1999 when he had to sit 7 races recovering from broken leg bones. And he was THE BEST #2 for three races and the best ACTOR for the last race of the season. This is how:

      Ferrari had brought in Schumacher in 1996 to help them win the Driver Championship as they haven’t won it since 1979. Schumacher and co forfeit 1996 season and in 1997 were fighting for the WDC to the last straw until MSc realized his car cannot finish so DELIBRATELY hit JV (on the side) to take him out and thus win the WDC but didn’t cause any serious damage to the Williams of JV and he went on to win the WDC (that he deserved in 1996 but for a certain non-Frank Williams favoring Hill from race 1 by stopping JV car for inspection while leading the race albeit with slow oil leak and handing victory to Hill) and MSc penalized by wiping out all his points for the 1997 and more importantly losing respect from many of his loyal fans (me included).

      Then in 1998 (THE BEST SEASON OF F1 EVER for me where Hill paid back Schumacher for 1994 by delaying him for 12 laps in the final race while not involved in the title battle] with a puncture to see MSc retire and Mikka (the most humble double world champion ever) steel the WDC.

      Comes 1999 and MSc and Mikka are at it again but in the British GP MSc’s car wouldn’t turn and goes straight into a wall breaking two bones in one of his legs which side-tracked him for 7 races. Mika Salo took his place and together with Eddie Irvine mounted a serious fight for the championship (because of the quality of car not their driving) until MSc returned in the last four races to help Irvine win the WDC for Ferrari since 1979 AND for three races MSc did AN AMAZING JOB by first leading the race and then playing synchronized swimming (Martin Brundle’s words in Japan 1999) to allow Irvine to take the lead but prevent Mikka Hakkinen from passing. Then when it dawned on Ferrari that Irvine in about to get them the WDC not MSc they decided to throw it by first bringing 3 tyres for Irvine in one pit stop (cannot remember which GP) and then by when Irvine needing MSc to prevent Hakkinen from winning the final GP of the season MSc DELIBERATELY came second and allowed Mikka Hakkinen to take his 2nd WDC because Irvine would have take the thunders away from him.

      The funny thing was, had Irvine won the 1999 season he would have been the ONLY driver in F1 history to have won the WDC without making a scoring a single pole position. Correct me if I wrong Keith or anybody.

  16. I think the use of team orders on Sunday is a different issue than has faced us before. In previous cases, team orders are often presented as a way of ensuring a “preferred” driver is placed in a better position to the detriment of his team mate. Whether that means being told to stay behind, or to allow the team mate past, the aim is to get the preferred driver more points. The two main reasons for this is either one team mate is in a much better position in the drivers championship, or has a stated or de-facto number one status in the team.

    That’s not what happened on Sunday. Instead, there was an operational decision to minimise risk. In the case of Mercedes, is was the risk of running out of fuel. In Red Bulls case, it was the risk of either of the two drivers taking each other out, or damaging tires sufficiently that the 1st and/or 2nd place would be threatened. Both these scenarios are nothing to do with “picking” the teams preferred winner.

    Take the Red Bull scenario. Both cars are operating below max, in order to preserve the life of the tyres. This is reasonable. Both drivers received instructions about target lap times. Imagine instead, you let them race. Putting aside the risk of crashing for a moment, the team (and drivers!) need to manage the tyres still. So, do you say “race, but only push 80%”? Who measures what that 80% is? Up until that point in the race, they’d both be unrestricted in being allowed to overtake (although lap time targets were presumably still in place), and Webber had come out on top. If both drivers pushed they would be likely to damage their tyres too much, and require an extra stop.

    The situation at Mercedes was slightly different – the limit was fuel – not tyres – and it affected the two team mates to different degrees. It is likely that Nico could have maintained a faster “safe” pace. However there is a crucial difference. They DID race. Nico attempted the overtake on tow separate occasions, but Lewis took it right back again. Battling that close to each other while achieving nothing was pointless – damaging tyres, using fuel, and risking collision with no gain for anyone. To avoid that problem there were two solutions, both involving team orders. 1) Tell Lewis to let Nico past (this is was Nico asked for), or 2) Tell both drivers to maintain position. Personally, Ross Brawn make the call I would have done. And, I have to say, did it with more composure, professionalism and respect for his drivers than Christian Horner did. You have a frustrated driver? Explain the reason WHY you’re giving those orders. Even if he doesn’t agree, at least you’ve had the decency to let him know. Which is why I think we say Nico and Sebastian react in different ways.

    Ultimately, I’m all for pure racing, with no team orders. But with the current regulations and tyres, “pure racing” simply doesn’t exist. Every race is currently a very finely balanced battle between pace and tyre management. And tyre management has the upper hand at the moment. So I can hardly blame team principles for playing it a little bit safe, especially this early in the season.

    As the season goes on, the need for managed lap times will likely diminish, and with the the need for team orders due to “obscured” pace. And team orders will once again start being about picking a favourite. And my disdain for them will return…

    1. @fluxsource Regarding the situation at Mercedes, that is assuming Rosberg had fuel issues as well. As far as we heard on TV, they only told Hamilton to save fuel during the race. They only told Rosberg to hold position, only explaining that Hamilton could go faster. From that conversation I gather Rosberg didn’t have fuel issues, but they wanted to keep him behind Hamilton.

      1. My understanding is that Rosberg did have fuel issues, but not as severe as Hamilton’s. I know it’s only a small difference, but these small things make a big difference when dealing with “grey areas”.

    2. Adam hits on the different reasons for team orders. From a team manager’s point of view, it can be looked at like this:

      A. You are worried about a collision and don’t care about the positions – so you order them to hold.
      B. You are worried about tyre wear or other car issues and don’t care about positions – so you order them to hold.
      C. You have a potential issue with one particular car and don’t care about positions – so you order the other one ahead and let him on his way.
      D. You have a potential issue with one particular car and prefer they stay ahead either because the they’re contracted #1 or you think something happened unfairly to them in the race – so you order them to hold.
      E. You prefer one driver be ahead for the drivers championship purposes and order them that way – because the other driver is out of contention.

      So we have Red Bull applying case B – I’m okay with that due to the extreme tyre situation in Malaysia – but Horner had no power to actually enforce it!
      But Mercedes applied case D! Quite silly this early in the season – you can’t ensure drivers get 100% fair treatment all year. Nico has every right to be PO’d. Unless of course Hamilton is the clear #1 in the team.

  17. I think the answer to this depends on the viewer’s opinion of what motorsport is.

    If you take the view that it is a sport where the best drivers fight it out wheel to wheel for a championship, then team orders are clearly wrong.

    If you take the view that it’s a sport where a huge team of people designs, builds and runs cars, against a bunch of other teams, then team orders are clearly ok.

    If you take the view that it’s a little of both, then the answer is “it depends”.

    The problem is that F1 tries to be both. In Fangio’s day, it was a team sport first. The drivers came second, and they did what they were told. If a driver was top notch, they would have no qualms about demanding #1 status over the other driver(s). If a team issued an order, that order was followed. If a driver disobeyed, he was dispensable, #1 driver or not. Nowadays, it’s seen by a lot of people as a sport where a group of elite drivers fight each other. However, the best driver in the world doesn’t have a hope of winning without his team building a decent car, and running it well. We have no doubt that Hamilton is probably the fastest man on the grid, but a series of failures by the team last year left him a distant fourth.

    On a personal level, I dislike team orders, I dislike drivers who expect their teammate to move over, and I dislike the idea of a team principal deciding the result of a race on our behalf.

    However, I also don’t buy into the idea that the drivers are there to be pandered to and allowed to dictate to the team how things should run. No driver on the grid is going to win the championship in a Caterham. They might like to think their input is paramount, but overall, how much difference is there between the top drivers? Not as much as they like to claim. Jules Bianchi is running over a second a lap faster than his teammate. But Hamilton’s not running a second a lap faster than Rosberg. And the Marussia is 3-4 seconds slower than the top of the grid. So in truth, money, facilities, team structure, and Adrian Newey are all worth probably 3 or 4 times as much laptime as Hamilton or Vettel is. I’m sure people may not like hearing that but it’s true.

    Furthermore “Racing to the flag” doesn’t happen in any other team sport. Rugby, Football, cricket, horse racing, you name it. You can watch any of those sports and see a player obeying an instruction from a captain or coach to play out the clock, waste time, slow down, reduce their efforts, concentrate on protecting their lead rather than attempting to score, or accepting a draw today in the hope of a better chance at a win tomorrow. In some cases, that may mean that a player who is chasing a personal best, or a higher score, or an end of year golden boot, is not going to get what they want. But can you see someone like Alex Ferguson allowing one of his star players to ignore one of his orders? Never happen. Tough diddly to you and your golden boot award. An F1 team won’t take that attitude but they shouldn’t accept a driver deciding to ignore the whole organisation.

    As to the polls, I think they could be structured differently to get more useful information.

    “Should the team have the right to issue team orders” is a different question to “Were team orders the right thing in this particular case”.

    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.

    That worked out really well for Vettel when he decided to come in early for slicks, ignoring the team’s advice, didn’t it? I understand your point, but let’s get rid of all the strategists, analysts, mechanics, and engineers, then see how well the precocious, valient drivers do at running the race. Some drivers can’t even work out what their own current strategy is, never mind decide which tyres to change to.

    Vettel is impressive. Without a huge team deciding to pick him up, he’s a nonetity driving around the back of the grid in a HRT.

  18. 2011, poll: “Was it right of Webber to disobey teamorders?”. 75% said yes.
    2013, poll: “Was it right of Vettel to disobey teamorders?” (basically). 40% say yes.
    2013, poll: “Would it hav been right of Rosberg to disobey teamorders?” (basically). 75% say yes.

    And there will still be people defending this double standard.

    1. Maybe some of the ‘people’ in question were in the 25%, 60% and 25% respectively?

    2. I applaud Keith for having the guts to put this poll up as it was evident from the get go this double standard would be unveiled.. just waiting for all the excuses and ‘explanations’ to start appearing now..

      1. They were different situations, with different causes, and different outcomes. (Different words!) It’s entirely legitimated to vote differently on the two polls without having “double standards”. Although I’d like to point out that I didn’t…

        1. Except the difference between the 2011 Silverstone poll and this one ( involving the same drivers and team) is so minuscule, you’d have to nitpick to find it (which doesn’t stop some people from trying it and using it as a justification).

    3. I think the reason for the double standard may be something as simple as supporting the underdog.

      When Webber ignored orders, it was against a backdrop of the team publicly sabotaging his chances against an opponent who had massive political backing (front wing stealing). Whereas here, Vettel’s reputation has suffered over the years from exactly those factors. Rosberg, again, is seen as the underdog in the team and gets the same boost in support.

      You’re not wrong about the double standard, but I think there is a logical reason for it.

      1. You’re not wrong about the double standard, but I think there is a logical reason for it.

        Of course there is a reason! :D I think you have a point, but that’s not the only reason I think.

        I think Vettels success is another major one. People (especially British IMO) don’t want another dominant Schumi and they are trying their best to fight it kicking and screaming. With every win Vettel is edging closer to him though and it terrifies them. Doesn’t help that he’s German either.

        But my point is that people need to see this and admit it. I’d have much more respect for them in that case.

    4. Because Webber in 2011 PRETENDED to ignore team orders to please his supporters but not actually over-taking Vettel (pretended losing in a fake battle) to not get fired.
      Ever since 2012 Webber knows his yearly contract is dependent on supporting their golden silly Fiddle-Vettel.
      That is why we symphathize with is then but loath what Vettel did on Sunday or was it the team secret agreement with him to slow down Webber so he could over-take???
      The next few races should tell us that.
      Personally I would dock Vettel 1 month salary and give it to Webber to show him who is boss and get Webber to support him in the future. As it is, this will make fireworks in the two-sides of the garage.

  19. MB (@muralibhats)
    27th March 2013, 13:18

    There is one person who only voted for Red Bull? Didn’t Vote for Mercedes question? Vettel/Red Bull hater?

  20. Lets be absolutely clear on this subject of team orders. The team owner(s) pays the bills and gets a large percentage of their income for the team performance not the individual drivers performance. Although they are linked.
    The driver does not know the whole story and therefore must be guided and instructed. Especially in the present day with limited numbers or engines and gearboxes. The driver will not know the amount of fuel left or the expected ware rate of the tyres. And most definitley will not know the situation of his team mate or the state of the opposition. So he must be guided by the team and obey the orders.
    Also in the team meeting before the race there will have been decisions made and agreed about what to do in certain situations.
    Therefore the team leader must be in control and be obeyed, for a driver to disobey breaks the trust between the driver and the team.

    Does anyone think with the reaction of Mark Webber that if Seb Vettel needs assistance in securing another World Championship that Mark is going to be very helpful, especially if the team is alrady in the position of winning the Team Championship.

    So be realistic, and accept there must be team orders and they should be obeyed.

    If you disagree then virtually a whole bunch of rules and regulations need to changed before we can expect to get wheel to wheel racing between every driver on th grid. The present rules dictate that between team mates the risks must be minimised, and that means drivers will always be told to hold position, now and for evermore, even if team orders are banned. And that applied doubly in the last race with RBR in 1 and 2 and Mercedes in 3 and 4 with very little chance of a change unless someone broke down of drove off the circuit, or the team mates crashed into each other.

    And yes, I too, would like to see wheel to wheel action for the whole race but in some situations it is not going to happen, accept it.

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