Were Red Bull & Mercedes right to use team orders?

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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?

  1. David BR2 said on 27th March 2013, 12:03

    I think this whole issue is on its head. Webber pointed this out. The problem is deliberate tyre wear, which makes drivers have to be more cautious, which in turn makes them dependent on team radio advice based on tyre wear calculations made by computer. Rather than giving the drivers decent tyres, and maybe the option to refuel, and just letting them drive the hell out of the cars.

    Rapid tyre degradation, DRS, KERS etc. were all introduced for one reason: more overtakes and more (fake) show. So Ecclestone has some cheek complaining about team orders.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 27th March 2013, 12:57

      Its not tyre wear, its a combination of having a lot of information on the pit-wall and avoiding risks that lead to teams issuing orders.

      What Vettel in essence did, was challenge who is the guy to call the shots, as he knew from previous cases, that his team urged him to be more carefull of the car and the tyres than needed.

      • David BR2 said on 27th March 2013, 16:55

        @bascb You may well be right about Vettel knew the team were being overcautious, but the whole point is that the concern with tyre wear is dominating races, meaning that the teams have this leverage over the drivers and to some extent the public – it helps them to justify team orders. I don’t think there was anything that sinister in Red Bull and Mercedes wanting the drivers to hold position, they just didn’t care who finished in front of whom within the team, but wanted to maximize the chance of both drivers finishing. Seems to be standard policy after the last stop. But in some senses that again reinforces the point that tyre degradation makes these stops predictable.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 28th March 2013, 6:30

          but wanted to maximize the chance of both drivers finishing

          – No David BR2, they did not want to “maximize the chance of finishing” they wanted to take risk out of it.

          But the ultimate consequence of that is, that teams could then decide to stop battling after the first pitstop instead of the last, or even after the first lap, or not at all. Because all of that lowers the risk of not finishing. But that is not sport, because in effect it makes the racing irellevant. I am sure Red Bull could live with giving the points based on qualifying results (no risk of damage or tyres or engines not lasting), but would that be F1?

  2. Tifoso1989 (@tifoso1989) said on 27th March 2013, 12:04

    the team’s non-executive chairman Niki Lauda said Rosberg should have been allowed to race Hamilton

    Funny it seems that Niki forgot the Ferrari team orders when he was the clear N°1 driver of the team

  3. Sean N (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk) said on 27th March 2013, 12:05

    I absolutely hate drivers being told not to race but how can you police a ban on team orders that affect race results? The simple answer is you can’t and you shouldn’t. Certainly not with the current framework.

    Remember the TEAM pays the entry. The TEAM builds and pays for the car. the TEAM pays the driver to fulfil his contract. Therefore the team has every right to tell the driver what to do. They are the entrant and NOT the driver.

    The only hope we have of avoiding team orders is change the framework of F1. The driver could be the entrant and the team would have to provide the car under contract no strings attached. I don’t see how that could work financially.

    The only other thing I can think of is the drivers and teams are contracted to a central body an not directly to each other. Far fetched I know! In that scenario we could have drivers jumping from car to car throughout the season the same way jockeys do in horse racing…hmmm that would be interesting!

    • Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 27th March 2013, 12:13

      The only other thing I can think of is the drivers and teams are contracted to a central body an not directly to each other. Far fetched I know! In that scenario we could have drivers jumping from car to car throughout the season the same way jockeys do in horse racing…hmmm that would be interesting!

      Pretty sure that was one of Max Mosley’s more unhinged ideas.

      In the real world, the resurrected Formula 2 ran to a similar framework: all the cars were owned by the promoter (the mechanics were directly employed by the promoter too), and the driver rented the machinery to race with.

      • Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 27th March 2013, 13:23

        @red-andy You would be right! That was raised at the end of 2002, when Ferrari were churning out 1-2s every other week.

      • Sean N (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk) said on 27th March 2013, 15:09

        I actually originally suggested it way before way before Max did and then it was a little tongue in cheek to illustrate what an intractable situation we have with F1 and team orders. Of course back then the lap time differences of the cars at the front and back of the grid were much bigger. The 2013 cars are intrinsically close in performance. The problem with hi deg tyres is it suits the cars at the front more than those at the back. More durable tyres would mean closer racing and then we’d be at lot less concerned when the inescapable team orders crept in occasionally.

  4. PhilEReid (@philereid) said on 27th March 2013, 12:10

    No for both, far too early in the season to be dictating to the drivers that they cannot race. There should be no preferential treatment this early on for any drivers.
    Whilst not technically part of this debate, even though I’m against team orders, I do think that once they are given, they should be heeded. It’s the same in anything, you do what your employer tells you to do, it really is that simple, or, you try to discuss it with your boss (Rosberg, sort of), to try and work it out, but, their word is final.
    The other thing is as Webber’s car was turned down, he couldn’t fight back anyway, and Vettel knew that, which is probably the biggest reason to be annoyed (other than the use of team orders in the first place).

  5. phil9079 (@phil9079) said on 27th March 2013, 12:15

    It’s ironic isn’t it? Were RBR not the ones who didn’t want to pay attention to the whole team orders thing? Was Horner not the one who said, we let the drivers race eachother faire and square?

    Anywayhow, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all week now. RACING WAS/IS/WILL ALWAYS STAY RACING! If you don’t like what happend on sunday, why does everyone bother and watch F1 anyway? If you don’t like it, then don’t watch it, simple as that! You could do something else like sport or pay some attetion to your family or something instead of bothering or making yourselfs angry at what happend! The ones who do this are stupid! Did they crash? Nope… Did the F1 fans like it? Hell yeah! Did Mclaren complain about team orders when Jenson and Lewis were fighting? Hell no!

    So let me ask y’all a question, what would F1 be if non of this “fighting” happend? Nothing? thought so…

    • venom (@venom) said on 27th March 2013, 13:17


      I dont care what everyone has to say.. webber turned his engine down blah blah..the fact is with a flick of a switch he’s engine was back to full power and they raced!! and boy my hands were in the air literally when i was watching that!!! seeing those awesome couple of laps from both webber and vettel.. made my day…I came home the next day and watched the last couple of laps again.. this is F1.. vettel is a Racing driver!!

      • John H (@john-h) said on 27th March 2013, 13:46

        It was indeed great!…But… ironically it only occurred because Mark thought Seb was going to obey his team order (“he has been told”).

        This is classic Prisoner’s Dilemma. The best outcome for the team is if both drivers cooperate, but individually its better for each driver to defect.

        It’s a very interesting property of the whole team/individual dynamic that exists in F1.

        Unfortunately, now that trust is lost they are both going to defect for the rest of the season, which isn’t maximum payoff for the team!! Interesting.

    • MNM101 (@mnm101) said on 27th March 2013, 14:48

      I was contemplating this whole situation and I came up with something, let’s call it a possible outcome, however slim the chance… This might be exactly what Red Bull needed, for 4 years now there has been this long exhausting back and forth between the team and the world, the team and the drivers, and the drivers themselves, is there a N.1 ? isn’t there ? is one given the advantage over the other. and frankly it’s tedious. Mark has been outperformed by Seb for the last three years, so naturally Seb has become the go-to guy as he is the one who guarantees results, but the team maintains that both drivers get equal chance, and Malaysia proved it(with Mark being guaranteed victory after the final stop).
      Although, when Seb was attacking, the way he was warned suggested they tried not to “step on his toes” too much, which(at least to me) does not imply favoritism, but implies they don’t want to upset him, which is wrong, any and every driver must listen to what his team orders him to do, he owes it to the 400-700 people who are behind the scenes, even though i think these orders in particular were completely out of place, and they should have been allowed to race.
      So I think this might just solve the problem, the reaction Seb received after the race was clearly a huge shock for him, and probably was very humbling for him, which will do him some good, although he usually is a humble guy.
      As for Mark I think now he can stop talking about the protection and preferential treatment Seb gets.
      So who knows, this might be the last straw, that will make everyone sit down together, lay everything on the table and come out stronger than before.
      And it just might destroy the team :P

      what do u guys think?

      I’ll just add what I think of how things went down on Sunday, Sebastian is my favorite driver, and I think he was in the wrong, but ONLY towards the team, After Mark’s history with team orders, I think he had this one coming .

      • venom (@venom) said on 27th March 2013, 16:03

        very interesting what you have to say..to be honest I think sebastian was just being a normal kid..hes 25 years old and he was having some fun at a grand prix..racing and enjoying himself and wanting to win.. its a natural instinct any young person has..it was quite clear the team response shocked him aswell..anyway I hope he comes out tougher than ever in china!!..

  6. Schlawiner (@bebilou) said on 27th March 2013, 12:17

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

  7. David (@deltabell) said on 27th March 2013, 12:17

    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.

  8. melkurion (@melkurion) said on 27th March 2013, 12:18

    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.

    • John H (@john-h) said on 27th March 2013, 13:51

      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!

  9. Mike (@mike) said on 27th March 2013, 12:20

    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.

  10. V. Chris (@vasschu) said on 27th March 2013, 12:23

    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.

  11. Eddie (@wackyracer) said on 27th March 2013, 12:24

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

  12. Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 27th March 2013, 12:26

    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.

    • 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.

  13. Girts (@girts) said on 27th March 2013, 12:34

    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.

  14. 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.

  15. f1alex (@f1alex) said on 27th March 2013, 12:37

    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.

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