Were Red Bull & Mercedes right to use team orders?

Debates and Polls

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?

For

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.

Against

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

Loading ... Loading ...

Were Mercedes right to order Rosberg not to pass Hamilton?

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

Total Voters: 737

Loading ... Loading ...

An F1 Fanatic account is required in order to vote. If you do not have one, register an account here or read more about registering here.

Related polls

Debates and polls

Browse all debates and polls

Image ?? Pirelli/LAT

Advert | Go Ad-free

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

  1. dcjohnson (@dcjohnson) said on 27th March 2013, 14:00

    Maybe team points should be awarded with 10 laps to go !!!! So the drivers would be free to fight !!!! I personally think both Vettel and Rosberg were both unprofessional. Vettel completely unsporting. And why the all the whining from Rosberg, you either trust your team or you don’t, they have the information, we still don’t know how much fuel Rosberg actually had in comparison to Hamilton, since Rosberg doesn’t have a fuel gauge. We are all assuming he had much more fuel because he whined more…both Rosberg and Hamilton were told by Mercedes to go max speed in their mid stints…sure there are driving techniques to save fuel, world champion Hamilton is aware of these techniques, so why is there the assumption that his “wreck-less” driving used up soooo much more fuel ???? The is no evidence bar the public moaning of Rosberg.

  2. matt90 (@matt90) said on 27th March 2013, 14:04

    Do I like to see team orders? No. But as long as they are legal, Red Bull were correct to use them to an extent. They have to think of what is best for them, and what was best for them was not risking their drivers colliding. With team orders in F1, that seems to me to be a fair stance. On balance, I voted no opinion, because I consider whether I want to see them and whether they were justified as 2 separate things, and Red Bull were wrong to use in so much as it hurt their brand image among fans.

    For Mercedes however, I see no real justification. If Rosberg was able to go that much faster at that time, for whatever reason, he should have been allowed to pass. If the team were concerned about a collision, then the order could have been for Lewis to move aside. But what was almost certainly wrong was boxing a faster driver behind a slower one.

    The crux of the issue is clearly that team orders are detrimental to fans’ enjoyment of the sport, and overall are a bad aspect for F1. But the problem with making them illegal again is that policing it would be so very difficult. Look at what happened to Ferrari in 2010. It was the most blatant display of team orders, but went unpunished. And how do you justify in the rule book what the acceptable face of team orders is? There clearly is one as numerous times at the climax of a season we have seen drivers trade places. And also, whether Germany 2008 was actually team orders or not- I haven’t heard a radio instruction to Kovalainen and don’t know if one existed- if they were employed there, were they justified? I would say that they clearly were, as the beneficiary (Hamilton) went on to win rather than being trapped far behind. That makes it a far less disgusting manipulation of a race result. But how do you allow for that in the rules? And does that mean that no drivers are ever allowed to be instructed to hold position? Unfortunately, I don’t see a realistic way that team orders can be banned. If they were, they would remain illegal only as long as it took for the next Hockenheim 2010 to happen. Then everybody would question why less severe violations actually were less severe and went unpunished.

    • Adam Hardwick (@fluxsource) said on 27th March 2013, 14:15

      But what was almost certainly wrong was boxing a faster driver behind a slower one.

      Except he wasn’t demonstrably faster. He’d already made two overtaking attempts, but couldn’t make them stick. And, as has been demonstrated over many years, drivers start getting reckless if they’re trying to pass the same car for two long. As Lewis has successfully defended his position, why would ordering him to move over be any fairer?

      • Akshay (@hamilfan) said on 27th March 2013, 14:55

        But surely, they could have allowed nico past in one of the DRS zones , Lewis woudn’t have felt bad about it as he had to fuel save any way .

      • matt90 (@matt90) said on 27th March 2013, 15:34

        @fluxsource By faster, I mean that he was able to run faster due to not needing to fuel save, particularly considering that Hamilton needed to continue reducing his pace substantially after that in order to make the end of the race. I’m sure Hamilton could have run at a similar pace to Rosberg, but he would have ran out of petrol. Rosberg apparently didn’t have the same fuel problems.

        • Adam Hardwick (@fluxsource) said on 27th March 2013, 15:41

          Except that before the order he tried to overtake, and failed. Twice. So why should Hamilton then move over?

          • matt90 (@matt90) said on 27th March 2013, 15:57

            @fluxsource Because he had to keep reducing his pace and couldn’t afford to keep defending so strongly anyway.

          • Adam Hardwick (@fluxsource) said on 27th March 2013, 16:05

            As I can’t reply to your comment @matt90 I’ll reply to mine…

            Possibly, even probably. But not definitely. Without data to show exactly what level of fuel saving they were each on, talk of Lewis allowing Nico past is just the team orders debate from the other direction.

            Ideally, drivers should be allowed to compete all the time. In this case they were not, but at least it was towards the end of the race, and they’d had a bit of a scrap first.

          • matt90 (@matt90) said on 27th March 2013, 16:17

            You make a good point. I just assume that Rosberg did not need to drive as slowly as Hamilton to make the finish. The reason I assume that is because I believe Brawn would almost certainly have told Rosberg that he needed to fuel save if he had actually needed to. That approach would have made Rosberg less concerned about not being allowed to attack Hamilton.

    • Red Bull were correct to use them to an extent. They have to think of what is best for them, and what was best for them was not risking their drivers colliding.

      For Mercedes however, I see no real justification. If Rosberg was able to go that much faster at that time, for whatever reason, he should have been allowed to pass. If the team were concerned about a collision, then the order could have been for Lewis to move aside.

      Given that Vettel was also “clearly faster” than Webber, as shown by his, you know, passing Webber, how you can square that circle is beyond me. And you don’t even try. You just repeat your description of your own desired outcome and make zero effort to even rationalize it. A simple “I hate vettel” would be both clearer and more succinct.

      • matt90 (@matt90) said on 27th March 2013, 18:56

        @jonsan This has sod all to do with Vettel, which is why I never even mentioned him. I don’t appreciate somebody who doesn’t agree with my opinion trying to imply I am biased- that is the cheapest form of counter-argument. It also makes no sense, seeing as my favourite driver is Hamilton and I was more than happy to see team orders either not used in his favour or even used against him. If you disagree with what I said, say why, and do so without such an attitude. My desired outcome, as I explained later, is no team orders. A fair fight between Vettel and Webber with no attempt to restrain them would be great, but clearly wasn’t what appropriate for Red Bull given the circumstances and legality of team orders.

        I’ll admit that their does appear to be a contradiction in my logic. My opinion, which I didn’t make clear enough in my post, was partly based on there being a huge pace differential between Hamilton and Rosberg, particularly right at the end of the race. Such a huge difference in speed did not exist for Vettel and Webber. The pace of the individual drivers was not creating a difference of the same scope as the fuel saving required by Hamilton was. If Rosberg had been that much easier on fuel consumption while staying in contention for the entire race (I haven’t heard anything about Hamilton having a problem or being under-fuelled compared to his team mate), then perhaps he deserved to reap the benefits. Also, I would say that how close one of the Red Bull’s came to ending up in a wall fully justifies my reasoning for Red Bull attempting to use team orders. It was a long time ago now, and Vettel has proved himself to be less mistake-ridden in close racing at the front since then, but I’m sure that Horner still has Turkey 2010 in mind when his drivers are competing closely.

      • matt90 (@matt90) said on 27th March 2013, 18:59

        Also, if you’d read my post properly, you would have seen that I didn’t even vote that Red Bull were correct in using team orders and that I settled on ‘no opinion.’

  3. Jorge Lardone (@jorge-lardone) said on 27th March 2013, 14:23

    A big NO! Perhaps in the last races a team order can be right, but in race Nº2? NO!

  4. PaulF1 (@paulf1) said on 27th March 2013, 14:25

    I would have liked to hear Kimi’s response if anyone would have been brave enough to give him orders……

    • matt90 (@matt90) said on 27th March 2013, 15:41

      @paulf1 He didn’t mind in China 2008. Of course those were very different circumstances. I just hope you mean that Raikkonen wouldn’t pay attention so early in the season rather than suggesting that he wouldn’t ever listen to team orders.

  5. Spawinte (@spawinte) said on 27th March 2013, 14:29

    If you believe what happened at Hockenheim 2010 was wrong then you must answer no to both questions.

    Put your dislike/support of Vettel or Hamilton to one side. Both Red Bulls and both Mercs should have been allowed to turn their engines up and use up their tyres. There should have been a race to the finish.

    • Adam Hardwick (@fluxsource) said on 27th March 2013, 14:31

      Sorry, but not true at all. When it happened in Hockenheim, team orders were banned. Rules were broken, regardless of your opinion of those rules.

      • Spawinte (@spawinte) said on 27th March 2013, 14:47

        I understand but I feel as if people are just using that as an excuse to bash Vettel. This is coming from a guy who doesn’t like Vettel at all.

        As a fan I’m more concerned with fairness than what the rules actually say. Telling your drivers not to race when there are hundreds of millions of people watching is really disheartening and bad for business.

        • matt90 (@matt90) said on 27th March 2013, 15:47

          But this question isn’t about Vettel, only whether the teams were correct to use team orders. Most comments on this article are purely to do with whether the orders are justified rather than having anything to do with Vettel ignoring them. The 3 cases (Mercedes and Red Bull here, plus Ferrari 2010 as you mentioned) were all very different. Rightly or wrongly, justified or not, one was a direct manipulation of a result for the WDC, and the other two were efforts to prevent any damage in the WCC.

  6. Fixy (@fixy) said on 27th March 2013, 14:32

    Stangely, I voted Red Bull were right but Mercedes weren’t.
    The reason why I say this is that Red Bull found themselves leading with a one-two and to take less risks asked Webber to look after the tyres and the fuel, whilst telling Vettel to do the same and finish 2nd. However, Webber could’ve raced till the end with Vettel, he had no problems, and neither did Vettel. They could’ve both raced but instead Red Bull preferred not to take any risks, and that is not only acceptable but even allowed by the regulations. Vettel overtook Webber in an unfair battle.
    On the other hand, Hamilton had problems with his fuel and his race could’ve been spoilt by a battle with Rosberg. Surely if Hamilton was too slow and risked not finishing the race or being attacked by those behind him, it would’ve been better to let Rosberg through, avoiding to put him as well in danger. They could’ve said to Hamilton to let Nico through without fighting, but while Hamilton had a problem Rosberg didn’t and he had the right to take advantage. Webber instead was not forced to slow down, he did so because him and Vettel were on equal situations and were both asked to slow down, keeping things unvaried. Hamilton was forced to slow down, and Rosberg had to pay the consequences of Mercedes’ badly-calculated fuel problems.

    • matt90 (@matt90) said on 27th March 2013, 15:52

      @fixy I felt almost entirely the same, except that I voted ‘no opinion’ for Red Bull because (had the orders been followed) they would undoubtedly have damaged themselves as an F1 brand by employing team orders which tried to prevent exciting racing. Any team with a 1-2 near the end of the race and no close competition is entirely justified in not wanting those cars getting too close, but commercially won’t do themselves any favours.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th March 2013, 23:32

      @fixy

      I voted Red Bull were right but Mercedes weren’t.

      Looking at the results so far that has to be the minority view!

  7. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 27th March 2013, 14:36

    I am simply undecided on the Red Bull debate. Call that sitting on the fence, and I am a big fan of Mark Webber – but I think there’s more to the story than any of us know and more reasons for why Webber had a reason to be upset. That said, I respect Vettel for going ahead and taking what he felt was rightly his.

    With the Mercedes pair, I think Rosberg had more than one oppurtunity to pass Hamilton in the laps leading up to the team orders – and he should have waited for DRS on the start/finish straight rather than overtake at the hairpin and simply give it to Hamilton. Plus, this wasn’t a fight for victory.

  8. PaulF1 (@paulf1) said on 27th March 2013, 14:37

    New competition.
    “What might Kimi have said over the radio if he was given team orders?”

  9. MazdaChris (@mazdachris) said on 27th March 2013, 14:47

    It’s a very difficult and complex question.

    I’m a fan of racing, so in my mind the best possible situation would be 20-24 drivers on the grid, all driving absolutely equal machinery, and all being able to push themselves and their cars to the maximum with nothing artificially slowing them down. The purest form of competition. But let’s be very clear; this is not F1. Never has been, never will be. It might also be very boring – with equal machinery, no performance differential or dropoff, no strategy, you line the drivers up with the fastest at the front and the slowest at the back, and you’d have incredibly dull races.

    So in F1 then. The situation above is not the case. There’s a Drivers’ championship but it would be a mistake to assume that this meant that this is a championship won entirely on driver performance. Who could possibly argue that Vettel drove more consistently or got more out of his car last year than Alonso did? We have to accept that the car, and the team responsible for designing, building, maintaining, and running that car, are at least as important (if not more so) in the pursuit of a Drivers’ championship as they are in the Constructors’. So for this reason, it is logical that the team is equally instrumental in helping maximise the chances of a driver winning the WDC. Hence – team orders.

    Remove the human element for a moment – take out pride, ego, even raw talent, and you’re left with an obvious logical solution. The Ferrari way. Or at least the Ferrari way of old. A designated number 1 driver, where every effort is made to maximise the performance of that driver. The car is built for the driver’s style and physical requirements, strategy calls always give that driver preference and priority, and they have a teammate who always gets out of their way, while holding up their opponents as much as possible. It’s the single most effective way of winning a WDC. Assuming that the number 2 driver is also able to extract the maximum potential of the car, then a WCC is also pretty much assured. In fact, in this situation, team orders aren’t even a consideration – the number 2 knows their place, knows their job, and will automatically move over and let the number 1 driver through.

    However, F1 drivers aren’t robots, and despite the sheer unstoppable force of will to maximise performance in all other areas, it’s remarkable how few teams are prepared to use this approach. They consider it unsporting, unfair, and against the spirit of competition. But this leaves us with a difficult compromise. It’s entirely against the nature of F1 teams to deliberately compromise their own performance, especially on matters of principle. So for the most part, preferential treatment is given, but not explicitly. Drivers may not necessarily be aware of their status as number 1, or number 2, or the balance may shift between the two, leaving drivers completely confused as to where they stand. This, to some extent is the problem for Red Bull – they want the world, and probably their drivers – to believe that each driver has equal opportunities. But this is not strictly true – if you use team orders you are giving preferential treatment to one driver, by the nature of team orders. A competitive driver who has had the message drilled into him that he has equal opportunities with his teammate, will naturally be aggrieved when a call comes through on the radio which appears to favour the other driver, and that’s where you run into problems.

    What many teams lack is a defined policy on team orders. I think it’s natural and unavoidable that all teams, when it comes to the crunch, will prefer to use team orders to some extent, rather than lose out to another, slightly less principled team. If both drivers understand this, and know when to expect the orders, then issues should never really arise. If it were my team, maybe my policy would be that the drivers are free to race each other until the mid point of the season, at which point whichever driver has established a lead will be designated number 1 and will receive preferential treatment. The lead driver must earn his status, then, and the number 2 will at least know that if they perform better in future then they will also have the opportunity to be number 1. However, until that mid point, I would not tell my drivers not to race each other. I’d make sure that calls to turn down engines etc were applied fairly between them, but I would not expect them not to compete with each other. I’d employ a pair of drivers I trust to be able to race each other firmly but fairly, and not come to blows over it. If it did come to blows, I would then deal with that reactively, rather than starting from the assumption that my drivers couldn’t be trusted in the first place.

    Give people trust, let them know that they are important to the team, that they will get fair treatment, and manage expectations by making it clear exactly when, where, and crucially WHY preferential treatment may be given, and I think you’ll end up with a culture of trust and respect between teammates which will be a natural asset to the push to win both the WDC and WCC. Do what Red Bull and Mercedes did though, and treat your drivers as if you don’t trust them enough to let them race each other, and you’ll naturally end up with unhappy drivers who feel resentment for each other and the team management, because neither will understand why the orders were given or how they have helped the team in any way by complying.

    • Akshay (@hamilfan) said on 27th March 2013, 15:11

      +1 You , can be a team manager . Well said .While there can equality in racing but always the development will be angled towards a particular driver . I find that McLaren are the only team among front runners that allow both drivers to race freely ( so far ) . Unfortunately they mess up so bad in other areas and strategy . It was funny to watch jenson and lewis last year having a go in the Indian GP at the start only for alonso to take them both in the long straight . They didn’t even see him coming . As you said , they have to race each other but with maturity in the start of a race and race each other hard till the rest of the race .

  10. Still camileon (@stillcamileon) said on 27th March 2013, 14:47

    If you had Redbull 1 and Redbull 2 and so on collecting their own points towards the champoinship and not as a joint team then there couldn’t be team orders and in affect you would have double the teams in the championship which could only make things even more interesting and it wouldn’t even make it more expensive for the teams, just one little rule change, thats all.

  11. David-A (@david-a) said on 27th March 2013, 14:53

    Simply no in both cases. Round 2 of the season= too early to be using team orders.

  12. Zantkiller (@zantkiller) said on 27th March 2013, 15:00

    Are team orders against the rules? No
    Then they have every right to use them and they should use them.

    I have no problem with team orders. I can see the need of bring home 2 drivers in a certain order.
    I also don’t see how you can not have team orders without massively changing how Formula 1 works.

  13. Maciek (@maciek) said on 27th March 2013, 15:14

    I voted yes on both, even though I’m not a fan of team orders in general. Within the present technical rules, it was the only logical decision from a team perspective.

    I agree with Keith’s assessment that the driving has been taken out of the drivers’ hands. This is a point I have been making for years now. You can’t stop progress, but the car telemetry has become too advanced for the good of the sport as a sport. Jacques Villeneuve may be a total boob these days, but I reserve eternal kudos for his insistence, while still racing, that the cars had become too dependent on electronics and outside control.

  14. katederby (@katederby) said on 27th March 2013, 15:20

    Voted No on both polls. I’ve never liked team orders although I understand completely why a team would want the safest option to get the most WCC points from a race.

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

    I always thought Horner was Vettels boss! Apparently he is not. If Horner was the boss all he had to do when Vettel had passed Webber was to have asked Vettel to let Webber back past…. situation solved.

    Vettel is in charge at Red Bull … not Horner.

    • And what, exactly, does that have to do with this particular poll?

      • Roberto (@roberto) said on 28th March 2013, 0:07

        Any oportunity to bash Vettel will be taken without remorse lol

      • Sean N (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk) said on 28th March 2013, 11:53

        Well I suppose strictly speaking nothing, certainly if you assume Horner and the Red Bull Management is in charge. I just thought it was noting (tongue in cheek) that before deciding if Red Bull were correct to give team orders we should ascertain if Vettel is included in that decision making process! It seems to me he thinks he is. This incident may just be a symptom of an internal power struggle within Red Bull… just thinking out aloud.

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.