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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Image ?? Pirelli/LAT

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

  1. Why do people take exception to team orders in F1, but in football (as another team sport, as an example) if a team has a lead with 10 minutes to go, they will oftern waste time by passing it around/kicking it out, and conserve energy, bring players off to save them for more important games, all this sort of stuff?

    Then theres the betting argument. What if you put money on player A scoring a teams winning penalty, but the manager/coach decides player B is going to take it? Why dosnt this seem to bother anyone?

    It takes far more people to design/build/run an F1 car than it does a football team. So why is there a fundimental problem with people seeing a car take it easy 10 laps from the end when it has a gap over its rivals and is scared about tyre wear/fuel load/ or the general life and condition of certin parts of the car?

    Is it because the average viewer dosnt give 2 hoots about all the hundreds and thousands people behind the scenes?

  2. I must add a clarification to my answer of ‘no’ for each case. I don’t think it is right to have explicit team orders in the sport in general. I don’t mind the occasional ordered pass to fit in with a team mate’s strategy midway through a race. Having said that, I can entirely understand why red bull would implement such an order given their history (ie: Turkey 2010) and their recent tyre wear issues. I see the Mercedes case as quite a different circumstance. I see no reason to keep nico behind if he’s managed to drive in such a way to get home with enough fuel at a decent pace. Holding him back must have been incredibly frustrating for him and undoubtedly would have him questioning his position in the team. Going back to red bull though, the thing that really disappoints me is that (regardless of one’s stance on the use of team orders) a team order was issued and subsequently disobeyed by one driver so we didn’t see real racing anyway. Without team orders, we would have seen mark and seb race to the end fairly with the possibility of excessive fuel consumption and heavy tyre wear. That would have been explosive (potentially literally) and exciting! Which is exactly why I can understand their use of team orders.

    1. Without team orders, we would have seen mark and seb race to the end fairly with the possibility of excessive fuel consumption and heavy tyre wear.

      They did race to the end.

  3. Chris (@aclasschris)
    27th March 2013, 19:48

    What Sunday proved once and for all is that Vettel is in charge at Red Bull Racing. Horner relinquished control of his team the instant he accepted that Vettel had “made his decision”.

    I don’t believe in team orders and all the drivers should be allowed to race each other (even teammates). Pirelli need to produce a better tire so this scenario of dialing it back for the final stint never occurs.

    I appreciate Vettel’s willingness to win, however when your boss tells you to do something, you do it. He acted like a child and should’ve been treated as such. Instead of telling him he was acting “silly”, Horner should’ve imposed some level of punishment. As a team Red Bull have some rebuilding to do. The hierarchy of authority has been shifted and they’ve probably lost Webber as an aid in Vettel’s quest for a fourth WDC. It’s going to be very interesting to see how they come back from this in China.

    Maybe Vettel is off to Ferrari next season and he really doesn’t care what Horner or the team think of him. Who knows?

    1. Looked to me that Webber was the one who acted like a child on the podium, and a crybaby. He took my toy, you favour him bohooo

      He appealed to the bleeding hearts of those watching and sadly a lot of people fell for it.

      If he won, it would have been because it was gifted to him but I doubt everyone will think that coz only vettel can get that kind of treatment right?

    2. @aclasschris It didn’t prove that Vettel is in charge, just as much as the Silverstone incident where Webber didn’t obey, didn’t show that Webber was in charge. It just proves the military psychologist teaching: Even if the General strongly believes he is in charge, he can only get the soldiers to follow orders to a certain degree. No matter how furious the General gets, the soldier who pulls the trigger is in charge of killing or not. The motivation, cultural background and personality is important. As cultures Australia has an Individualism score of 90 and Germany 67, which means that Australians generally are more individualistic than Germans, but Germany also ranks high on this scale (US tops the list with a score of 91). On the Power Distance Index Australia gets 36 points against Germanys 35 points, which means that both cultures don’t easily accept and expect power to be divided unequal. F1 drivers are not easily accepting orders from anyone – their ego is too large. When working with this type of people You have to respect this fact, otherwise You will often have a conflict. The driver can protest against orders by his actions on track, but this is not any proof that the leader has lost his leadership. His leadership just didn’t work according to his plan – this is on case by case basis. If You want to hire drivers from whom You can expect blind obedience, then You will not get the passionate high end top performer, unless maybe You find the driver in Panama or Guatemala. See link:

  4. I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that if you asked “Was Sebastian Vettel right to cure cancer?”, about 25% of the people here would manage to come up with some reason for why it wasn’t right.

    “Hey, cancer cells are living things too you know! Celebrate bio-diversity!”

    1. The arrogance of thinking he has the right to decide what happens to cancer cells!

      He’s just showing what a spoilt brat he is because he doesn’t want to get cancer himself someday.

      1. hehehe so ironic great line!

    2. +1 and haha

    3. @jonsan I just find it particularly offensive usually that I’m the delusional one! +1

    4. @jonsan ….well actually the claim is that Mark Webber was actually leading the race for a cure for cancer and was on course to victory until Sebastian Vettel allegedly stole his notes from right infront of his and his professors eyes…

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

    Yes (45%)
    No (49%)
    No opinion (6%)
    Total Voters: 473
    Were Mercedes right to order Rosberg not to pass Hamilton?

    Yes (23%)
    No (74%)
    No opinion (3%)
    Total Voters: 469

    Some genius in Maths please calculate how many people voted with double standards in mind!

    1. @omarr-pepper – if we assume the same people voted in each category, and subtract the 4 extra votes from RBR’s total (just then assuming the percentages will remain fairly constant), there is a 22% increase in the number of votes for in the Red Bull camp, which equates to 103 voters with double standards on a rough estimate!

      1. @vettel1 22% increase is roughly 217 voters

        1. actually your right!

          1. @me262 – of course there are a lot of assumptions in that estimate though, so a more accurate method of calculation would be welcome!

    2. Two totally different sets of circumstances perhaps.

    3. @omarr-pepper I would say that if You vote No in the RBR question then You should also vote No in the Mercedes case, and thus I reach a total of at least 115 people. Personally I voted No in both cases, but I could argue for a Yes in the Mercedes case, if Mercedes strongly believes that Lewis is their lead driver. Points are points whether they are obtained at the first or the last race of the season. And along that logic RBR should have done the opposite of what they actually did, and this was the underlying reason why Vettel didn’t want to obey.

  6. CONSPIRACY: Keep the Germans behind the Brits & British Commonwealth colonialists.

  7. This is my 50th year following f1. I’ve seen tons of controversies. The problem with humans is that perception of reality is subjective. Added to this is the fact that reality is also constantly manipulated to make people see and believe what others want you to perceive.

    Experience has shown me a long time ago not to believe one hundred percent in what we see or what we are shown. It is almost certain that we will not know the true facts and circumstances of this controversy until many years from now. Having said that, it is very difficult for me to judge RBS and Mercedes team orders with a decent degree of accuracy based only on the few available truthful bits of reality that we currently have to do so.

  8. sometimes i feel like i’m the only advocate of team orders on this site. not that’s what i enjoy seeing, but i defend the team’s right to do so. the management of a sports team must be able to manage, even if a team decides it’s in their interest to favor 1 over another, or some other situation that fans don’t like.

    i voted “yes” to both questions, because my literal interpretation of the questions forces me to say “yes, they have the right to do that”

    with a figurative interpretation, i’d say no opinion to red bull and no to merc, although it makes political sense that merc favor their new superstar signing. otherwise they could have signed anyone to fill the seat.

  9. As a fan and observer of F1 since the days of Jim Clark I voted with my heart in both polls with a no vote. As a fan I want to all racers racing each other as much as possible. I think drivers should always take care not to crash out other drivers in the process, especially when racing against their own teammates.

    I can understand why team owners and managers might not agree with this. They do spend millions to fund their teams and pay the salaries of drivers. But, ultimately, the fans fund the teams and the sport itself, directly, or indirectly.

    Yes, sometimes teams have access to telemetry data that the fans and even the drivers do not have access to. But, the teams have proven that they cannot always be trusted to portray all the data truthfully all of the time. The fans and the drivers cannot always trust the teams. The teams have a difficult time trusting the drivers to not crash out their teammate. Things can happen. How about creative contract stipulations that give the teams some leverage should the driver crash out the teammate. The driver could lose some salary or even have the remainder of his contract nullified at the discretion of the team.

    Whatever happens in the future regarding this issue, it is clear that the fans view team orders, especially at such an early point in a season, as a negative. F1 and the teams should find a compromise that will keep this issue from having an even larger negative impact in the future. Otherwise they risk alienating those who ultimately pay the bills, the fans.

  10. Technically and currently as the rules stand both teams had the right to ask their drivers not to pass each other. But in the spirit of genuine and honest real racing, any team to embrace and invoke such a philosophy to its racing is disingenuous and deceitful in trying to convince fans they are watching genuine pure racing and should also buy into their sponsors products. I am of the belief that racing sits above the team. I site McLaren as a great example as their motor racing history have always allowed their driver to race first and we the fans have all been thrilled and awed and still talk about the epic and great motor racing battles of the past… and the team is financially doing quite well thank you…

    1. I site McLaren as a great example as their motor racing history have always allowed their driver to race first

      you are really quite wrong about that.

  11. I knew the outcome of this poll before I saw the votes :) – do I get half an extra point in the prediction championship?

  12. what the teams/drivers could do is instead of team orders being implemented with the then processional no one challenging the car infront no action boring for the fan cruise to the finish is this:

    The drivers engage in a fake battle where they slipstream and pass each other 3-4-5 8 times or how ever many to put a show on for the audiences. do it till the second driver is content then fall into their radioed positions for the finish! works for DRS…

    If the a minority of people start developing theories about how they think its all rigged and telemetry suggests the action is artificial it dosnt matter as they can be fobbed off as conspiracy theorists. The main thing is this would clean up this ‘fixed’ or team orders problem which is a big deterrent and keep it exciting for the masses! win win

  13. Chris (@tophercheese21)
    27th March 2013, 23:19

    No for both.

    As a viewer, teams shouldn’t be trying to control the outcome of a race, (unless a drivers title is on the line, and the teammate is t of contention) they should let the drivers race.

    I understand that they don’t want to risk anything, and want the best possible result, but the drivers are the best in the world (well 2/3rds of the grid are), I’m sure they know how to overtake.

    Mercedes were wrong to use team orders because Nico was clearly faster, and could have done the job in a matter of corners, instead he was held behind for several laps. Even if they had been allowed to race, they still would have scored the exact same amount of points. Because Their places would have been reversed.

  14. as a fan I voted no on both but if I’d run a team I’d say yes to both. F1 teams are obviously not trusting drivers to judge the situation properly and make sensible decisions on track – so they come up with team orders to make the decisions for them. But how on earth did RBR think that having both go side by side into turn 1 after the last stop won’t cause a problem?

    1. @tmf42 remember Vettel was going very fast after he changed his set, so when Webber got into the pits, part of the job of chasing was already done by Vettel.

  15. Basically, this poll shows people don’t like Vettel.

    I don’t like team orders, but I felt Vettel took unfair advantage here because Webber listened to the team and turned his engine down and Seb didn’t.

  16. There are two different sets of circumstances with the two teams and the votes.
    Rosberg could have chased down Webber and Vettel as Hamilton was a “Lame Duck”
    And the Red Bulls were supposedly conserving tyres engine and fuel.
    I suspect that Vettel would not have got past Webber if they were allowed to race to the end only because of the pace that Webber showed after Vettel asked the team to move Webber aside.
    Unfortunately,like it or not,rules regarding engine conservation,fuel conservation gearbox,conservation and tyre conservation do not allow racing from start to finish so the result is team orders.

  17. @keithcollantine Voted “no” on both questions but IMO the wording of the questions is wrong which led many to vote “yes” especially in RBR’s case despite meaning “no”. That’s because many and I’m between them feel that since the agreement to stop racing each other after the pitstops was made prior to the race, it was correct on RBR’s behalf to ask Vettel to respect the agreement. However there should not have been such agreement in the first place, so it’s a “no” from me. But , as I said above, the wording is misleading

  18. All of a sudden, team orders and pre-race agreements are all right. I really like what @keithcollantine has done here..he has brought out this poll to highlight the double standards in F1..
    Anyway, if I remember clearly, it was WEB who made the wheel-to-wheel situation more difficult by chopping Vettel on the straight, and outbraking himself at Turn 2…

  19. These are multi million dollar teams with the best drivers in the world, and some of the best racing engineers and racing strategists on the planet. Let them race. Its also a show and a competition. No one wants to see a football match and “know” the result 40 minutes before it ends- a couple of World Cup matches come to mind.

    Mclaren earned their prestige, for example, by winning and allowing their drivers to race. The Prost vs Senna battle, in particular, is regarded one of the best battles of F1 history. And lets not forget the recent Lewis vs Jenson, or Fernando Alonso vs Hamilton. That is why I am sort of a Mclaren “fan”. Unfortunately not every team has this sort of attitude. I think Lewis, who grew on Mclaren, for the first time, felt this last weekend. And by the looks of it, didn’t like it, even though he was the beneficiary. As much points as he gained, Lewis was slower than Rosberg, his “mystique” of fastest man in the F1 circus put into doubt, needing his team mate to Slow down so that he could get more points. Interesting season that’s building up!

  20. To be Honest this Poll Proved some what about the Hatred Vettel actually has at the Present time due to his success.Also i think Lot of people didn’t want him to win a race even.
    I really don’t think Webber won’t know about the Traffic at the end of Pit when he came out of pits.Every team will make clear to their Drivers about the Traffic and if Mark don’t know about Seb will be close to him it was more of the Mistake by the team.
    And Through out the fight i don’t think he didn’t turn the engine up. With the Funny tools we had and if Mark was down on Power then it will be like Vettel overtaking Lewis in the straight. But Mark and Seb Fought for Entire 2 laps toe to toe(It was my guess but i still say Mark turned his engine as soon as He realized Vettel was right behind him)
    And this situation is equally comparable to Silverstone 2011. When Mark decided to get P2 by ignoring team orders but couldn’t make the Move and settled for P3 where as Sebastian did the same and made a move and get into P1.
    If you are angry some one braked the Agreement then what you did when you braked the order. If some one says Vettel needs to be Banned for one race. Do the same said about Mark on the Incident about 2011.

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