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?

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

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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. Jarv F150 (@jarvf150) said on 27th March 2013, 16:16

    Red Bull as a team had nothing to gain and everything to loose.
    The team order made sense here.

    Mercedes had a chance to improve with Rosberg but probably could not have done any better.
    There might have been something else going on like Rosberg also was low on fuel or they did not want him to burn his tyres out and loose position. But generally it was a risk decision – not really in tune with the racing spirit of F1.

  2. katmen (@katmen) said on 27th March 2013, 16:22

    I am against any team orders, team orders only bring problems and unnecessary debates, the racing should be done freely and fair. Commands from pitwall are cancer for racing.

    I have no sympathy for webber whining boy….

  3. It’s odd how Mercedes have a much higher number of votes. Why should they be treated differently? Either the answer is yes or no across the entire board, not just for single teams.

    In my opinion, the answer is no. Some drivers and teams might not like it but I want to see them racing. I’m a huge Lewis Hamilton fan but as far as I’m concerned (and from what I gather, Lewis agrees), it’s tough luck that he had to save fuel. Rosberg should have passed.

    The same goes for Webber. Need to save tyres or something else? Fine, but don’t go crying when someone overtakes you, even if that someone is your teammate. That’s part of the strategy.

  4. Voted yes for both.
    I am wondering why at Turkey in 2010 Jenson did not get the abuse Vettel is getting when he raced Hamilton after being told to hold station and save fuel? Was that not a team order which Jenson disobeyed? Or was it an entirely different situation?

    • pSynrg (@psynrg) said on 27th March 2013, 16:59

      Goldenboy Jenson is an angel though, have you not noticed his halo? It was ok because it was by divine right (I also understand he had a whole square of butter in his mouth AFTER the race!)

      Fortunately demon Lewis would have none of it…

  5. I think imposing team orders at such an early stage in the season “spoils the show” so to speak: I understand that the teams wish to bring the cars home and score the points for the constructors, but there’s a drivers championship going on also. Both drivers should have equal footing until the chequered flag as both are still well within title contention mathematically. Only when that isn’t the case would I support team orders (such as in Brazil last year).

    • Tifoso1989 (@tifoso1989) said on 27th March 2013, 18:25

      I agree with all what you said (very strange!!!LOL), i think in this case the main responsible for this chaos is Christian Horner not the drivers,not just because he used team orders at this stage of the season but because he didn’t showed personality ( i doubt if it was another team boss with tougher personality this would have happened),the driver’s behavior demonstrate that(when Seb ignored the team orders and Mark was attacking the team on the podium with harsh words without mentioning the middle finger), he wasn’t on the podium in the first win of the team in the new season which is very strange
      His statement after the race about that Seb will not give the position back if they asked him to do so, so why ask him to hold it ?? if you knew that Seb will broke team orders so why tell him something that he don’t likes,in the worst case due to his luck of personality he should have let the two drivers race with of course strict instructions not to make silly mistakes (like Turkey 2010)
      The problem now is the war between the 2 drivers, Seb may gained 7 pts which is the difference between winning & losing the WDC (2010 & 2012 comes too my mind) but let’s see how many pts he will lose from the next fights with Mark , the solution for Red Bull is to suck Mark Webber before the end of the season and replace him with Buemi because even if they are going to make his car slow then he will not snatch pts from rivals & that will have consequences on the WCC

      • @tifoso1989

        I agree with all what you said (very strange!!!LOL)

        Indeed! That won’t happen again ever! :P

        You have raised a good point though in that Mark may no be a liability for Vettel if they are to have any similar encounters later in the season: I imagine Red Bull will be much more stringent if it so happens Webber is out of title contention mathematically, so that might be a saving grace for Vettel.

        You mention Buemi though – personally I’d love if they just chucked Felix Da Costa straight into the Red Bull seat if he performs again like he did last year in WSR if the need to replace Webber arises, which would be great if that materialised!

  6. Jason (@jmwalley) said on 27th March 2013, 16:35

    I’m not surprised by the fact that people are more evenly split on the rightness of Red Bull ordering Vettel not to pass, but clearly in agreement that Mercedes shouldn’t have ordered Rosberg to hold position, but this raising either an interesting bias against Vettel or our sensitivities to the different scenarios.

    Everyone will love to point to the first bias being the case, so I’d like to look critically at the difference between the two teams’ scenarios.

    With Red Bull it felt like a spoiled self-entitled Vettel was taking advantage of Mark essentially having one hand tied behind his back (having turned the engine down to save the tires and engine). With Mercedes it seemed like a calmly defiant Rosberg being respectful of Hamilton similarly having one hand tied behind his back. I think it is worth noting that Lewis clearly needed to actually slow down to make it to the end while Mark didn’t.

    I don’t see how Mercedes use of team orders could ever be justified. Lewis had overused his fuel ans was paying the price, why should Rosberg be held back because of that? If anything, Lewis should be ordered to let Rosberg past so he can chase after the Red Bulls. Doesn’t make sense to me.

    I can, however, see how team orders could be necessary at Red Bull. You have two drivers who are known to get into battles with each other and the team doesn’t want to risk it. That said, the second race of the season is no time to put the drivers in that situation. Trust them to race each other appropriately and help them monitor their tires so things don’t get out of hand. Once one driver is out of contention for the championship, or when the Constructor’s championship gets close and heated, THEN you order them to hold place.

    When you couple in the likelihood that the team should have known one of them (likely Vettel) wouldn’t obey and they would race each other, then they should have known they were simply tying one hand behind Webber’s back and putting him on the back foot by having him turn down his engine. They frankly deserve the egg they all have on their faces right now. Vettel for acting like a spoiled brat, Webber for acting like a whiny victim, and the team for having their heads up their butts.

  7. JackySteeg (@jackysteeg) said on 27th March 2013, 16:41

    As a fan, obviously it’s better to see the cars racing than not. But truthfully, if I were in Horner or Brawn’s position, I would’ve done the exact same thing. By allowing their drivers to race, they have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

    I can honestly think of no good reason to risk a certain 1-2 or even a 3-4 finish for the sake of spicing the race up a bit.

  8. A cleverly designed poll, Keith, at last as far as exposing the double standards employed by many members of this site.

    What sort of self-deception do people have to employ in order to answer the two questions differently?

    • 5150 (@) said on 27th March 2013, 17:19

      Because in my opinion Red Bull had nothing to gain with drivers racing each other, meanwhile Mercedes (with Rosberg) perhaps could have won it. We’ll never know.
      For me it’s completley different situation.
      For the record: I don’t hate or favour any of the four drivers involved.
      Go Kimi :)

  9. It’s funny how short a memory folks have: The reason we have team open orders is because they are absolutely impossible to police anyway and hence, they make no sense to have in the first place. Just like the probation in the US last century didn’t turn out very well.

    Of course it is better if all drivers are always racing each other all out but in reality it will only happen when we get an entire gird of manly Ayrton Senna’s who will tell their teams BEFORE the event (even before signing the contact) that there is no way this side of heaven that they will ever take orders not to pass.

    With today’s little crybaby primadonna’s who will accept anything, do the opposite and then claim they didn’t mean to, this is what we will get: team mates racing on unequal terms. It’s ugly and not the type of “racing” I want to see anyway.

    Let’s be realistic and keep the inevitable out in the open instead of all the sneaky crap we had just a couple of seasons ago. Please keep in mind that a ban on team orders can have the consequence of a championship being removed from which ever team didn’t hide their plans as well as the team it is handed to.

    Is that really what you want to see? Maybe you also think prostitution will cease existing the second it’s outlawed?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th March 2013, 23:41

      @poul

      The reason we have team open orders is because they are absolutely impossible to police

      That’s what those who opposed the team orders ban would like to have us believe, but it isn’t the case.

      During the era of the team orders ban the only noteworthy controversy over team orders that occurred was that concerning the Ferrari drivers at Hockenheim in 2010.

      That incident was “policed” in that Ferrari were given a penalty. But they were given an inconsequential fine – nothing that would remove the advantage gained from breaking the rules and nothing that would deter them from doing it again.

      This wasn’t a failure of policing the rule, it was the FIA lacking the political will to impose the rule on the sport’s most powerful team. It wasn’t that they couldn’t enforce the rule, it was that they wouldn’t.

      • I am very surprised to hear this from you, Keith:

        That’s what those who opposed the team orders ban would like to have us believe, but it isn’t the case.

        During the era of the team orders ban the only noteworthy controversy over team orders that occurred was that concerning the Ferrari drivers at Hockenheim in 2010.

        So you are saying that I am wrong that it’s impossible to avoid team orders in the first place, and then putting a big fat line under why I am correct? “Only one controversy” – does that mean that only one team order was given during the ban? We all know that there were team orders all over the place but most of them were carried out to typical F1 perfection behind the scenes, like a pit stop juuuuust taking those two seconds longer.

        I don’t even think FIA failed at all in the Ferrari case. It would have been much more controversial if they had actually taken away points from one team using team orders while not doing the same to all the others which sometimes VERY obviously did the same.

        I will bet you a pint that FIA ruled in this meek way because they realized how terrible the ban was and thankfully they got rid of it right after. FIA constantly gets the stick for lack of consistency and the best way to avoid it is to avoid rules that constantly bring teams/drivers in the borderline area. In recent years FIA seems to be returning to logic. If Todt should be credited I don’t know, but by banning reactive ride height right away they showed consequence and we avoided another double difuser disaster entirely destroying a full season for most of the teams and spectators.

        At some point during the season there will often be enough points difference between team mates that the second driver will start to help his team mate by his own will. Now it is no longer a team order but how will you detect which is which? How big of a points difference is allowed before “order” switches to “helping hand”?

        Imagine that Red Bull had wanted Vettel to win in Malaysia. How on earth would you detect if it was true or not that Webber had to switch to eco mode in order to complete the race on his remaining fuel? It’s just not possible and there will tens, if not hundreds of other cunning ways in which team orders can be carried out.

        Let’s aim for more clarity and consistency and not for more bans on what we all know will always be there, no matter what. Sometimes they will be detectable but most times they will not. Unless of course we move to single car teams.

        A ban on team orders is a nice dream but it just doesn’t work in the real world.

        • Jono (@me262) said on 29th March 2013, 1:39

          @poul + 1 a rare piece with a bunch of refreshing observations – but sadly for most people things ARE what they seem. artificial team orders are a kinda taboo subject most people view it in the same light as someone telling stories about UFO’s and alien abductions – its just a conspiracy theory

          Formula 1 is a team sport, the drivers championship may be the one that holds the most weight and clearly drives the most emotions for fans but truth be told it holds a tad more importance for a football team to have one of its players to win a golden boot award. At the end its just an individual accolade. Teams want to win races and score points and will always favor the driver with the most potential of providing them with more wins in the future – and lets face it : 36 year old Webber signing 1 year deals is not it

          Vettel is sorry, Marko is not upset, Red bull owner does his bit and supports Webber…Horner caught in the middle of it and he will be made to look the fool again. Hofefully this is not over and the best is yet to come

  10. sonia luff (@sonia54) said on 27th March 2013, 16:58

    Did anyone have a bet on the race cos I for 1 would have been well ****** off at loosing a bet that way

  11. J Dubya (@j-dubya) said on 27th March 2013, 17:02

    I am no fan of team orders. If they are going to use them, I think they would do well to take a page from Cycling. They have the opportunity to work together as a team, just like ad hoc breakaway groups. For example, Mercedes could have benefitted by switching the draft at each DRS zone in Malaysia.

    My distaste for Vettel’s move was that it was cowardly and cheap like a fighter hitting after the bell. If the race is on, the race is on. I am sorry that is not the behavior of a champion. A true champion will want to compete on fair terms. I think it is likely Vettel was marginally faster than Webber in the final stint due to tires, but he may not have had enough to get by him. The team gave him every advantage and he was still behind. If they thought he could easily dispatch Webber, they would have given him the green light.

    IMHO, Rosberg should have been allowed to pass and chase RBR, you may pressure those guys into a mistake. Brawn’s call reeked of corporate publicity, and it backfired. I don’t think Brawn did himself any favors, and while Vettel may have 7 more points, he is the biggest loser in this.

  12. I voted No on both. I support the concept of team orders and feel that they do have their place in F1. But that place is not 15 laps from the end of the second race of the season on a dry track.

    Perhaps team orders could be banned for the first half of the season and allowed in the second half, which is the only time I can see a justification for their use.

  13. OEL F1 (@oel-f1) said on 27th March 2013, 17:11

    Red Bull’s action was decided before the race, so I voted yes for them.

  14. Hatebreeder (@hatebreeder) said on 27th March 2013, 17:18

    I accidentally said Yes for both, i meant no for rbr.
    I understand Mercedes’ decision to ask rosberg not to pass. It was legit from my POV. Simply because it wasn’t hamilton’s inability to race that he was slow. It was an error on the team’s judgement for which hamilton was paying the price. The car was actually low on fuel and it was wrong of mercedes to think that it would rain n fuel hamilton’s car less. Allowing rosberg to pass, meant asking hamilton to defend his position, which meant eventually he’d stop on the track with an empty tank. And it’s not hamilton’s duty to brim the tan, its the job of the team to calculate.

    About vettel passing webber, I dont remember this correctly, but didn’t the whole thing start cause vettel tried to pass webber back in hungary? after which webber did the same in nurburgring and its just been going on ever since? I read that it was said webber should have been more cooperative during brazil last season, but then it was started by vettel wasnt it? With that said, I dont think team orders were required at this stage of the season and neither did it look like either one the car had tyre issues.

  15. A lot of the people saying ‘Yes” to Red Bull” and “No” for Mercedes seem to be basing their stance on the entirely fictitious belief that Webber was the victim of a “sneak attack” having “turned his engine down while Vettel did not” and in any case that he was “totally unaware that there was a race on”.

    The clam that Webber was unaware that Vettel was racing him for the lead is simply nonsensical and the people making it must be among the sizable proportion of fans who get their views of the races from live text feeds or after-the-fact news reports rather than by watching the races.

    The allegation that Webber was in “fuel saving mode” while Vettel was in “race mode” is likewise bizarre. A lot of people are repeating this allegation on a lot of fan forums, but the claim is based on no hard facts. No media outlet is making this claim. Mark Webber is not making this claim. Christian Horner is not making this claim. The belief in it seems to be a form of wish–fulfillment for many people. They’d like it to be true, so it must be true.

    • J Dubya (@j-dubya) said on 27th March 2013, 19:30

      I agree that if both cars were on equal terms – no big deal.

      I don’t think the view that they were not on equal terms is non-sensical for the following reasons: Webber claimed to have turned the engine down in the post race press conference — nobody from RBR (Horner, Helmut, Newey…) with direct knowledge has refuted this version of events. Even Vettel, who’s story has changed and evolved, has said this is a win he is not proud of. I would like to know when Webber turned down his engine. I think it is entirely possible that he turned it down after Vettel passed him, however, I think that if that were the case, RBR & Vettel PR would be all over that point of distinction.

      If it was a pass made on equal terms, I have no problem with it, because if Vettel had more grip and fuel, he’s earned the opportunity to fight for the win.

      • Webber claimed to have turned the engine down in the post race press conference

        But he never claimed that Vettel did not do so. That part has been manufactured out of whole cloth by some over-excited fans – the same sort of people who were equally convinced that Vettel had passed under yellows at Brazil last year, the sort of people for whom Vettel is always guilty until proven innocent.

        nobody from RBR (Horner, Helmut, Newey…) with direct knowledge has refuted this version of events.

        That’s not a “version of events”. It’s one statement about one datum of information – Webber turned his engine down at some point. The claims that Vettel did not do the same are based on nothing but wishful thinking. To the best of my knowledge your “version of events” has never been presented to Horner for him to dismiss.

        Nobody in the media has followed up on this stupid conspiracy theory – it exists entirely in the minds of a segment of “F1 fans”. (And I’m using the term in the loosest possible sense)

        • Ryan (@ryanisjones) said on 28th March 2013, 10:40

          The clam that Webber was unaware that Vettel was racing him for the lead is simply nonsensical

          What? So are you telling me that Webber knew and simply allowed Vettel to catch up four seconds in two laps? Or are you saying that something was wrong with Webbers car and he was going the fastest he could? Neither of those makes any sense.

          Why would he be angry if he was beaten fairly on the track. He was angry because as he said he was told to slow down, meanwhile his team mate was on an all out assault to catch him. Had anyone else been behind him, he would have been told to up his pace. Clearly no such call came. You don’t jump out your car and start shouting “multi 21″ if you are were racing each other fairly. I get your a Vettel fan, but you need to look at the situation more objectively.

          The problem isn’t that Vettel ignored team orders. I can’t stand team orders. Its that Red Bull slowed Webber to let Vettel be in that position and THEN he ignored them. “Multi 21″ dude, he is saying it because it is relevant. Webber was being told not to push when Vettel caught up.

    • Jonathan189 (@jonathan189) said on 28th March 2013, 12:13

      @jonsan

      The inference that Webber had turned his engine down is based on numerous allusions to this that he made in post-race interviews, and on his ‘Multi 21′ comment prior to the podium ceremony. The inference that Vettel was in a different engine mode at the time of the overtake is based on the fact that he gained 4 seconds on Webber in 2 laps.

      While it is true that (as Webber himself emphasized), we don’t know all the facts and cannot know all the facts, neither inference is unreasonable here. You are not being charitable in describing these inferences as ‘wish fulfilment’.

      Your follow-up comment is just nasty. I’m sure the vast majority of F1 fans who sympathize with Webber in this instance do not have any kind of vendetta against Vettel.

      • Mike Dee (@mike-dee) said on 28th March 2013, 15:48

        The four seconds gained in two laps was still before the last pitstop of Webber, and we are being told that only when Webber came out of the pitlane (marginally) ahead of Vettel, the team order was on.

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