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. NK (@krugler) said on 27th March 2013, 17:40

    Voted no, team orders should be banned for the first half of the season or until one of the drivers is out of WDC contention.

  2. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 27th March 2013, 18:02

    Both teams were right. The teams are there to be successful and if the fans are entertained, that’s a nice by-product. It’s not up to me to question the teams use of orders, it’s in the rules and it’s allowed. Where you are in the championship relative to the end of the season really doesn’t matter to me, 43 points is 43 points.

    Clearly the teams couldn’t rely on their drivers and both aggressors showed defiance (albeit only one went against the order). That only serves to me how right both teams were to implement the strategy as they could not rely on the drivers to figure it out for themselves.

  3. celeste (@celeste) said on 27th March 2013, 18:06

    I think that the results of this poll show the double standard of F1 fans clearly. If it wasn´t Vettel we wouldn´t be having this most noise.

  4. Christopher (@twiinzspeed) said on 27th March 2013, 18:31

    I think team orders are fine. They have been around since F1’s inception. Heck, in the old days they would give the fast guy a teammates car to finish the race! But I also think the rules are making orders more needed than ever. Requiring engines to last 3-4 races, and transmissions too, makes it necessary for teams to protect them so as not to have a penalty later in the season. The same thing goes with the short life,fall apart, tires. If teams didn’t have all these short sighted rules to endure, we would see more racing flag to flag. The sad thing is that the FIA never seems to have the ability to do things without having unintended consequences. (like all governments) Why is it that fans can see it and the powers that be never do??
    I would prefer tires that lasted longer so we can watch the drivers go 10 10ths instead of driving to a delta. The cost savings on engines in the big picture is a joke. Just like no testing is. Teams spend just as much on wind tunnels and computer R&D as they would in testing. And the way it is doesn’t allow young talent any chance to learn the craft. I miss the days of qualifying cars with 1 hour to go balls out for pole and then rebuild the car for the race. I know we will never see that again, but there needs to be a happy medium somewhere between then and what we have now. Just my 2c.

    • @twiinzspeed

      I think team orders are fine. They have been around since F1′s inception.

      That doesn’t mean they’re good though: “back in the day” it used to be accepted that people died, and so we lost many many great drivers due to competely avoidable accidents. I know it’s a very graphic example, but just because it’s been there since the beginning doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

  5. beneboy (@beneboy) said on 27th March 2013, 19:18

    As an F1 fan I voted no to both but if I were a team manager I’d have told my drivers to hold position just as Brawn and Horner did.

  6. 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?

  7. Tommy C (@tommy-c) said on 27th March 2013, 19:32

    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.

  8. Chris (@aclasschris) said on 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?

    • Sherlock said on 27th March 2013, 21:52

      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?

    • Palle (@palle) said on 27th March 2013, 22:59

      @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: http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/power-distance-index/

  9. 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!”

  10. 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!

    • @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!

    • Melchior (@melchior) said on 27th March 2013, 23:07

      Two totally different sets of circumstances perhaps.

    • Palle (@palle) said on 27th March 2013, 23:17

      @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.

  11. J Dubya (@j-dubya) said on 27th March 2013, 20:03

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

  12. Mariano (@mariano) said on 27th March 2013, 20:05

    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.

  13. F1Yankee (@f1yankee) said on 27th March 2013, 20:15

    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.

  14. bull mello (@bullmello) said on 27th March 2013, 20:34

    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.

  15. Chaz (@chaz) said on 27th March 2013, 21:39

    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…

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