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. TMF (@tmf42) said on 27th March 2013, 22:41

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

  2. Jono (@me262) said on 27th March 2013, 22:45

    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

  3. Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 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.

  4. TMF (@tmf42) said on 27th March 2013, 23:24

    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?

  5. Dane (@n0b0dy100) said on 27th March 2013, 23:37

    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.

  6. Melchior (@melchior) said on 27th March 2013, 23:55

    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.

  7. montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 28th March 2013, 1:01

    @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

  8. wsrgo (@wsrgo) said on 28th March 2013, 2:10

    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…

  9. Sergio Perez (@sergio-perez) said on 28th March 2013, 2:53

    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!

  10. Sri Harsha (@harsha) said on 28th March 2013, 3:10

    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.

  11. Robbie (@robbie) said on 28th March 2013, 3:58

    I think Red bull was within their rights to imose the team order, but how unfortunate they did, ultimately. I mean, they are the team who has always tried to maintain there is racing on the team, perhaps so we don’t think SV is babied. The interesting twist is that the order favoured MW this time. Perhaps they thought that given the history of clashes, and given that MW did have the upper hand in the race, this one should have been his. Plenty of time for SV to make up for the handful fewer points. I guess it is easy from the armchair to want racing over processions and not so easy to make these kinds of decisions, so…perhaps lesson learned lads…the easiest thing to do is not send the order…that way MW wouldn’t have had to be bent out of shape about being passed as that would have been on him, and SV wouldn’t have to look as bad as he did on the podium as he was simply faster, and we the fans would get what we are paying for. Racing in the pinnacle of racing. If Red Bull didn’t want to see MW punished for having to crank his car down, they should ensure he doesn’t have to…and if the need for him to turn down the wick was due to his own driving throughout the race, then MW deserved to be passed by someone who was able to endure the race at a higher setting.

    I see the Merc issue as having a different flavour because they are not a proven top 3 team, their agenda is moreso to finish the season knocking on the door of the top 3, meaning that I think on average they will not do this well and sometimes others will be ahead of them even if they are quite on it. Sure in hindsight if the team decided earlier to let NR by LH he might have chased the Red Bulls down, but that seemed a tall order, it wasn’t going to make a difference points wise for the team, and perhaps this was a nice ‘welcome’ to the team to LH, a little pumping up perhaps. Everyone knows NR was faster, LH admitted it freely and felt sheepish, so I think that it’s all good here. NR proved his point, everyone saw it and admitted it, so their shouldn’t be any lasting bad feelings, it didn’t cost NR a win, and the team has a great chance to revel in how well they placed, how reliable they were, except of course for the need for LH to crank down the wick like MW. And again, if LH’s driving earlier on was the reason he had to conserve so much in the end, then indeed Merc were wrong to impose the order, but if that was on the team, they need to correct that, and either way not make NR pay again for LH’s side of the garage not being able to endure the race other than on the lower setting.

    A very heady topic obviously…it’s why I still to this day rant and rail about the MS/Ferrari era of a permanent team order by contract in the boardroom before they’ve even turned a wheel. That was the worst most extreme example of what we saw last weekend. But I have a feeling the teams will have seen the weight of what happened last weekend and ensure that they don’t keep robbing the fans of the racing we have paid the pinnacle to see. For now I don’t think for a second that the teams have decided MW and LH are the the number ones for the rest of the season. Unlike MS/Ferrari…and likely FA/FM.

  12. Graf (@graf) said on 28th March 2013, 4:53

    You aren’t an f1 fan if you didn’t vote no for both. The poll wasn’t about vettel it was about team orders.

    Team orders = cars coasting in formation = less entertaining = less viewers

    formula 1 = spectator sport funded by advertising contracts based on number of viewers, less entertaining, less money for every team.

    • Jono (@me262) said on 29th March 2013, 1:51

      @graf if your a fan of other team sports, you know that there are times when teams are ordered to play with a defensive game plan to defend a result. This is no different

      no team orders = 1 car per team

  13. Bobby (@f1bobby) said on 28th March 2013, 7:33

    The teams were right in both cases. Mercedes couldn’t risk 3rd and 4th given what was happening further on up the road (and it keeps being forgotten that they did swap positions three times before they held station).

    As a spectator, of course we want to see racing between team mates but as the rules permit team orders and F1 has had a constructor’s championship since 1958 we can hardly blame the teams for minimising risk.

  14. Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 28th March 2013, 8:29

    I am almost 100% sure someone already mentioned this in the 300-plus comments before this one, but I think, in the Red Bull case, the more relevant and appropriate poll would be a ‘Was Vettel right to ignore the team order?’ To that I’d answer with a definitive ‘No’, which, I think, is the point, not just in general, but currently at Red Bull as well. Were Red Bull right to order Vettel not to pass Webber? In hindsight, no, at that time, probably.

  15. Osvaldas31 (@osvaldas31) said on 28th March 2013, 9:52

    I would love to hear Lotus ordering Raikkonen not to overtake Grosjean, because I know what would Raikkonen say (‘leave me alone, I know what I’m doing’) :D

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