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?

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  1. RB7 (@rb7) said on 28th March 2013, 10:06

    Even if team orders weren’t legal, Team Principals would always find a way to instruct their drivers what to do or use pit stop strategy to influence who is in what position. As long as there is a constructors championship with significant dollars behind each position at the end of the season, team orders will be a relevant part of F1. Ultimately, teams cannot survive if they don’t earn an income, and part of that income can be the final position outcome of a constructors championship. F1 is lucky in that it is an INDIVIDUAL sport as well as a TEAM sport combined into the one – and due to that, we see the dual aspects of the sport – be it individual brilliance of a driver or a strategic decision by a team to maximise constructors championship points so that in turn they maximise their end of year constructors championship prize money. Ultimately, team orders don’t guarantee a result – even if drivers move as per a teams instructions, there is still an element of risk of mechanical failure in the car, driver error or something else which can skew the result and change the intended team outcome. So for mine, team orders don’t guarantee an outcome, but they do try to influence points in a constructors championship and as a result, maximise prize money. Again, both of these elements are what each team aims for – in ADDITION to trying to maximise Drivers Championship points. If we don’t want team orders, then we shouldn’t have a Constructors Championship.

  2. mnmracer (@mnmracer) said on 28th March 2013, 10:41

    Red Bull
    Was it their right as an employer? Yes
    Was it right in the team’s pursuit of the WCC? Possibly yes

    Was it right in the team’s pursuit of the WDC? No
    Was it right towards driver whose strategy dictated a fast last stint? No
    Was it right towards their best performing driver for the last 4 years? No
    Was it right towards the fans making their sponshorship worth a penny? No
    Was it right in favor of a driver who has no respect for teamorders himself? No

    Was it their right as an employer? Yes
    Was it right in the team’s pursuit of the WCC? Possibly yes

    Was it right towards driver whose strategy dictated a fast last stint? No
    Was it right towards the team’s senior driver? No
    Was it right towards the fans making their sponshorship worth a penny? No

  3. Patrickl (@patrickl) said on 28th March 2013, 11:16

    If there shouldn’t be team orders then there shouldn’t be teams. Telling your drivers not to race each other makes perfect sense. You want them to bring the cars home and for the team it doesn’t matter who finishes ahead of the other. Drivers know this as those agreements have been discussed up front. It’s just pathetic to complain about it only at the time when they are enforced.

    If Rosberg would have had any chance of actually threatening Red Bull then perhaps they might have let him go. Or at least they would have asked Hamilton. As it was now it was useless and he should just stay put and focus on bringing the car home.

    I don’t understand the difference in the two polls. The situations were pretty much identical.

    On the matter of asking a driver to let the other one past (without ordering them to), my favorite reply is still Ruben’s when they told him Button claimed he was 2 seconds faster: “Don’t make me laugh”. Can’t find the youtube clip anymore. Talking about pathetic, FOM is right on the top of things that are pathetic.

    I’ve never had a problem with team orders like this. There is nothing to gain from not allowing these. What I don’t like is when teams tell a driver to let the other one past when there is no good reason for it. Like Ferrari telling Massa to let Alonso past. Alonso wasn’t faster (at least not until they told Massa to tune his engine down and Alonso to tune his up) and they had nothing to gain really. Still ,those are allowed now too and it’s better than faking a “brake issue” or “possible puncture” or whatever excuses they came up with.

    • Nomore (@nomore) said on 28th March 2013, 12:33


      At which race you are referring to when Massa was in front of Alonso, and Alonso wasn’t faster than him ?

      Thank you

    • Nomore (@nomore) said on 28th March 2013, 12:45

      I don’t understand the difference in the two polls. The situations were pretty much identical.

      100% disagree, they were completely different. I wonder if people really understand the difference between an “agreement” and an “order”…
      And looking at some people here did not know that “Ctrl + f” is a search command in a file, i have the feeling that they really do NOT know the difference between”orders” and “agreements”.

  4. GongTong (@gongtong) said on 28th March 2013, 11:22

    It’s tricky to comment too much on these things without knowing all the details, but I’ll join in anyway.

    The first poll depends on whether what we understand about the RB’s arrangement before the race. If it’s true that they had all agreed to leave the race alone after the final stop, then yes, they were right to remind Vettel of what he’d agreed to. I voted yes to this because I believe this to be the case.

    The second poll depends on whether Lewis has a preferential treatment clause in his contract. If he does then yes, of course Mercedes should have ordered Nico to stay back. Or they would have been in breach of contract.

    I voted no though. We’re never going to know what the driver’s contracts say. Because they got the fuel load wrong on Lewis’ car, Rosberg should not have had to suffer for that. If it were me, I would have ordered Lewis to let Nico through without too much trouble, not vice versa.

  5. brny666 said on 28th March 2013, 11:38

    Well now its 49% say Yeas to RBR and 73% say No to Merc. Double standards much?

  6. Paul A (@paul-a) said on 28th March 2013, 13:18

    Team orders always have been and always will be part of F1 — whether they’re allowed in the regs and “open”, or disallowed and “secret.” Drivers are under contract to the teams, and pre-race driver briefings by the team certainly cover policy, strategy and tactics which teams have the right to modify during the race.

    However, and in hindsight, both teams badly “blew it” for this race. They obviously did it for financial reasons, not for the good of the sport. This is my sixty-first year of watching F1, and I found this race the most disappointing one I can remember. Add the tyre fiasco to misuse of team orders (and Alonso’s mistake), and you end up with a totally uncompetitive, uninteresting, processional, non-race for the top four places. The only bit worth retaining is Webber’s reaction.

  7. -billadama- (@billadama-2) said on 28th March 2013, 17:50

    If they start to use again team orders the trill and the beauty of F1 will disappear this is my opinion, the pilots are mature enough not to crash into his team mat.

  8. fangio85 (@fangio85) said on 29th March 2013, 2:02

    I voted no for both, because although I perfectly understand how important and useful team orders can be, I believe its silly to impose orders on your drivers when its too early to know which one will have a better chance for the title. Merc don’t know Lewis will stand a better chance than nico, so they shouldn’t impose orders in the second round. Red bull obviously know who their best driver is, yet strangely agreed to let webber win, the should have either not made this agreement, or if they really must get involved, it would make more sense to order mark to support sebs title defense.
    I am an Aussie ferrari fan, so you would expect me to support webber, being an Aussie, and hate vettel, being the guy that stopped Alonso and ferrari from taking their last two title chances. I am, however, not a vettel hater, because I admire his undoubted talent, and hope that he matures as a racer in the same way as Alonso and Hamilton have. I would have done the same thing vettel did, and I believe webber also would have, given the opportunity. With all of that said, I really dislike team orders this early in the season, no matter which team does it. It might make sense for ferrari, since there is a big gap in driver skill between their two drivers, but even then I still wouldn’t like it

  9. Geoff332 (@geoff332) said on 29th March 2013, 15:49

    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.

    In the past, that might have been true. But today, there are a couple of things that make it more complex.

    Firstly, fuel is cut very fine and fuel consumption is quite variable. With Red Bull, Weber’s use of the hard tyres had increased his fuel consumption earlier in the race meaning he had to turn his engine down further than Vettel (this is according to RBR – so many people will probably accuse them of lying). The question is, can a driver judge precisely how to use the amount of fuel they have left to get as much as possible out of their fuel tank while pushing the car as fast as possible? I suspect that isn’t as easy as a fuel gauge (and I suspect during the race, they have engineers running a range of fuel consumption simulations to make the recommendation of which engine setting to use).

    Secondly, it’s not about one race: the engine and gearbox need to be reused. Pushing an engine harder in this race will reduce its life: that could have implications in later races. Once again, the driver can’t reasonably be expected to think of these things when they’re driving the car.

    In the past, F1 cars weren’t quite so finely tuned. Bow that they are, the margin for error in making these sorts of decisions is incredibly fine and there is a lot of science (and analysis) behind them.

    Of course, these decisions may have had little bearing on the teams’ use of orders in Malaysia (personally, I think the drivers should have been told what engine settings to use, then be left to race – with no more than a ‘don’t be stupid warning’ to not ake out your team mate). But to expect that the drivers (or any single human being) can actually get the information, crunch the numbers and make the decisions while driving a modern F1 car is probably unrealistic.

  10. Hairs (@hairs) said on 29th March 2013, 16:15

    Context is everything. Red Bull have two drivers with a fractious and emnity filled relationship, who have proved in the past that they were unable to avoid incidents. Furthermore, they knew that their cars had been harder on their tyres over the weekend than Mercedes. If they let the drivers fight then they stood a substantial risk of having to make an extra stop, thereby losing the lead to Mercedes or having both drivers collide, leading to one or more off them retiring.

    Mercedes by contrast had nothing to lose by letting Rosberg go. Their drivers have no negative history, and their pace was being determined by fuel not tyres. Their reason for keeping station made less sense, unless you include the pr value of having Lewis on the podium.

    Furthermore, the poll results indicate a clear preference for supporting the underdog; Rosberg and Webber vs seb and Lewis

  11. mrgrieves (@mrgrieves) said on 29th March 2013, 17:31

    Ok 1st my stance on team orders. Basically there is 2 situations I’d allow and understand the need for team orders.

    1 – Championship for 1 driver is realistically or mathematically over so there team mate is used to help there chances of there team mate winning the title

    2 – If like Barachello or Irvine you sign a contact saying your going to be No2 then team orders are a given. Its in your contract and its how the team want to operate. i Don’t like it but i could live with it.

    Remove that factor and at this stage in the season there is absolutely no reason for team orders. Vettel’s move was a massive save for F1 who rather than the exciting story of two teams at war would have been stuck with positions 1-2-3-4 all being decided with 15 laps to go. If i was there i would have protested to get money back as i paid to see a full race not 45 laps.

  12. Lompee said on 29th March 2013, 20:24

    hi there!

    The debate about team orders rages on. Honestly maybe it’s time to consider changes of some sort.
    The current scoring system encourages team orders, and these team orders discourage close and actual racing imho.

    It appears to me that the present scoring system encourages teams to place the WCC goals before the goals of the drivers WDC.
    The quest for WCC interferes with the actual outcomes of the WDC and individual races.

    Why is the ‘ number two driver ‘ cruising? To get that all important 43 points for the TEAM Championship?

    Imho.. The WDC and WCC are two SEPARATE championships and perhaps should be viewed as such.

    So that’s where we begin.

    How might a different points scoring system or format translate into different results?

    For a simple test I chose to make both FORMAT and POINTS awarding system changes and chart the differences in possible
    outcomes. [if any ].

    Format change = Incorporate race finishing positions into Constructor’s Championship but in this scenario only award Constructor points to the highest placed TEAM chassis. [ i.e. ] vettel would have scored WDC points. TEAM RBR would score WCC points for being the Team chassis first across the line.

    Webber would be awarded ONLY WDC points. [ Think of a relay race… the victory and gold medal[s] go to the TEAM – not the
    runner with the fastest split times… ]

    It is after all a constructors race and therefore perhaps constructors should be awarded points based on their RESPECTIVE race finishes vs. the other constructor TEAMS.

    In the scenario described below, it doesn’t matter at all WHICH of the two driver’s azzes are strapped to the winning chassis.
    THAT matters ONLY in WDC championship points awards. Hmmmmm…

    WCC points are awarded to the TEAM. There is only one TEAM RBR. There is only one TEAM LOTUS. etc. All the teams run TWO cars and this doubles their advantage of constructors points. That should be enough.


    To make it simple… there are 11 teams competing in the World Constructors Championship. So how about 11 points for first CONSTRUCTOR team chassis across the line. 10 points for second team chassis across the line,

    9 points for the third team chassis and so on..

    When applying this system to the first two races the results were very interesting.

    With only highest placed chassis scoring we see the following WCC standings.

    1: rbr 20 9 +11 [ australia/ malasyia ]
    2: lotus 19 11 +8
    3: merc 18 8+10
    4: macla 12 6+6
    5: sauber 11 4+7
    6: torro 10 5+5
    7: ferrari 09 0+9
    8: force 07 7+0
    9: william 07 0+7
    10: marru 05 2+3
    11: caterh 03 1+2

    Compare to what we see as the current WCC ‘ battle ‘.

    1: rbr 60 points
    2: lotus 40 points
    3: ferrari 40 points
    4: merc 37 points
    5: force In 10 ponts
    6: sauber 04
    7: mclaren o4
    8: torro r 01
    9: williams 00
    10: marussia 00
    11: caterham 00

    Interesting observations:

    Ferrari – currently ranked third.. would be relegated to SEVENTH in standings.
    Ferrari would be outranked by Mercedes, McLaren, Torro Rosso, and Sauber.

    Force India would go from fifth ranked to Eigth.
    Torro Rosso would go from eighth to sixth.

    the battle at the back of the grid is clear to see…

    Williams rated NINTH with 7 points.
    Marussia rated tenth with 5 points.
    Caterham rated eleventh with 3 points.

    If not driving lap after lap behind their team mates to game the current system to ‘ help the team’ win the WCC…
    what else might that driver do – besides twiddle their finger and smile for the cameras?

    Sorry for long post.

  13. Lompee said on 29th March 2013, 20:35

    * williams and force india tied. heh

  14. mrjlr93 (@mrjlr93) said on 29th March 2013, 23:19

    In my own opinion i think people are more upset with the situation for the simple fact that a lot of people really don’t like Seb.

  15. Solo (@solo) said on 6th April 2013, 18:45

    sorry but saying “Were Red Bull right to order Vettel not to pass Webber?” is a completely wrongly worded question because it’s doesn’t make clear that Webber was just there to be passed because of team orders too.
    Red Bull didn’t just order Vettel not to pass, it order them to hold position. So Vettel may no even have needed an order to stay behind if they let Mark race too.
    The question should be “Was Red Bull right to order end of race for it drivers before the end of the race”.

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