Formula One is a challenge like no other; to get a piece of the treasure that is success, one must master the technical, political and economic aspects of this extraordinarily exacting sport. Seldom does opportunity knock at the doors of the aspiring and highly determined individuals with a chance to quench their yearn and insatiable craving for triumph. Some are able to grab it by the wrist but the rest, for some reason or the other see it slip through their palms.
Racing is a very ruthless sport that way. Take drivers for instance. Some are able to capitalize on situations like kings of time while the rest, regardless of their devoted efforts just fall short of living the ‘World Championship dream.’
The Effect Of Team Orders On Modern Day Formula One
Although for many, drivers are individual characters who showcase the art of driving round in circles as fast as they can on the canvas that is the racetrack, at the end of the day, they are employed by business-oriented teams looking to achieve success and minimise all the risks involved. For the last few decades, several top teams have shown a clear preference of drivers, with one acting as the ‘number one driver’ with more freedom, independence and support from the team while the other unfortunate ‘number two driver’ takes the role of the wingman and their objective of personal success is often curbed by their ‘call of duty’ that is to support the number one driver in his Championship challenge. Teams find deciding where to draw the line on team orders as a huge challenge and this can have an adverse effect on their drivers.
There are countless examples of the same. Irvine and Schumacher, Senna and Dumfries, Alonso and Piquet Jr and more recently, Hamilton and Bottas. Perhaps the best and strongest instance would be the highly controversial, yet successful driver pairing of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barichello. The former, already a two time world champion at the time of Barichello’s arrival at Ferrari was more often than not given the utmost support of the team with Rubens unfortunately having to act as a wingman. In no means does this undervalues Schumacher’s and Ferrari’s stellar accomplishments together but doing so at the expense of a highly talented driver in Rubens Barichello taints the otherwise clean and plausible achievements.
Let us go back to the controversial 2002 Austrian Grand Prix to get a greater understanding. Rubens was leading the race comfortably when the team instructed him to succumb his race lead to Michael who was in a stronger Championship position on the very last lap. Rubens had to follow the orders and let Michael past on the final lap in a shameful moment for the entire Formula One world.
Ferrari were fined USD $1,000,000 for this and an embargo was put on team orders which, crucially was overturned soon. This also lead to the infamous ‘Fernando is faster than you’ incident at Hockenheim in 2010 when once again for the sake of the championship, the ‘de-facto’ number two driver, Felipe Massa was ordered to let Fernando Alonso past into the lead of the race. After their respective incidents, neither Barichello nor Massa reached the heights that they once managed to although they did show some positive performances down the line. One of the main causes of their lack of championship challenges can be traced back to these demotivating incidents.
In the 2018 German Grand Prix contested two weeks before the time of writing, the two teams fighting for the championship, Ferrari and Mercedes both played out team orders for the betterment of their ‘championship contending drivers’ with Raikkonen being asked to let his Ferrari teammate Vettel past in the early stages and Mercedes asking Bottas to hold position and let his teammate Hamilton take the win.
Racing: Art Or Business?
This favorism makes one wonder whether racing is a business where calculated moves come first, be it at the expense of one driver of the team or is it an art where drivers express their creativity and skill with full independence?
Yes, if teams do let their drivers fight each other, it will be a big victory for the sport; the races will have greater drama and unpredictability, with the drivers facing a clear test of individual skill. The fans relate to the drivers more than the engineers at the factory and seeing their individual and free performances would let them unleash their potential and make for better racing, pleasing the fans as a consequence. Drivers will be able to show their mettle and what they are really made of; racing may return to its best.
On the contrary though, it is easy to forget that drivers are employed by the teams, who see both their drivers fighting on track as a major risk and things could get out of hand and the team may not score any points at all. We can recall Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber’s crash in Istanbul back in 2010 or Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in Austria 2016 or the big accident between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen in Azerbaijan in the 2018 season.
Reduced team orders to allow freer and more attractive racing but it does increase the risks to such an extent that the teams feel that they may lose all the points that they can score. Teams work hard between the races to get the cars up to speed and on the track and naturally, aim to maximize their points with the lowest risk involved and unleashing their drivers may not be the smartest strategy to achieve their goal.
Be it bad for the sport, teams are in to earn and win it and without scoring points, they will not be able to earn as much and that is why particular drivers are favoured.
In the end, the choice is for the teams to make and although we may complain that there is a shortage of good racing due to teams applying team orders, teams find it as their most rational decision at times even though it may displease one of the drivers.
Whether one likes it or not, Formula One’s political aspects play a major role in determining the outcome of the championship and the ones with greater political influence, be it both drivers and teams have a strategic edge in turning the ship their way. Team Orders then, represent the ruthless yet glorious nature of the sport perfectly.
None of the media used in this article belongs to me. Credits to the rightful owners.