News and views on motorsports

Sunday, September 14, 2003

On Team Orders

During the course of this week at Monza, high ranking members of the top teams have made quite a few comments regarding the interpretation of team orders. What exactly constitutes a team order? Telling Rubens Barrichello to move over for Michael Schumacher is definitely a team order I'd say. But what about if Coulthard running a different strategy to Raikkonen and is thus slower, lets his team mate past. Would that also constitute a team order?

Let us examine why the regulations have been put in place. I believe the controversy first started in the 1998 Australian Grand Prix. During that race Mika Hakkinen started from pole position with Coulthard second and trailing his team mate every step of the way. However during the course of the race, an order was mistakenly given to Hakkinen to enter the pits. He was subsequently waved off and told to continue. He did however, enter the pitlane and thus lost valuable time and the lead to Coulthard. In this case, I thought the order for Coulthard to slow down and move over for his team mate was completely justified. Hakkinen should not have been penalised for such an error on the part of the team.

However this decision caused an uproar among the fans. But not all fans I would say. As I recall, the main opposition came from those who had placed money with the bookies. Those betting on a Coulthard win were of course very upset. Even to the point of accusation of race fixing. Ahem. Excuse me? Only Ferrari would do that. Jokes aside though team orders such as these are common in motor racing. It happens all the time. During the DTM touring car championships of the early 1990s it was pretty disgusting to see the Mercedes teams practically deciding the order in which each of their cars would finish in. But hey, that's racing. In the end of the day it is also a team sport. Let's not talk about motor racing. In the Tour de France bicycle race a team will run the entire tour in support of the main rider. Miguel Indurain would not have won so many Tours otherwise.

Yes, Austria last year was not only pretty disgusting but completely unsporting. What were Ferrari thinking of? They had the dominant car with the dominant driver who was so far ahead in the championship that really on that day they should have let Barrichello win. The man had out raced and out sped his team mate all the way. Since there was no threat from anyone else why resort to such unsporting behaviour? I for one was entirely delighted to see the fans jeering on this cronied and highly political team. However I am the first to acknowledge that this is Ferrari's right. And it is a right that should not be taken away because the day will come when they will need to exercise this right when the championship does become such a close fight as it has this season.

The policing of the team order regulations are hazardous and like traction control, whilst difficult to accept and is against sporting behaviour (on occassions) there is no fair way to enforcing the rules.

Ross Brawn was also in the thick of the discussions regarding team orders. But really he should just shut the hell up. Because anything Ferrari does will be endorsed by the FIA anyway. In summary I think Bernie and Max should not be listening to the whinings of the bookmakers and punters. This is not horse racing, it's motor racing and this is just they way things are and always will be.

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