Formula 1's top team order controversies

Shashank Singh  /
19 Aug 2014 15:47:04 IST

Team orders have played spoilsport again. The recent turn of events in Hungary where Mercedes ordered Hamilton to give way to Rosberg, has left fans, not to mention Hammy himself, in dismay. Many teams have been directly or indirectly involved in issuing team orders to their advantage, even though the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) imposed a ban on the practice at the end of 2002. The ban was lifted at the end of the 2010 season as policing the ban wasn't easy. Why do people believe that team orders are undesirable though? Simply because it robs us of the essence of wheel-to-wheel racing and presents us with man-made outcomes of the race.

Formula 1 is perennially surrounded by team order controversies, some of which have even made headlines and motorsport history. Let's shed light on a few of the more controversial ones.

1. Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg (Hungarian Grand Prix, 2014)

Hamilton Hungarian Grand PrixTeam Mercedes finally did come out and support Hamilton's decision to ignore the team order

 Mercedes asking Lewis Hamilton to give way to Nico Rosberg, with just 20 laps to go, is the latest  controversy to hit Formula 1. The idea was that Rosberg had to complete one more pit stop as opposed to Hamilton who was good to go till the end. Team Mercedes wanted Rosberg to gain as many points as possible with the win, in order to feel a little more secure at the head of the championship standings, but Hamilton refused to obey. He later said, "If I let him past, then he could pull away and come back at me later. I was very, very shocked the team would ask me to do that." Hamilton's contention was that he was racing Rosberg for track position and it really didn't matter what strategy each of them was on. Another thing that bothered the fans was the fact that all through the 2014 season, Toto Wolff has made much noise about the fact that he is willing to let his drivers race, and issuing team orders was in direct conflict to this stream of thinking. Now, however, the team has come out in support of Hamilton. Well, at least Mercedes' non-executive chairman Niki Lauda has, and we all know that he speaks his mind, he does! Lauda declared that the team orders were a mistake and that Hamilton did the right thing.

2. Sebastian Vettel vs Mark Webber (Malaysian Grand Prix, 2013)

A second place is a nice way to start saying his good byes to F1 for Mark WebberWebber, tired of playing second fiddle to Vettel eventually decided to seek greener pastures

Multi 21 Gate was the talking point of the 2013 season of Formula 1 and it was another instance when a driver went against team orders. Red Bull's Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were running 1-2 in the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, when the drivers were issued the "Multi 21". This meant that the team essentially wanted the Number 2 car to stay ahead of the Number 1 car. Meaning Vettel had to hold station behind Webber. Vettel deliberately ignored the order and took Webber by surprise as he overtook him towards the very end of the race. This was particularly annoying to Webber, because he had followed the team's instructions to slow down and save his engine. Even though Red Bull Racing condemned the incident, the team still seemed to hold a soft spot for Vettel. Well, the fact that he had already won them three world championship titles, and was their big hope for the 2013 season as well, helped. Webber, tired of playing second fiddle to Vettel (remember when RBR ticked him off by giving Vettel a new front wing update at the 2010 British GP) eventually decided to seek greener pastures. As it happened, he went to Porsche for 2014, choosing to pursue a career in sportscar racing in the World Endurance Championship.

3. Fernando Alonso vs Felipe Massa (German Grand Prix, 2010)

Felipe MassaThe driver that emerged after that German Grand Prix, wasn't the same Felipe we knew before that race

Felipe Massa was leading the 2010 German Grand Prix from team-mate Fernando Alonso when suddenly he heard his race engineer Rob Smedley on the radio saying, "Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understand that message?". Massa grudgingly backed off to let Alonso pass and get as many points from that race as possible. The FIA then decided that the 2002 ban on team orders was clearly impossible to police and scrapped the ban for the next season. The damage within the Ferrari camp had been done though. People often try and trace Massa's drop in performance and pin it on the accident he had at the Hungarian GP the previous year. But if you ask us, it was the team orders that completely mucked with Massa's confidence and the driver that emerged after that race, wasn't the same as the Felipe we knew before that race.

4. Sebastian Vettel vs Mark Webber (Turkish Grand Prix, 2010)

Now this one is something of a grey area, because after the incident took place Red Bull motorsport adviser Helmut Marko stated that the team wasn't attempting to favour Sebastian Vettel. What allegedly happened was that given that Mark Webber was leading the race at Istanbul, but had gone into fuel-saving mode, and his team-mate Vettel was in second place but on a higher setting, the possibility of Vettel doing better than Webber in the race was very real. Webber, as far as he could tell, was racing Vettel and there was no reason to get out of the way or any such thing. The battle that ensued between the team-mates wasn't something that they could write home about. They ended up colliding, with Vettel being taken out of the race and Webber needing to pit for repairs and eventually finishing third. The atmosphere in the Red Bull garage soured around that time, and set the tone for the seasons to come.

5. Renault vs Nelson Piquet Jr. (Singapore Grand Prix, 2008)

Known in the media as Crash gate, Formula 1 went through one of its darkest phases at the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix in 2008. Renault ordered its driver Nelson Piquet Jr. to deliberately crash into the barriers. The resulting crash would bring out the Safety Car and allow Fernando Alonso to dive into the pits early and take control of the race and eventually win.

While this was initially reported as a mere racing incident (although Felipe Massa always seemed suspicious as to how Piquet managed to lose control there) once Piquet Jr. was shown the door, he spilled the beans as well. The FIA then set up an inquiry, which brought to light some credible findings and Renault F1 was subsequently disqualified from the championship. Team Principal Flavio Briatore was banned indefinitely from any events sanctioned by the FIA, although this ban was later overturned by the French Tribunal de Grande Instance.

6. Michael Schumacher vs Rubens Barrichello (Austrian Grand Prix, 2002)

schumiSchumacher didn't seem particularly thrilled after the race, but in a display of camaraderie he let team-mate Barrichello stand on the top step of the podium

The only justification, if we may give to team orders, is that it gives the leading driver in the team a fighting chance in the championship ultimately, and hence it is usually only done when the teams are left with no other option. The most absurd use for which team orders were employed was in the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix when Rubens Barrichello was heading towards a well-deserved victory and was suddenly ordered by Ferrari to give it away to his team-mate Michael Schumacher. The move was uncalled for as it was the early part of the season and Schumacher was already leading the driver's championship, but Ferrari was in a hurry to seal the championship. Barrichello obeyed and backed off on the very last lap, just before the chequered flag. That he was dejected was in evidence after the race. And Schumacher didn't seem particularly thrilled either, but in a display of camaraderie he let Barrichello stand on the top step of the podium.

Though dust seemed to have settled on that track, the incident didn't go down well with the fans and FIA. A ban was imposed after that year's championship on the use of any team orders that may affect the outcome of the race. And on top of it all, Barrichello, Schumacher and Ferrari were fined one million USD for improper conduct during a podium ceremony.

7. Damon Hill vs Ralf Schumacher (Belgian Grand Prix, 1998)

Damon Hill unexpectedly found himself in the lead of the Belgian Grand Prix, with team-mate Ralf Schumacher also a close second. Now the reason a lot of people remember this race, however, is because of the collision between Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard (yes, the one where there were attempted fisticuffs after) which was the real reason that Hill and Schuey Jr were in the lead in the first place. And while Damon Hill eventually won the race, it later emerged that Ralf Schumacher had been ordered to bring the car home in second place, something he did do rather quietly.

8. Alain Prost vs Ayrton Senna (San Marino Grand Prix, 1989)

Ayrton_Senna_pp01-256-50According to an agreement with Mclaren, whoever led the first turn was to stay in the lead, and that the pact, which was Senna's idea in the first place, was ironically broken by him

The rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost was already so fierce, that a thing like a team order was bound to make matters much worse. That is exactly what happened at the San Marino Grand Prix 1989. Due to a heavy shunt involving Gerhard Berger at Tamburello, the race had to be restarted. Though Prost got off the line better, he was eventually overtaken by Senna down the run to Tosa, and the race ended like that. Later on Prost said that according to an agreement with Mclaren, whoever led the first turn was to stay in the lead, and that the pact, which was Senna's idea in the first place, was ironically broken by him. The course of events that followed established the Senna-Prost rivalry as one of the sport's most fierce.

9. Gilles Villeneuve vs Didier Pironi (San Marino Grand Prix, 1982)

One of Formula 1's fiercest and most bitter rivalries, the tale of Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi, is fraught with great tragedy. Villeneuve was a driver who was marvelled for his skill on track. His speed was never in question and his office commute from Monte Carlo to Maranello is the stuff of legends. But he was also a loyal team-mate, one who believed in the greater good of the team as a whole. It was this loyalty that made him support Jody Scheckter, ensuring the South African had a somewhat easy run to the 1979 championship title. So what transpired at the 1982 San Marino GP was something that Gilles couldn't accept. During the race the Ferrari team ordered Villeneuve and team-mate Pironi to go easy on their cars due to the fact that the conditions were tricky. Villeneuve took this to mean that the drivers were meant to hold station. Pironi thought otherwise and so drove right past Gilles. Villeneuve assumed Pironi was putting on a show for the crowds and then went and retook position. Didier, of course, was fighting, and passed Villeneuve once again for the win. Gilles swore he'd never talk to his team-mate ever again. And he never did. Two weeks later at qualifying for the Belgian GP, Villeneuve crashed fatally. He'd kept his word.

10. Carlos Reutemann vs Alan Jones (Brazilian Grand Prix, 1981)

Carlos Reutemann of Williams was meant to give up his lead in the race to team-mate Alan Jones. But he deliberately ignored the pitboards telling him to do exactly that. He made it to the top step of the podium, but his team-mate didn't bother appearing to stand on the second place of the rostrum. This resulted in a long lasting feud between the two drivers, with Jones eventually retiring at the end of the season and Reutemann losing  the championship by just one point to Nelson Piquet in the final round of the season.

11. Stirling Moss vs Juan Manuel Fangio (British Grand Prix, 1955)

Gentlemanly rivals - Moss and Fangio after the 1955 British GP at AintreeGentlemanly rivals - Moss and Fangio after the 1955 British GP at Aintree

This one's something of a grey area too. Apparently the Mercedes team asked Juan Manuel Fangio to let his team-mate Stirling Moss win his home grand prix. It happened at the 1955 British Grand Prix at Aintree, when Moss became the first British driver to win on home soil. But Fangio was the one leading the race in his Silver Arrow. Then on the very last lap Moss and Fangio crossed the finish line practically neck to neck - Moss won. But he wasn't convinced of his own victory there. Every time he asked Fangio whether he'd let him win, the Argentine would declare that Moss had just been faster that day. Friends or rivals, such gestures aren't likely to be seen in modern day F1.

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