Christian Horner stirred up another hornets nest at Silverstone on Sunday and again it was Mark Webber on the receiving end. Last year Horner took the newest version of the teams front wing off of Webber’s car, electing to let his team-mate, Vettel run it instead. Webber went on to win the race and told the team (and the world) on the radio “not bad for a number two driver”.
Twelve months on and Webber’s number two status seems to have been confirmed once again. In the closing stages of the race Webber was closing in on his team-mate and looking to take second place. Then the call came over the radio to ‘maintain the gap’ Given Vettel’s monumental lead in the championship you’d have thought the logical move would to let Webber through to further cement his second place in the championship. The official word from Red Bull was that the order was sent to ensure both cars got to the finish.
This is the first year since 2002 that team orders have been legal. Many feared, including myself that teams with a clear number one drivers would again rob the fans of more great battles towards the end of races.
The 2010 German Grand Prix saw Ferrari cause controversy seemingly breaking the team order ban when Felipe Massa’a engineer, Rob Smedley delivered his infamous message “Fernando is faster than you, please confirm you understand this message”. After the race, all involved denied the use of team orders with Massa himself declaring “for sure, we didn’t use team orders”. His face on the podium however, told a different story.
Team orders, number two drivers and a dominating German has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? 2002 was the watershed year for team orders. At the Austrian Grand Prix the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello was leading home a 1-2 ahead of Schumacher. Towards the end of the race, Rubens got the call to move over and let his team-mate through. Rubens was very reluctant to comply with the order, especially as (contrary to common belief) his contract had no mention of Schumacher having number one status. The radio messages flowed consistently from the pit wall and Rubens relinquished the lead only meters before the start/finish line on the last lap of the race.
Only time will tell if we get another situation like that again. Everyone who watches the sport, from the die hard fans who don’t miss a practice session through to the fans who tune in on a Sunday, all do so to see a race. I hope the teams have learned from their past mistakes but as the pressure builds towards the end of the season we could see more messages like this over the teams radios.