Team Orders and Number two Drivers

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.

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2 thoughts on “Team Orders and Number two Drivers

  1. Steve Pilfold

    I have found myself 50/50 over the Red Bull team orders situation this weekend. I actually think that it wasn’t the helpful broadcasting the message, as it’s drawn attention to something that may, otherwise, have gone unnoticed.

    It’s been common that, unless it’s a fight for the win (this was 2 & 3, so not even a fight for the podium), drivers from the same team have “settled” for position towards the end of the race. As someone pointed out on TV – they are employees of the company and coming togethers could result in no points for the constructor.

    Seb had chosen not to go after Alonso – he was too far away, so, with Webber not under pressure for third place, it would be reasonable to assume that neither Seb or Mark needed to risk a tangle.

    On the other hand, this denies “us” a fight – and we pay the wages (indirectly) of the drivers and the team bosses.

    The thing is, one of the reasons behind everyone being upset by this is that Seb is miles ahead of everyone and Red Bull have won the constructors (ok, maybe they have a mathematical chance of losing it, but hey). “Everyone” likes Mark, ok, there aren’t a lot of Sebastian haters, unlike Schumacher, but I think everyone was quite switched on to the excitement of seeing Mark charge past Sebastian and then the “#1 driver” losing a wing or something as the “#2 driver” charged off into the distance. I think a lot of people, had it been Mark in front with Seb behind would have been less upset at them being told to “maintain the gap” – everyone likes to see Mark do well!

    So, was it “team orders” – not really in the way that Rubens had to give up first place – I don’t think Red Bull would do that, more like “let’s be sensible guys and bring both cars home”. I must admit I was in the “FFS” category when I heard that message, but, two days later I can see Horner’s point, and I am probably more 40/60 in favour of it after typing this!

    Reply
  2. Joe

    I’m not a fan of team orders. I love to watch great drivers race. However I think you can make a distinction between synicle orders that one driver perference and a more practical call that ensures both cars finish.

    I don’t believe that the message from Horner last weekend was made because Seb was ahead of Mark, I think the call would have come if the positions had been reversed.

    This was about Red Bull avoiding another case of team mates taking each other out rather than giving Seb number one status, so I can understand it in this case.

    One driver being asked to move over however is less easy to accept. Especially at this stage of the season.

    Reply

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