Team orders

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A team order at the 2002 Austrian GP. Rubens Barrichello's #2 status at Ferrari was made obvious after he moved over to let Michael Schumacher win just a few metres before the finish line.

In motor racing, team orders is the practice of teams issuing instructions to drivers to deviate from the normal practice of racing against each other as they would against other teams' drivers. This can be accomplished either in advance, simply by establishing a pecking order between the drivers within the team, or instructing a driver to let their teammate overtake or to hold position without the risk of collision.

This is generally done when one driver is behind in a particular race but ahead overall in a championship season. The team will then order their drivers to rearrange themselves on the track so as to give more championship points to a driver who is ahead in the championship. Another reason for team orders is where multiple drivers are in a position far ahead of the field, being all but assured of the win. Team orders are issued to prevent the drivers from racing each other; the aim is to have them drive cautiously to save fuel, reduce the chance of mechanical problems, and avoid a collision. This has happened on countless occasions in the history of motorsport, sometimes causing great acrimony between the team and the disadvantaged driver.[1]

Damon Hill: I'm going to put something to you here, and I think you'd better listen to this.

If we race, if we two race, we could end up with nothing, so it's up to Eddie (Jordan).

If we don't race each other, we've got an opportunity to get a first and second, it's your choice.

Hill's radio message to the Jordan pitwall[2]

Team orders in Formula One[edit]

Early examples[edit]

Such orders were legal and accepted historically in motor racing. In the early years of the Formula One World Championship, it was even legal for a driver to give up his car during the race to the team leader if the latter's car had broken down. In 1955, the Mercedes team asked Juan Manuel Fangio to let his teammate Stirling Moss win his home Grand Prix at Aintree. Fangio obliged, refusing to attack Moss in the closing stages of the race, and came home in second place, less than a second behind Moss.[3]

The 1964 season saw a dramatic finale in which Lorenzo Bandini moved over to John Surtees during the Mexican Grand Prix, allowing Surtees to get the necessary points to beat Graham Hill to the World Championship.[4]

In the 1979 German Grand Prix Clay Regazzoni was instructed by the Williams pits not to attack his teammate Alan Jones for the lead, despite Regazzoni being ahead in the championship.[5] The status of Jones as number one driver at Williams lasted until 1981, when Carlos Reutemann deliberately ignored team orders at the 1981 Brazilian Grand Prix and did not allow him to pass. This resulted in a long feud between the two that eventually led to Jones' retirement at the end of the season, with Reutemann missing out on the World Championship for one single point.[6]

In 1982 René Arnoux enraged Renault by refusing to give way to his teammate Alain Prost at the 1982 French Grand Prix, who at the time was ahead in the championship;[7] However, those three points had no impact, as Prost ended up losing the 1982 championship to Keke Rosberg by ten points and even ranking fourth.

During the 1983 South African Grand Prix, the Brabham-BMW team asked driver Riccardo Patrese to cede Nelson Piquet the race win if it ensured Piquet would win the driver's championship. However, this did not prove to be necessary as Patrese won the race while Piquet clinched a third place, sufficient to secure him the championship.[8]

Bad rap in the media[edit]

In 1991, at the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna was already world champion and conceded the victory to Gerhard Berger, saying after the race that he had given the 1st place to Berger because "he had been very helpful".

Riccardo Patrese found himself in a similar situation to what he did in 1983 again in 1992, when he blatantly waved his Williams teammate Nigel Mansell around him during the 1992 French Grand Prix, which Mansell went on to win ahead of Patrese in second.[9]

In the late 1990s incidents of team orders began to be reported more prominently by the media. Public reaction to the more blatant examples of their use became extremely negative. In the 1997 European Grand Prix, Jacques Villeneuve, already with the title in the bag (after the controversial collision with Schumacher, which Villeneuve's Williams survived), was asked by his engineer via radio to let the McLaren cars pass as "They've been very helpful",[10] while at the 1998 Australian Grand Prix, the McLaren drivers David Coulthard and Mika Häkkinen caused a stir by switching position at the end of the race in order to respect a previous agreement.[11]

In contrast to prior examples, the 1997 Japanese Grand Prix saw a more sophisticated use of team orders, where Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine began the race light on fuel, allowing him to get ahead of the superior Williams-Renault cars and hold them up, to the benefit of teammate Michael Schumacher.[12]

At the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, the two Jordans of Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher found themselves unexpectedly in the lead after a collision between Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard. Ralf was subsequently ordered not to overtake Hill, to assure Jordan of a 1-2 finish.[2]

At the 1999 German Grand Prix, Mika Salo, driving for Ferrari in place of injured Michael Schumacher, was leading the race when he was told to allow teammate Eddie Irvine to pass. Salo complied, giving up what would have been his only Formula One victory in 109 career races.[13]

Barrichello said "To win, it was very, very, very good.... I got to the last corner, I didn't know what to do and nothing has been said. Michael was just very kind to, you know, let us finish equally. I guess I pointed a little bit in front, but, you know, what can we say?"
Schumacher said "The end of the race was not planned. We tried to cross the line together but failed by a tiny bit and in fact we did not know who had won until we got out of the cars. I just felt Rubens deserved to win this race."

At the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello was ordered to allow Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher to pass to obtain the win.[14] This received huge amounts of negative attention from the media, as the order was issued shortly before both drivers crossed the finish line. Both drivers were unhappy about the situation. Schumacher refused to take the top step of the podium and the centre seat, normally reserved to the winner, during the post-race press conference, and the team was punished for breach of podium procedure.[15] At the United States Grand Prix the very same year, Schumacher appeared to have returned the favour by giving Barrichello the win by the record smallest margin of 0.011 seconds on the finishing line, though it is assumed Schumacher was trying to trigger a dead-heat finish.

Team orders ban[edit]

After the 2002 season, FIA announced that "Team Orders that could influence the outcome of a race" were banned,[16] although they were sometimes still implemented discreetly.

For example, this has sometimes been achieved as easily as a team getting on the radio to the slower driver and pointing out that his teammate is quicker. The slower driver then lets the quicker driver through without the need for an overt "directive" from the team.[17] This happened, for example, at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, where Mark Webber was asked to slow down when his Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel was closing in. Webber disregarded the order, and the pair collided, each refusing to accept blame for the accident.[18] Similarly, at the 2010 German Grand Prix, Felipe Massa's race engineer Rob Smedley was heard to say to his driver "Fernando (Alonso) is faster than you. Can you confirm you understand that message?". Moments later, Massa eased back and allowed Alonso past.[17]


Perhaps the most controversial use of team orders was the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, where the Renault F1 team used team orders to cause Nelson Piquet, Jr to crash deliberately on the fourteenth lap of the race so safety car could be triggered, to allow teammate Alonso to win the race.

Ban repealed[edit]

At the end of the 2010 season, the FIA conceded that the team orders rule was not working and needed to be reviewed. As of 2011, the team orders rule no longer appeared in the sporting regulations.[19]

At the 2012 United States Grand Prix, Ferrari broke the FIA seal on the gearbox of Felipe Massa's car to trigger a 5 place grid penalty, to move him behind Fernando Alonso, and move both cars onto the "clean" side of the race track, to ensure Alonso the fastest start possible on the slippery asphalt on the brand new Circuit of the Americas.[20]

At the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing driver Sebastian Vettel was criticised for passing his team-mate Mark Webber to win the race against "Multi 21", an order from his team to hold position.[21]

At the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix, the Mercedes team ordered Valtteri Bottas to yield his third position for Lewis Hamilton, who had better chance to attack second-placed Kimi Räikkönen. When it was clear that Hamilton was not able to overcome Räikkönen, Hamilton gave back the position to Bottas in the last corner of the race, costing him three points in the Drivers' Championship. Those three points did not matter in the end, as Hamilton won the title by 46 points.

At the 2018 German Grand Prix, after a crash from Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel brought out the safety car, Lewis Hamilton led the race from his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was on fresher tyres. When the safety car period ended, Bottas initially attacked Hamilton for the lead, before being told by Mercedes' team strategist James Vowles to hold his position, handing Hamilton the win.[22] Bottas continued to play second fiddle to Hamilton at the 2018 Russian Grand Prix, where he qualified for pole position and subsequently led the race until being ordered to yield the lead position to his teammate, who was ahead in the Drivers' Championship.[23]

At the 2019 Australian Grand Prix, Ferrari ordered Charles Leclerc to hold position after trying to attempt to get near Sebastian Vettel. Leclerc had already significantly closed the gap between him and Vettel until Ferrari issued their order. Two races later on Lap 11 of the 2019 Chinese Grand Prix, Leclerc was ordered by Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto to let Vettel pass him. Binotto later said the team made the “right choice” by making the call, as Vettel finished on the podium in third whilst Leclerc finished fifth.[24]

Team orders in NASCAR[edit]

Team orders became a serious issue during the 2013 Federated Auto Parts 400 on 7 September 2013, when an elaborate scheme involving the last race of the regular season before the Chase for the Sprint Cup erupted, causing officials to make serious rule changes.

With five teams involved in the race for the final two regular and both wild card slots -- Richard Childress Racing satellite Furniture Row Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and its respective satellite Stewart-Haas Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, and Penske Racing—for the ten-race playoff, an elaborate scheme erupted in the waning stages of the race.

Ryan Newman (Stewart-Haas) was leading the race with less than ten laps remaining, and the standings had Kurt Busch (Furniture Row) in ninth, Jeff Gordon (Hendrick) in tenth by two points, with the two wild cards being Kasey Kahne (Hendrick) and Newman, both of which would have two race wins. This would shut out Joey Logano (Penske), who was in the top ten prior to the race but struggling and now trailing Gordon by two points, and Martin Truex, Jr. (Michael Waltrip), who also has one win.

Logano, down two laps, talked with fellow Ford team Front Row Motorsports driver David Gilliland about allowing Logano to pass him to gain points, as he was two points behind Gordon for tenth place in the points. With Newman leading, Logano had to be in tenth or Logano would be out of a Chase position. Truex's teammate Clint Bowyer intentionally spun and caused a caution in an effort to assist his teammate. Ensuing pit stops knocked Newman to third. Logano, who was two laps behind, did not pit and was able to advance ahead one lap as the leader must be the first car on the restart.

In order to allow the team orders for Michael Waltrip Racing to succeed, the elaborate scheme, which was independent of each other, took place. Bowyer pitted after the restart to go down laps in order to allow Logano to have one point, and teammate Brian Vickers did the same thing, and go very slow in the final lap, possibly below NASCAR's minimum speed requirement. This would allow Logano to pass Gordon, who without a win loses a tiebreaker to Logano. Logano then passes Gilliland. Truex races hard and ties Newman, tying Newman on the first count (most wins, one), and the second count (points), winning the third count (most second-place finishes).

"NASCAR requires its competitors to race at 100 percent of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in an event. Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event or encourages, persuades or induces others to artificially alter the finishing position of the event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR. Such penalties may include but are limited to disqualification and/or loss of finishing points and/or fines and/or loss of points and/or suspension and/or probation to any and all members of the teams, including any beneficiaries of the prohibited actions. 'Artificially altered' shall be defined as actions by any competitor that show or suggest that the competitor did not race at 100 percent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the event at NASCAR's sole discretion."

Section 12, Rule 4, Article L in the current NASCAR rule book

Immediately after the race, the ESPN television broadcast aired Bowyer's radio transmission in the laps leading to the safety car situation, before signing off the broadcast. This led to an immediate investigation where NASCAR uncovered via team radios the complex team orders scheme, suspending Michael Waltrip Racing officials, stripping Truex of his playoff position, a $100,000 fine per car on the team, and a 50-point penalty each on all three teams (driver and owner except the #55 of Vickers, a Nationwide Series driver ineligible for Sprint Cup points, which was penalised as owner only). Probations were assessed on Front Row and Penske teams after NASCAR uncovered the radio chatter for that team orders scheme. Gordon and Newman were each reinstated to the twelve-car playoff, which increased to thirteen after Gordon was added.

A complex series of rules were announced on 14 September 2013 by NASCAR to prevent such team orders from taking place. Among the rules to prevent team orders include different teams on the spotter's stand brokering deals in exchange for the concession of a position, private team communication that cannot be detected by officials on digital radios (teams must use analog channels that can be accessed by spectators at the circuit, audio and visual media broadcasts, and officials - in previous years some teams had scrambled signals), and a limit of one spotter per spotter's stand at the circuit. At circuits where there are multiple spotters' stands used (mainly the road courses and Talladega Superspeedway), the rule will only limit one spotter to being in each post (there are often multiple posts at road courses and Talladega because it is impossible for the entire track to be seen by one spotter). NASCAR will also mandate a video camera on the stand, which will observe radio chatter among spotters (networks may install a camera on the spotter's stand for broadcast positioning also).

NASCAR also added Section 12, Rule 4, Article L in the NASCAR rule book, with the rule indirectly referencing a ban on team orders.


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