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Carrot’s Take on Team Orders

Posted by Carrot on August 23, 2010 | No Comments

The fallout from Ferrari’s actions in Germany isn’t likely to die away any time soon, especially with reports this week that the Scuderia is looking at the possibility of civil action. According to reports, should the World Motor Sport Council choose to strip them of their points when they meet following the referral from the German stewards, Ferrari will launch legal action in an attempt to retain them. Given this backdrop I thought I’d put forward some of my own thoughts on the matter.

For starters I think that Ferrari will have a case in court, provided that the WMSC strips them of the points on the charge of team orders. Even in the regulations of sports there must still be a principle of habeas corpus, the WMSC cannot produce a team order as evidence then you cannot penalise someone for using them. We’ve all heard the radio transmissions and sat through the torturous denials made by Ferrari after the race. Without a whistle blower with some irrefutable evidence there is no way to hang a charge on what happened in Germany. What the WMSC can do is strip them of points based on the charge of bringing the sport into disrepute. If they do that, Ferrari are going to have a tough time in any court trying to get their points back. No matter what we all think “Fernando is faster than you” is not a team order, it is information about the relative race pace of another car. Yes, we all know it was code, but with Massa saying it was his decision there’s absolutely no way to prove a team order and Massa isn’t going to say a word if he enjoys driving a front running car. In court it’s not about what Ferrari did, but what can be proved that they did.

The issue of team orders and the regulation against it is a naive attempt to make the sport something it isn’t and never has been. Formula 1 is a team sport, I know this because there are twelve entities building cars that we all call teams and at the end of the year the highest scoring of these teams gets a shiny trophy. The regulation in question states “Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited“, read that and remember back to the British Grand Prix. Red Bull had a nice shiny upgrade package that included a wing that they said gave them an additional tenth of a second per lap, which over 52 laps is 5.2 seconds quicker as a race time. Vettel broke his wing and got Webber’s wing instead. Vettel ended up finishing less than 5 seconds ahead of Sutil, a position he might not have been in had he not had the 5 seconds a race faster wing. Did anyone have a problem with it? Well Red Bull might have as they were made to look stupid over it especially after the first corner incident. Was there a protest? It seems pretty clear to me, Red Bull issued a team order to take the wing off Webber’s car and put it on Vettel’s, Webber didn’t volunteer to have his wing taken away and the new wing must have helped Vettel in a recovery drive and allowed him to be higher than he would have been. It’s very simple, Red Bull issued an order that caused one of their cars higher than it would have at the expense of the pace of his team mate, that’s a breach of the regulations. The fact that Webber embarrassed his critics in the team and finished a long way ahead of his team mate is not an issue, a team order was given that affected the result of the race.

These type of team orders exist as I’ve shown with the Red Bull wing example. They also occur every single year come contract time. The team make decisions, that are then team orders for their negotiators that will ultimately alter the results of races by removing slower drivers for faster ones. Or does anyone think that Kovalainen would have take as many victories as Button this year? Limiting the regulation to on track action in races is just wrong when the nature of the beast at all other times is obvious.

Another argument that got a good airing after Germany was the idea that it’s OK when you can’t win the championship and your team mate can to issue team orders, but as Massa could mathematically win the championship he should have been allowed to stay in front. The last time I read such a logical fallacy I was laughing at some of the stuff on Conservapedia. Let’s look at the regulation for starters, someone show me the exemption that allows team orders should you no longer be in a position to win the championship. Don’t waste your time, there is no such clause, by the rules as they are you can’t have them at any time so substituting some other proviso is delusion. Secondly the notion that he could still win the championship is great and all, except for the fact that the experience of Ferrari and Fernando Alonso says otherwise. Alonso and Ferrari have won more championship than everyone reading and writing this combined and certainly Alonso has lost a championship by a team refusing to back a number one driver. When these experts in Formula 1 decide it’s time to start backing one challenger, the opinions of everyone else are moot and rightly so. For sake of illustration there are 7 races left, with 25 points for each win, meaning for a challenger there are 175 points available. Mark Webber leads the championship on 161 points. That means that Sakon Yamamoto is still capable of winning the championship, hell Nelson Piquet Jr. could still make a comeback this season and mathematically win the championship. When all the people harking on about mathematical possibility bet their houses on Yamamoto for the crown I’ll start to take them seriously.

Ferrari were being pragmatic about their title chances when the decision was made and chose to back someone they specifically hired to win championships because of his experience in doing so. Why pay the big money just to ignore his recommendations? It’s not like Massa wasn’t expecting this, this is the third time he’s had to play rear gunner at Ferrari and they were fair enough to let him make his own charge in 2008 when Kimi was having a downturn in pace. Whether on track or off track, F1 is and has always been a team sport. A vague and unenforceable regulation is as deluded as pretending the cars run on 8 wheels, it simply isn’t the sport as we all know it.

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