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Formula One: Should Team Orders Be Banned?

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Team orders have always been a controversial subject within Formula One, with people deeming it unsporting and not true racing yet it has not stopped the concept.

In fact, in the early years of the Formula One World Championship, it was legal for a driver to give up his car during the race to the team leader if the latter’s car had broken down.

There have been several cases throughout the sport, where team bosses have ordered their drivers to finish in a certain position. For example the great Juan Manuel Fangio was asked by Mercedes in 1955 to let his teammate Stirling Moss win his home Grand Prix at Silverstone. In 1964 team orders decided where the driver’s championship would go, as Lorenzo Bandini moved over for John Surtees in the Mexican GP allowing Surtees to get the necessary points to win the world title ahead of Graham Hill.

Arguably the most controversial act of team orders was at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello was ordered to allow Ferrari Teammate Michael Schumacher to pass to obtain the win. This event received widespread condemnation from the media, and both drivers were equally unhappy with the decision, with Schumacher refusing to take his place at the top of the podium or to sit in the centre of the press conference which was reserved for the winners of a race.

The 2002 season and the controversial events within it led to team orders being banned by the FIA, however this only lasted till 2011 when the FIA realised the rule was not working as originally planned.

The previous grand prix in Russia again brought team orders and the debate surrounding it back to the fore, with events being likened to the controversy of 2002. Mercedes decided to impose team orders to ensure championship leader Lewis Hamilton left the weekend with a 50 point advantage over title rival Sebastian Vettel after his teammate Valtteri Bottas let him through for the victory.

The race was clearly Bottas’ to lose, he took Pole, led the race following the Pit Stops and then was controlling the pace. Hamilton did not deserve victory he was outperformed, yet was allowed to win due to team orders, again raising the question of whether team orders be banned.

Well should they?

Over recent years there has been increasing discontent with the way F1 has evolved. In recent seasons it has barely been a motorsport championship with only a couple of teams, actually having a chance of winning the title. So now to effectively see one of these top teams ‘rigging’ a race to ensure the best outcome for their championship favourite Lewis Hamilton, is another mark against the stock of F1, particularly for spectators. So from a fans point of view they probably should be banned.

From a sporting view they should most definitely be banned, how is team orders in this scenario, different to match fixing in cricket or football? They both all go against the spirit of the sport itself and should be banned for the future of the sport.

Despite this, I can fully understand why Mercedes resorted to such tactics, and to be fair to them, they covered themselves in greater glory than Ferrari did in 2002. For the past five years Mercedes have single handedly dominated Formula One, with both the Constructors and Drivers championship taking permanent residence in their Northamptonshire base.

This year is the first year for several where they have not necessarily had the most reliable or quickest car, with Ferrari outperforming them in many areas. Due to their use of team orders Mercedes have now ensured they are in the driving seat for the two way title fight towards the end of the season. I believe it will be very unlikely to see the title going anywhere else than Mercedes as Ferrari seem to have very much hit the wall.

What can the FIA do to prevent similar events happening again?

Unfortunately not very much, as previous attempts to limit team orders have proved very much futile. As I have said previously they have existed since the beginning of Formula One.

It is very common for teams to order drivers to hold position in the final stages of a race to ensure the car is brought home in one piece. Admittedly it is not on the same scale as dictating a race victory, nonetheless it is still a team order.

Team Orders not being universally disliked is one thing, but seeing them completely banned is something entirely different.

Image rights - Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mschumacher_2002.jpg




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