“Isn’t it great to see two teammates in Formula One fighting it out? Now that’s what I want to see!”
So exclaimed Sky Sports commentator David Croft regarding the two McLarens at the recent Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.
The issue of team orders in Formula One has moved to the front of the grid once again, and fans find themselves questioning the integrity of race results.
How does the sport ensure that the best driver wins the race? At the moment, team orders prevent this from happening.
This is not a new problem. In the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, race leader Damon Hill suggested to team boss Eddie Jordan he ‘order’ teammate Ralf Schumacher not to challenge him for the lead, despite being three seconds a lap faster.
After a lengthy silence, Schumacher complied with these ‘team orders’ and the faster car finished a step shy of the podium’s pinnacle.
When a similar, and now infamous, team order issued in the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix resulted in race leader Rubens Barichello slowing down to allow Michael Schumacher to pass on the finish line, the FIA acted by banning team orders.
Such farcical endings to world class events are unacceptable. Finishes like this make the sport look corrupt, and shallow.
The man who drives his car fastest should win the race. Not the most conservative driver whose teammate is in the best position to give him a piggyback.
Questions about distorted results again raised their heads in 2010 when Ferrari teammates Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were ordered to switch places for the lead.
Despite Ferrari paying a $100,000 fine for ‘bringing the sport into disrepute’, the ban on team orders was lifted at the season’s end because it was too hard to enforce.
This creates the present situation, where teams can decide the race result before its conclusion. Racing becomes boring, predictable, anti-climactic, and in the worst case, fraudulent.
The result is what the teams want, rather than a true reflection of which driver was fastest.
That is why Formula One needs to re-impose the ban on team orders.
Although the glamorous world of Formula One provides big-name drivers, multimillion-dollar venues and superstar celebrities, it is the spectators, paying hundreds of dollars, who are being robbed by team orders.
They are denied a tantalising dash to the finish by the fastest cars in the world. Why? This preserves the cars and a few championship points, but comes at the expense of Formula One’s integrity.
Fortunately, some drivers are now questioning their team orders in an attempt to re-establish the sport’s integrity.
Triple world champion Sebastian Vettel is not only a great driver, but challenges Formula One itself.
Critics say Vettel was acting purely in his own interests when he controversially ignored the ‘Multi 21’ order at this year’s Malaysian Grand Prix to overtake his teammate Mark Webber against team orders.
But he wasn’t. He was acting in the spectators’ best interests, to preserve the integrity of Formula One.