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F1: The great divide of team orders in the sport

Lewis Hamilton leads Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix. (AFP PHOTO / MARWAN NAAMANI)
Roar Guru
24th March, 2017
0

As we turn our attention to the 2017 Formula One season, I cannot help but look back to the last race of 2016 in Abu Dhabi.

I love my wife but there is one thing we disagree on: our respective opinions of Lewis Hamilton.

Her intense dislike of Hamilton stems from his self serving attitude where he puts himself above the team, ignoring team orders when it does not suit him.

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Conversely, my love of Lewis Hamilton is in part due to this very trait. His willingness to disobey team orders is almost always done to allow him to race against his team mate.

Some would see this as indefensible, treacherous and self serving. And I would not necessarily disagree. Except F1 is essentially an individual sport constrained within the weak confines of a team structure.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton

To clarify this, the individual driver must liaise and work closely with the engineers, mechanics and manager but his direct link to his fellow driver is loose. There will be times when they may need to work together but outside of this scenario they are direct rivals.

In the last few seasons, Mercedes has been head and shoulders above the rest and the main rivalry at the top has been between Rosberg and Hamilton. They shared a tumultuous relationship and collided on two occasions during the 2016 season.

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The nadir of their relationship was no doubt the final race where Hamilton ignored team orders to back the field up to give himself a small chance of winning the championship. This was the most riveting end to an F1 championship I can remember.

I am still amazed by the team orders exhorting Hamilton to not slow down. Mercedes had long secured the constructors championship and the only drivers capable of winning the F1 championship were Hamilton or Rosberg. There was very little for Mercedes to lose here.

It should be mentioned that Mercedes deserve some credit for allowing the drivers to race for much of the past two seasons. It should also be mentioned that many of the other teams are not guilty of this but ultimately the headlines are in the battle for the championship, battles for the lower places does not garner as much interest.

As viewing patrons, the very essence of sports is in the competition – the battle between two fierce competitors who are willing to do whatever it takes to win. Asking one teammate to stand aside for another denies us this very battle.

It is a stretch to call it match fixing but it is not too far away. Both deny the viewer their inherent right to see a fair battle.

As a caveat, I admit that I was incredulous when Vettel disobeyed team orders and overtook Mark Webber in 2013. But in hindsight, it was my intrinsic bias towards Mark Webber that lead me to feel this way. Vettel wanted to race and the team should have let them go at it.

Let’s hope that the constructors continue to have the courage to allow their own drivers to race each other.