Atlas F1

The Individual Team Sport

by Mark Alan Jones, Australia

A few weeks ago, in the lead up to the Australian Grand Prix - where last year one of the most blatant visual displays of team orders took place - both McLaren and Ferrari have stated directly at press conferences that they would apply team orders to allow the team as a whole to benefit. A view directly opposed by the team orders rule instigated by the FIA after the outburst of protest, from Ron Walker (chairman Australian Grand Prix Board) amongst others, after last year's Australian Grand Prix. A rule that the FIA has never enforced, or even looked like enforcing, despite some very convenient 'brake failures'. A rule now rather obviously only brought in to appease some loudly voiced opinions in the general press and elsewhere. A rule which has had more far-reaching effects on the World Rally Championship than it ever did in Formula One.

Team orders are as much as part of motor racing as any team sport. Is there an outcry against the footballer that keeps the ball to himself in scoring the winning goal, when a team mate was in a better position to score? Motor Racing is unusual in the respect that it is both a team sport and an individual sport. The teams themselves perceive Formula One as a team sport, however the general public mostly consider Formula One an individual sport, with the teams there only to support the drivers in their efforts. In recent years, battles between Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve and Damon Hill have provided interesting clashes of personality - taking focus away from the team aspect.

Indeed, going back further we see more evidence of this with such strong personalities as Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet. Last year, however, was different as Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard did not assert themselves in the press as some title contenders have, even Michael Schumacher seemed subdued by his standards, although the reasons were quite different. The focus was back on McLaren vs Ferrari as much as Schumacher vs Hakkinen. However at Albert Park last year this battle was still in the future - and the public had gotten used to the concept of two drivers going toe for toe in the press and on the track.

There have been many examples of team orders coming into play in F1. Some more recent examples - although not exactly team orders - include when Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell in successive Japanese Grands Prix dramatically moving over for their team mates Gerhard Berger and Riccardo Patrese respectively. Ralf Schumacher was ordered not to pass Damon Hill at Spa last year and thus endanger their historic 1-2 win. Jordan escaped punishment from the FIA, as did Ferrari when Eddie Irvine encountered brake problems to let Michael Schumacher through at the A-1 Ring.

In recent times team orders (or agreements between the drivers) has been in the news for not being obeyed - the clash between Senna and Prost at Imola 1989, Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi - again at Imola in 1982, and Carlos Reutemann and Alan Jones in 1981. Additionally, a lack of team orders cost one of the Williams drivers (probably Piquet) the 1986 World Championship. Since then, Williams has been far from receptive to using team orders.

The move by McLaren and Ferrari to publicly say they would use team orders is a smart move. It announces their intentions ahead of time, thus lessening the impact if it ever does arise and leaving critics little room to manoeuvre.

One frightening aspect of the public outcry of last year was from bookmakers and punters. The bookmakers lost a fair amount of money when Hakkinen - a more favoured driver than Coulthard - won the race. There was a lot of protest about how people who had bet on Coulthard made a lot of noises. To be fair, most of these people - bookmakers included - come from a horse racing background, where such behaviour as the McLaren drivers exhibited would cause large fine to be thrown around like water, and for several people to be banned for life.

But this was not horse racing. The bookmakers, if they knew motor racing, which by offering odds on the race they were in fact claiming, should have factored the possibility of team orders - and those orders favouring Hakkinen, Ron Dennis' favoured driver, into their odds. The frightening aspect of the criticism is that McLaren should have thought of the punters who had bet on Coulthard when making the decision on team orders. The moment that the wishes of those who bet on sport are even considered in any tactical decisions, is the first step down the road towards corruption in the sport, something which has always dogged horse racing, a sport which embraced betting rather than have it forced upon them.

In any event, the retirement marred 1999 Australian Grand Prix removed the need for team orders from the high profile teams (who would have noticed if Pedro de la Rosa had been asked to make way for Toranosuke Takagi to score his first point?) with both McLarens retiring and Michael Schumacher losing a lap. Hopefully it appears the issue, which was largely ignored by Formula One until it returned to Australia this month, will now disappear. But one can't help wondering why some people made such a big deal about it in the first place.


Mark Alan Jones 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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