What are Team Orders in Formula One

what are team orders in formula one

As a fan and supporter of formula one racing, am sure you have come across situations where one driver is asked to do something by the team, race engineer or by the team principal. These are team orders.  So, what exactly are team orders in formula one?

This topic has been intriguing and I wanted to find out what team orders are in formula one and how they are implemented.  I found very interesting and entertaining situations where team orders in F1 have played a role in the championships. So, what are team orders in F1?

What are team orders in Formula One?

Teams orders in Formula One is the practice of teams issuing instructions to drivers to deviate from the normal practice of racing each other as they would against other teams’ drivers.

Team orders mostly are given during the race and over the radio instructing a driver to let their teammate overtake or to hold position without the risk of collision.

There are several reasons why formula one teams issue team orders to their drivers.

What are Team Orders in F1? Reasons for Team Orders

One reason is when one driver is behind in a particular race but ahead overall in a championship season. The team will then order their drivers to rearrange themselves on the track so as to give more championship points to a driver who is ahead in the championship.

Another reason for team orders is where multiple drivers are in a position far ahead of the field, being all but assured of the win. Team orders are issued to prevent the drivers from racing each other.  The aim is to have them drive cautiously to save fuel, reduce the chance of mechanical problems, and avoid a collision.

This has happened on countless occasions in the history of Formula One motorsport, sometimes causing great acrimony between the team and the disadvantaged driver.

Formula One Team Orders – Examples

At the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix, the Mercedes team ordered Valtteri Bottas to yield his third position for Lewis Hamilton, who had a better chance to attack second-placed Kimi Räikkönen.

When it was clear that Hamilton was not able to overcome Räikkönen, Hamilton gave back the position to Bottas in the last corner of the race, costing him three points in the Drivers’ Championship. Those three points did not matter in the end, as Hamilton won the title by 46 points.

At the 2018 German Grand Prix, after Vettel (now at Ferrari) crashed and brought out the safety car, Hamilton inherited the lead, with team-mate Bottas behind him on fresher tyres. When the safety car period ended, Bottas initially attacked Hamilton for the lead, before being told by Mercedes’ team strategist James Vowles to hold his position, handing Hamilton the win.

Bottas continued to play second fiddle to Hamilton at the 2018 Russian Grand Prix, where he qualified on pole and subsequently led the race until being ordered to yield the lead to his teammate, who was ahead in the Drivers’ Championship.

At the 2019 Australian Grand Prix, Ferrari ordered Charles Leclerc to hold position after he attempted to overtake team-mate Vettel.

what are team orders in f1
Ferrari Drivers Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel Switching Positions

Two races later, at the Chinese Grand Prix, Leclerc was ordered by Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto to let Vettel pass him. Binotto later said the team made the “right choice” by making the call, as Vettel finished on the podium in third whilst Leclerc finished fifth.

What are Team Orders in F1 – A Historical Perspective

Team orders have been a part of Formula One since the first world championship was held in 1950.

Most teams have used them to some degree or another, and not just in the modern, “move aside” manner; in the days when such things were allowed, it was not uncommon for a driver to be asked to give up his car to the team leader.

Juan Manuel Fangio benefited from this practice three times in seven races on his way to the 1956 drivers’ title and nobody batted an eyelid.

F1 progressed through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s. Teams continued to openly favour one driver over the other.

Maybe team orders were unfair, and certainly some fans did not like them, but F1 was a team sport. The teams were entitled to ask their employees to do whatever they wished.

But this view did not last forever. After almost half a century of acceptance, the late 1990s and early 2000s saw “team orders” become dirty words.

TV coverage improved, the Internet gave fans a louder voice than ever before and in less than a decade, team orders went from being an accepted part of the sport to a loathed, embarrassing and temporarily illegal stain on F1’s image.

What are team orders in F1? Top 5 Controversial Team Orders in Formula One History

As we close the 2020 formula one season, let us look back at five incidents from F1 team orders history that have been controversial.

  1. 1998 Australian Grand Prix

McLaren had plenty of cause for optimism as they headed into 1998. The once-mighty team, fallen giants in recent years, had shown strong form toward the end of 1997, and their MP4/13 was the first McLaren designed from the ground up by Adrian Newey.

Mika Hakkinen took pole for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Team-mate David Coulthard was alongside, with third-placed Michael Schumacher half a second slower.

McLaren knew they had more than enough pace to take an easy one-two but were unsure about reliability. Therefore, they agreed before the start that whoever led into the first corner would be allowed to win the race.

That man was Hakkinen. He pulled out a gap and looked set for an easy win; the world would never have to know about the pre-race deal.

But a misunderstanding on the team radio led to the Finn making an unscheduled visit to the pits on Lap 35. Coulthard took the lead, and it seemed he was on course for victory.

The race went on and Hakkinen closed up, then something extraordinary happened. With only a few laps to go, Coulthard slowed on the pit straight and allowed his team-mate to pass. Mika Hakkinen went on to win the race.

  1. 2002 Austrian Grand Prix

Ferrari arrived in Austria for the sixth round of the 2002 grand prix in a dominant position. Michael Schumacher held a 21-point lead in the drivers’ championship after winning four of the first five races; despite a string of non-finishes for team-mate Rubens Barrichello, the team also led the constructors’ championship.

It was fairly clear to anyone with even a shred of a racing mind that Ferrari had the best car and the best driver—barring a minor, or perhaps major miracle, Schumacher was set for his third consecutive world title.

Sadly, it was not clear to those at Maranello.

Barrichello produced a great lap to take pole position. He was joined on the front row by the Williams of Ralf Schumacher, with Michael in third.

Making a good start, Barrichello led into the first corner and drove a faultless race. Remaining ahead through two safety-car periods and two pit stops, the Brazilian was set for a well-deserved first win of the season.

But behind the scenes, the dark side of Ferrari was at work. Barrichello led all the way around the final lap and exited the last corner in the lead, then lifted just short of the line, allowing Schumacher to take the win.

Barrichello would later say;

“At the Austrian Grand Prix, I was told over the radio “Do you know that Michael is behind you? It is important for the championship”. The intensity of my conversation with the team increased with every lap while there were just a few laps to go and then I was told that they would take a closer look at my contract if I would not move over.

For me it was pretty clear. Take my foot off the pedal or get fired. When I asked Michael Schumacher if he knew what was going on he said he had nothing to do with it. But I have documents at home to prove that he was very well aware of everything that took place.”

  1. Singapore Grand Prix 2008

Renault won the drivers’ and constructors’ championships in 2005 and 2006, but by 2008 they were on the decline. Though Fernando Alonso had returned following a single turbulent season at McLaren, the team had just a single podium to their name after 14 of the year’s 18 races.

The 15th was the Singapore Grand Prix.

The car had moderately decent pace, but qualifying was a disaster; Alonso lined up 15th after suffering a mechanical fault in Q2, with team-mate Nelson Piquet alongside him on the eighth row.

Alonso had made his way up to 11th by the time he made a very early first stop on Lap 12. Two laps later, Piquet crashed heavily at the exit of Turn 17, and the safety car came out to ensure a safe recovery of his Renault.

In 2008, a safety-car deployment resulted in the pit lane being closed for business until all the cars had lined up behind it. This played perfectly into Alonso’s hands; as all those ahead of him queued up and then filed into the pits, he moved to the front of the pack.

The Spaniard went on to win the race, and it seemed like a coincidence that he was the primary beneficiary of Piquet’s crash. It later turned out this was not the case.

A year later, Piquet was dropped by Renault and the truth came out he had been told by the team to crash at the specific time and location.

Following an FIA investigation, Renault team principal Flavio Briatore received a lifetime ban from F1 and engineering director Pat Symonds got a five-year ban. Both suspensions were later overturned, but the race result was not.

Alonso’s career statistics say he has won 32 grands prix. Whether or not he knew anything about the plot, this one should have been erased.

  1. German Grand Prix 2010

The 2010 Formula One season was as close as any in recent years. Three teams had cars capable of winning at least certain races and every point mattered.

The German Grand Prix was the 11th round of the 19-race championship. Sebastian Vettel qualified on pole, edging out Fernando Alonso by just 0.002 seconds. Alonso’s Ferrari team-mate, Felipe Massa, was third.

When the red lights went out on Sunday, Vettel veered sharply across the track in an unsuccessful attempt to cover off Alonso, while Massa rocketed past both of them to take the lead.

Though the Spaniard remained close behind and looked the quicker of the two Ferrari drivers, he could not find a way by.

Not by fair means, anyway.

With 20 laps to go, Massa’s race engineer Rob Smedley came on his team radio. The words he spoke have become infamous:

“OK, so. Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?”

Massa moved aside a lap later, and Smedley came back on the radio to say, “OK mate, good lad. Just stick with him now. Sorry.”

Commentator Martin Brundle noted the similarities to Austria 2002, and as then it wasn’t overly appreciated by the F1 community. Team orders were supposedly illegal at the time. Ferrari got away with a paltry $100,000 fine.

Including Germany, there were nine races left in the season. Though Alonso was 31 points ahead of Massa before the race began and in defence of the radio message, was indeed faster, both still had a chance of winning the title.

Everyone understands a team order if only one driver in the team has a chance of taking the crown. But those made this early in the season, especially when a race win is at stake, leave a poor taste in the mouth.

  1. Malaysian Grand Prix 2013

Red Bull entered 2013 having won the drivers’ and constructors’ championships every year since 2010. They did not get off to the best start in their defence of both titles at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, but next time out in Malaysia they looked stronger.

Sebastian Vettel qualified on pole in wet conditions; team-mate Mark Webber could only manage fifth. The track was slippery and damp again when the race started on Sunday, but would need only a few laps before it was ready for slicks.

Pole-sitter Vettel led until he made an early stop for slicks. Webber, who had risen to second, stayed out on intermediates for three more laps and gained enough time to take the lead.

The order remained the same for most of the race and Webber had a small but comfortable gap as the duo approached their final stops. But Red Bull brought Vettel in first and the undercut erased the five-second deficit to Webber.

The two were nearly neck-and-neck when the Australian emerged from his stop, but Webber remained ahead. Red Bull decided the race should end there.

But then Vettel had other ideas.

Ignoring the order to hold position, he attacked and passed his team-mate with 10 laps to go. Vettel went on to win, while a furious Webber crossed the line in second.

Mercedes, meanwhile, were attempting to make the jump from midfield also ran to the front of the grid. Lewis Hamilton had just joined from McLaren to partner Nico Rosberg, but the German squad’s W04 didn’t have a happy relationship with the Pirelli tyres.

Toward the end of the race they were running third and fourth. Rosberg wanted to attack his team-mate for the final podium place, but Mercedes had decided they should stay in formation, protect the cars and cruise to the flag.

Unlike Vettel, Rosberg complied, and Hamilton scored his first podium for Mercedes.

what are team orders in f1
Mercedes Drivers Swap Positions on Team Orders

People Also Ask/Frequently Asked Questions

Why are there 2 drivers per f1 team?

It became mandated that a team have two competing drivers. Drivers in the same team, whilst fighting for a title of their own, would also become more careful about racing against themselves, since having two cars finish the race – ideally in points-scoring positions – would further bolster the team in the championship.

How do teammates work in f1?

Each Formula One team has two drivers. A Formula One driver is out to beat his rivals, including the other driver on his team. In some cases, a team may ask a driver to let his teammate overtake him or even win the race through team orders.

Is f1 profitable for teams?

Formula One’s Most Valuable Teams 2020. The average F1 team is worth just over $500 million. The series’ ten teams combined to lose nearly $200 million last season—largely the result of a disastrous year from McLaren—but a planned spending cap aims to alleviate much of the sport’s incredible financial pressure.

January 2017 was when billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Media finally stepped in to buy the series for $8 billion. F1 has since seemed to find some solid ground.

In 2018 for example, the series generated $1.83 billion in revenue, a 2.5% year-over-year increase. F1’s tracking stock, FWONK, has a $10 billion market cap and is trading around an all-time high and the share price is up 48% since Liberty’s purchase.