Motor racing is both a team sport and a sport for individuals. There are, in consequence, two World Championships: one for the drivers and one for the constructors. The Drivers’World Championship is important to the drivers and tends to be prioritised by the fans and the media; but it is the Constructors’ World Championship that dictates the financial returns for a team and thus it is the most important thing for them. Thus, it is logical and acceptable that a team be allowed to protect its investment in the sport by deciding its on-track strategies.
Some fans complain and say that this is not fair, but that is a rather simplistic and naive attitude. Team bosses will always do what is best for the team and that cannot be changed. It is simply logic. If the rules try to impose freedom on the drivers, the teams will find ways around it. In the end, the only logical solution is to let teams decide. If drivers do not want to race for a team that uses team orders, then they should not sign for that organisation.
Team orders have been part of the sport of motor racing since long before anyone dreamed of a World Championship. Originally they were based on the very simple principle that he who pays the piper calls the tune. The men who owned the racing cars in the early years of the sport were wealthy men. Sometimes they loaned cars to others, but they did not want to be beaten and so the men in the other cars accepted that they would give way if the owner wanted to win.
As the sport developed and teams grew bigger and more professional, team orders remained. In the 1930s the Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix team had all kinds of problems as a result. Luigi Fagioli was so frustrated by having to finish behind Rudi Caracciola in one event that he quit the team and moved to AutoUnion. Caracciola and Manfred Von Brauchitsch were also allowed to beat Hermann Lang and Dick Seaman despite the fact that the latter two drivers were quicker.
After World War II the dominant Alfa Romeo factory team was famous for its team orders with Achille Varzi, Nino Farina and Count Felice Trossi being allowed to win, despite the fact that Jean-Pierre Wimille was much faster. This went on for two years and then Wimille became team leader and, until his death, was virtually unbeatable.
It was not always junior drivers giving way to the seniors. Other elements were included in the decision-making. In 1955, for example, it is said that the Mercedes team asked Juan Manuel Fangio to allow his teammate Stirling Moss to win the British Grand Prix at Aintree, because that would be a more popular result and would help promote Mercedes-Benz sales in what was at the time a rather difficult market. Fangio sat behind Moss all the way to the flag, but never admitted what had happened. A year later Peter Collins famously allowed Juan Manuel Fangio to win the 1956 World Championship for Ferrari, telling team boss Enzo Ferrari that “I never thought that a 25-year-old guy like me could take on such a big responsibility. I have lots of time ahead of me. Fangio should stay World Champion for another year. He deserves it.” Collins died two years later at the Nurburgring and never did win the title he so richly deserved.
In 1961 there were team orders at Ferrari at the French GP where Wolfgang Von Trips was ordered into the lead ahead of Ritchie Ginther and Giancarlo Baghetti, but when Von Trips and Ginther retired, Baghetti became the first and only man to win on his F1 debut. Again, in 1964 Lorenzo Bandini moved over for John Surtees during the Mexican Grand Prix, allowing Surtees to get the necessary points to beat Graham Hill to the World Championship.
In 1967 Ford used team orders at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, with Graham Hill winning a coin toss with Jim Clark. But Hill ran into gearbox trouble and finally Clark passed him to avoid an embarrassing spectacle of a healthy car trolling around behind a sick one. In the 1970s there were several cases of team orders being obeyed with Ronnie Peterson sitting behind Mario Andretti in several races, but accepting the position because he said Andretti had done the development work on the Lotus and because he had signed a contract to be the team’s number two driver. Gilles Villeneuve had a similar deal with Ferrari in 1979, which allowed Jody Scheckter to win the title, although Villeneuve could have won it if he had been racing as hard as he was able to do.
In the 1980s, attitudes changed as more money came into the sport, and the first major examples of breaking team orders were seen. Alan Jones was Williams team leader in 1979. At the German GP Clay Regazzoni was instructed by the Williams team not to challenge Jones for the lead, despite Clay being ahead of the Australian in the World Championship. In 1981 Carlos Reutemann decided not to accept an order to let Jones win in Brazil. After that the Australian refused to help Reutemann and this allowed Nelson Piquet to win the World Championship in the final race at Las Vegas, a race that Jones won. By the end of the season both men were so disenchanted with the sport that they both retired, although Jones did later make a comeback. Thereafter Williams decided not to use team orders, unless it was deemed to be absolutely essential. In 1985 this philosophy resulted in Piquet and Nigel Mansell taking points from one another to such an extent that Alain Prost was able to snatch the title for McLaren.
Being sporting hurt Williams.
Famously, in 1982 the problem struck Ferrari when Didier Pironi ignored team orders and beat Gilles Villeneuve at Imola. Villeneuve died two weeks later, still furious at what had happened. That same year Rene Arnoux won the French GP despite team orders that victory should go to Alain Prost and that resulted in Arnoux leaving the team at the end of the year. In the 1983 South African Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham-BMW team asked Riccardo Patrese to allow Piquet to win if that would be required to get Piquet the title. In the end, however, Piquet was third and clinched the title, while Patrese was allowed to win.
McLaren generally avoided team orders but this hurt in 1989 when team mates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost collided at Suzuka while fighting over the World Championship. In the end it did not matter which driver won because the two were so far ahead in the title race.
Two years later at Suzuka Gerhard Berger sacrificed his race to help Ayrton Senna win the title, by forcing the pace early on, ruining his tires but snaring Nigel Mansell into giving chase. Mansell went off. Senna won the title, but at the finish of the race he pulled over and let Berger win. In 1992 Patrese was asked to help Nigel Mansell at the French GP and blatantly waved his Williams team-mate ahead to victory. At the end of the year Mansell, already champion, pulled over in the Japanese GP and let Patrese into the lead to say thanks. In 1994 and 1996 Williams used team orders to help wrap up World Championships with David Coulthard moving out of the way of Damon Hill at Monza in 1994 and Jacques Villeneuve letting Hill through in 1996.
At the start of 1998 some excitement in Melbourne when Coulthard moved over to let his McLaren team-mate Mika Hakkinen win the Australian GP. This was a decision based on the fact that the team had made a mistake and penalised Hakkinen and that team boss Ron Dennis was keen to encourage Hakkinen who was, at that time, still recovering from his accident in Adelaide in 1995. He felt it was the right thing to do. The FIA declared that “any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition” should in future be penalized severely, but accepted that team orders were not prohibited. The World Council ruled that “it is perfectly legitimate for a team to decide that one of its drivers is its Championship contender and that the other will support him. What is not acceptable, in the World Council’s view, is any arrangement which interferes with a race and cannot be justified by the relevant team’s interest in the championship.” In 1999, after Schumacher was injured, Ferrari used team orders several times to help Eddie Irvine in his efforts to win the World Championship: Mika Salo handed Irvine victory in Germany and Schumacher helped Irvine to win in Malaysia. That year in Belgium the two Jordans of Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher found themselves unexpectedly in the lead and Schumacher was ordered not to overtake Hill, to assure Jordan of a 1-2 finish.
In the years that followed there were multiple occasions when Rubens Barrichello helped Schumacher win races for Ferrari, but things blew up in 2002 when Barrichello allowed Schumacher to pass at the finish line in Austria. The crowd reaction was very negative and the FIA, in an attempt at crowd-pleasing, attempted to ban team orders. The practice continued but was disguised until finally in 2010 the regulation was scratched from the rulebook, after Felipe Massa blatantly slowed for Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso in the German GP. The team incurred a $100,000 fine, but it was clear that coded messages were being used all the time.
What is of key importance in any team is trust and respect between the team members. This is why a driver who breaks team orders is so castigated because he is, in effect, betraying the team and creating mistrust within the organisation.