‘Kimi, Sebastian is faster than you’ and other victims of team orders

The Monaco Grand Prix left Kimi Raikkonen fans the world over heartbroken the Iceman didn’t manage to convert his first pole in nine years into a win. Speculation that Ferrari’s prioritisation of Sebastian Vettel’s title bid robbed them of a Kimi win has only contributed to their unhappiness.  There are arguments that Raikkonen hadn’t done enough after his pit stop to take the win in any case, but Sunday brought back into the public conscience an issue that has always been integral to Formula 1 racing. Team orders and the prioritisation of one team-mate over another has always gone on, from Didier Peroni ignoring instructions to stay behind Gilles Villeneuve and its deadly results in 1982 to Valtteri Bottas allowing Lewis Hamilton past twice in Bahrain.

There’s hardly a race without some sort of interference from a team as to which driver crosses the line first, but a lot of fans still find it leaves a sour taste in their mouths. This post isn’t going to try and pass judgment over the practise but merely highlight that Raikkonen isn’t the first driver to leave a race weekend feeling like his team has betrayed him in recent F1 history and he certainly won’t be the last.

The first big team orders incident of this century was enough to convince the FIA that action needed to be taken to stop teams manipulating the story of the race. In Austria in 2002, Rubens Barrichello allowed Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher past to take the win only metres away from the line, despite Schumacher already dominating the championship.  Ferrari were fined $1million, although that was for their antics on the podium, where Schumacher attempted to put Barrichello on the top step, and rules were brought in outlawing team orders.

However coded messages continued as ever, with even more dramatic race fixing yet to come. The 2008 Singapore Grand Prix brought with it the biggest team orders scandal to date, although it wasn’t discovered until the following August, when Nelson Piquet Jr was dropped by the Renault team. Piquet subsequently claimed that the team has asked him to crash at turn 17 on the 14th lap of the race, thus bringing out the safety car which would save his team-mate Fernando Alonso’s race. In the end the team did not contest the charges although their punishment was lessened on appeal.

Perhaps one of the most iconic incidents occurred two years after ‘Crashgate’, when Felipe Massa received the radio message ‘Fernando is faster than you, do you understand?’ at the 2010 German Grand Prix. Massa evidently did understand, letting Alonso past into the lead moments later and giving up the chance of taking the win for himself. In 2010, despite the general consensus that they reflect negatively on the sport, the ban on team orders was lifted as in effect it was impossible to enforce.

Team orders can be as divisive when they are ignored as when they are obeyed. In 2013 Sebastian Vettel infuriated Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber by passing him for the win when the pair had been told to hold position to the flag. Webber’s stony ‘Multi 2-1 Seb?’ said it all when the pair met in the driver’s room. But Vettel was never going to let an opportunity to snatch the win pass him by.

It was a similar story in Abu Dhabi last year when Hamilton was directed to pick up the pace and stop backing Nico Rosberg into Vettel. But when his last hope of winning the championship relied on Rosberg being backed into Vettel, Hamilton wasn’t just going to bow down to team orders. As it was, Hamilton’s plan failed and Rosberg emerged as champion, but if he hadn’t the German might have been less forgiving.

Every race there are drivers being favoured over their team-mates. It may have caused Raikkonen to lose the race but it’s nothing new and he won’t be the last.


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