Thursday, 9 September 2010

Team Orders in F1, and Sebastian Vettel

Earlier today the FIA published their judgement on Ferrari, regarding the team orders scandal.

While Felipe Massa was leading the race, he was told to allow his team mate, Fernando Alonso past. Ferrari argue, truthfully, that Alonso is their best shot at winning a title this season, and so the move makes sense in one respect. The only problem is that team orders are explicitly banned, and Ferrari were fined $100,000 after the race for breach of the rules.

The move causes mass outrage - rightly, I think. Team orders are against the spirit of individual competition, but the rules say each team must run two drivers and compete for the championships.

In this respect, the FIA decision was probably the correct one. Any rule against team orders is totally unenforcible. The teams just have to agree a code like "Fuel saving setting Delta" or something will mean "Slow down and let your team mate past." When asked, the team says that it's a heavy setting that slows the car down drastically for a little bit, and the other driver took advantage. It may end up being totally transparent to the public, but it's defensible to the FIA.

The fact of the matter is that team orders happen. Ferrari just happened to get caught. The incident simply highlighted the fact that the team orders rule is basically unenforcible, in part because of how badly Ferrari handled it. It was clear to all that if Ferrari handled the situation slightly better they would have got away with it.

In the end, a move to scrap team orders is probably correct. Teams will recognise that blatant use of team orders will warn off talented drivers, and annoy their fans, so they will use them in moderation.

I'm getting increasingly concerned with Sebastian Vettel. Having taken a close look at his collision with Mark Webber in Turkey, I'm convinced the accident was Vettel's fault. If you watch where his left wheel is compared to the white line at the edge of the track, you see that Vettel moves over before completing the overtaking move. A glance in his mirror - or even just listening for the engine sounds - would have told him not to move over. Webber for his part was careful to leave Vettel space, and you can see he's moving right, away from Vettel just before the collision.

In Spa Vettel had a really weird collision with Jenson Button. Having watched the video over and over again, it appears that what happened was that Vettel looked up the right, and saw there was no space, so he flicked over to the left. But he did so, as he reached the braking point. The combination of steering and braking caused him to lose grip, and he lost control, hitting Button.

I hope I don't have to say, this is an extremely basic error. Steering and braking simultaneously like that is something that amateur racing drivers learn very quickly. It should never have happened. Not even to crash prone Sato.

This combined with other, rather hot headed incidents in Vettel's career, and some frankly alarming overtaking moves in Germany, I have to wander whether Vettel would be keeping his seat if he hadn't won any races.


  1. "Any rule against team orders is totally enforcible." Do you mean (I think you do) "Any rule against team orders is totally unenforceable"?