Tuesday, 9 November 2010

More thoughts on team orders

More on team orders…

I wrote a few months ago on this subject, but the events of the weekend just gone have inspired me to raise the topic again.

I had my eye – although due to various family events, not my entire attention – on two events in particular: the Brazilian Grand Prix at São Paulo, and the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup race at Zhuhai, China.

In the first case, Red Bull Racing issued no team orders at all, and allowed their two drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, to finish the Grand Prix in first and second places respectively, even though that will still allow the possibility that Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso will be able to win the world championship by finishing third behind the two Red Bull cars in the final Grand Prix of the season at Abu Dhabi. Had the order been given to change position, allowing Webber to win the race ahead of Vettel, then Alonso would have to finish second in Abu Dhabi to clinch the title.

In the other case, in China, the Total Peugeot Sport choreographed their two team cars to hold up Tom Kristensen’s Audi as it chased down Stéphane Sarrazin in the Peugeot 908. Whether the result of the race was affected is not completely clear, but it is certainly clear that Bourdais’s actions in the lapped Peugeot materially affected Kristensen’s progress.

In both cases described above, the suggestion has been raised in various quarters that the ‘wrong’ decision was taken on the pit wall. Peugeot has been criticised for organising its drivers in order to ensure its car won the race, and Red Bull similarly criticised for doing completely the opposite, in the interests of the series championship.

There are differences, however: not least that Formula One and Sportscar racing are very different disciplines. In the one case, team orders (or lack of them) influenced primarily the outcome of the championship; in the other, it was merely a race result that was at stake. Also, Peugeot’s actions involved blocking another driver, or at least providing an overtaking challenge for that driver. Red Bull merely had to ensure that its two drivers swapped places. The opposition would not have been physically hindered.

Of course, another material difference in this discussion is the way that blue flags are treated in the two championships. When I started watching racing, the blue flag (held stationery) meant: “Another car is following closely” and (waved) meant: “Another car is trying to overtake”. Not the current Formula 1 subtext of: “after three blue flags, you must move over”.

What’s the answer? Who is right and who is wrong? Does anyone in Formula One or in the ILMC have a justification in crying “foul”? Readers no doubt will have their own opinions, but I think all is fair in love, war and motorsport. The prospect of a no-holds barred fight between Vettel and Webber in Brazil was tantalising (about the only tantalising thing about an otherwise pretty dull race). And had the glove been on the other foot in China, I am not sure that Audi wouldn’t have done the same thing.

In the end, it all goes back to a very old soap box of mine, which is that we seem to have forgotten these days that it is the manner of winning, not the action of winning, that makes competition worthwhile. Many things play a part in any victory, and one of those things is the way in which one deals with failure to win. Honesty, integrity and a little grace are excellent assets in anyone, whether they are champions or not.

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