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Can F1 Teammates Help Each Other? (Explained)

Few habits are more encouraged than teamwork. Emphasized from childhood through adulthood, at home, school, work, relationships, sports, you name it, teamwork is almost always considered a good thing. But in the sport of F1, many fans wonder if teammates are allowed to help each other.

F1 teammates can help each other, but whether that is an ethical thing to do depends on the scenario. F1 teammates often help each other in qualifying by giving each other a slipstream, and they may help each other in the race by allowing the other to pass if they are on a faster stint.

While F1 teammates are in competition with each other, they still compete as part of a team. Sometimes it’s as simple as helping a team member get up to speed with a tow while other times cooperation has been highly controversial. Below, we discuss F1 teammates helping each other in more detail.

Why Would Teammates Help Each Other In F1?

F1 teammates may help each other in order to set faster lap times in qualifying sessions, or if they are in a race they may ‘hold up’ other competitors behind them to help the leader build up a gap. While F1 teammates may be reluctant to help each other, they must do what is best for the team.

Team Orders

The most controversial instances of teammates helping each other in F1 come in the form of team orders. This is when one driver gets out the way of the other under the team’s instructions. Either teammate might be asked to help a teammate that is doing better in the standings.

If one driver is in contention for the World Championship and the other is not, the lead driver gets the preferential treatment. While many fans don’t like to see team orders used in races, it is often the most logical step from a team’s point of view to maximize their chances of winning the Driver’s Championship.

Holding Up Other Drivers

We also sometimes see instances of drivers ‘holding up’ either a specific driver or group of drivers behind them in order to protect the position of the lead driver. For example, if one driver is racing in third and is under pressure from those on fresher tires or on faster strategies behind them and their teammate, the teammate behind may be told to make it very difficult for other cars to pass.

This may be done in order to allow the lead driver to pull away, and so the trailing driver would need to go slower than their potential. In other cases, the trailing driver is simply told to make it very hard for other drivers to get past, in which case they will be told to race hard and don’t yield position easily.

This can also work the other way around. Imagine the ‘number one driver’ in the team (usually the one with the most points that season) has just pitted and so is running in fifth place. The ‘number 2 driver’ (the one with fewer points and therefore less of the preferential treatment) is running in third place, but they haven’t pitted yet.

They might be told to hold up the driver in fourth place to allow the lead driver (in fifth) to catch up and overtake them. They might employ the same tactics as described above in order to do so, with the main goal being to allow the other driver to get past both cars with greater ease.

Can F1 Teammates Give Each Other A Tow?

F1 teammates can give each other a tow, and it happens regularly in qualifying sessions. This is because teams can alternate which of their drivers goes out first for each lap, allowing them to take turns benefitting from the reduced drag behind their teammate, ideally leading to faster lap times.

Because F1 cars rely so heavy on their aerodynamics, they produce a large wake behind them, also called dirty air. While this is detrimental to cars behind in the corners, they can benefit from it on the straights as the car in front essentially punches a big hole in the air, allowing the trailing driver to travel through less dense air and reach higher speeds.

During qualifying, this allows the trailing car to reach higher speeds behind their teammate on the straights, allowing them to (hopefully) set a faster qualifying time. Teams will usually alternate which driver goes first so that both can benefit from the tow.

Are Teammates Allowed To Help Each Other In F1?

There are no rules that state a teammate cannot help another teammate in F1. As long as the drivers stay within the broader rulebook of F1, they are able to help their teammates. Usually this involves giving them a tow in qualifying or perhaps holding up the other cars around them.  

Where teams run afoul of the rules is when a teammate is asked to race poorly, impede traffic, or otherwise deliberately disrupt a race to aid another teammate. Teams and drivers can be suspended or fined for participating in these kinds of actions.

Can F1 Teammates Talk To Each Other?

F1 teammates cannot talk to each other during a race or in practice and qualifying. While they can communicate with their own race engineer over their radio to relay messages to their teammate, such as asking them to speed up, they cannot hear each other over the radio.

Famous Instances Of F1 Teammates Helping Each Other

Barichello And Schumacher – 2002 Austrian Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello was leading the race and in good position to win at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring. However, he was asked to slow down and let teammate Michael Schumacher pass him to win the race and gain maximum points.

Barrichello ceded and Schumacher won, ultimately helping him with the championship that year. Ferrari was fined $1 million after an investigation and new rules banning race orders that affect the outcome of the race were implemented. These rules have since been relaxed.

Final Thoughts

F1 teammates can and do help each other. This usually takes the form of providing teammates with a tow in qualifying sessions, letting another driver past, or holding up other drivers during a race. Helping your teammate in F1 is legal provided you stay within the wider rules set by the FIA.