What Are Team Orders In F1? (Full Explanation & 6 Examples)

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Formula 1 drivers will always give their best when they’re out on track, but their biggest rival is their teammate. In order to beat their teammate, they must outperform them consistently, or the team might step in. This may leave you wondering what team orders are in F1. 

Team orders in F1 are typically used to instruct one driver to move over for another driver out on track. They could be used for a variety of reasons including strategies, allowing the number one driver to score more points, or it could come down to favoritism within the team.

Team orders have been a hot topic of debate over the years, but they have proven to be decisive in some circumstances. Formula 1 even took action against team orders in the past. Team orders are an important part of the sport, so keep reading to find out more about them and how they are used in F1.

What Are Team Orders In Formula 1?

Team orders are used in Formula 1 as instructions for drivers to complete a specific action in order to benefit the team, rather than themselves. In the majority of cases, team orders are used to instruct drivers to swap places, and one driver would need to let another driver past. This is only the case if the driver behind is faster than the driver in front.

If two teammates find themselves within close proximity of one another on track, the team might intervene with some team orders. The driver in front will be instructed to move over and reduce their speed just enough to let their teammate get past them.

Getting The Switch Right

Oftentimes pulling off these moves can be incredibly tricky. Drivers need to time their switch perfectly, and they need to make sure that they have enough space between them and the other cars on track. If rival drivers are close behind, there is the risk of the car in front being overtaken by them as well when they slow down to let their teammate past.

The driver behind also needs to make sure that they are close enough to their teammate to make the switch on track. If the chasing car is too far behind, the leading car will need to slow down too much, which will ultimately cost them time in their own race against the other cars on track.

Overtaking

You might be wondering why the faster driver would not simply be able to overtake their teammate on track. There are a few different reasons why a competitive overtake is not always the smartest decision for both the drivers and the team as a whole.

When teammates overtake one another there is the risk of them making contact. One of the most important unwritten rules in Formula 1 is to never crash into your teammate. Crashing into the driver that’s on the same team as you can cause a serious amount of friction in the entire team, especially if there’s an entire season of racing still ahead.

Having drivers fighting for position is also a risk. When drivers fight against one another on track, they need to go off the racing line to defend or to overtake. This will cause both the drivers to lose time. They would be falling behind the car in front of them, and the cars behind them would be catching up, which is bad for both drivers’ races.

Letting The Other Driver Past

Letting the faster driver pass the driver in front is a much safer option for teams, as it’s better to have one faster driver out front than to have two drivers at risk of being overtaken by rivals. The team will decide on where the drivers will make the switch, which is often on the longest straight. Sometimes drivers can even switch in a braking zone when going into a corner.

The key is making the switch at a point where neither driver will lose time, track position, or have a compromised racing line. In order to do that, both drivers need to play their part perfectly. The chasing driver needs to get close enough to their teammate, and the leading driver needs to slow down just enough to let their teammate through.

The downside to using this strategy is that racing drivers are often stubborn. Many drivers may not comply when being asked to let their teammate through (they’re trying to win the race after all), and will either not let them through, argue with their team, or let their teammate through later than planned. This can cause tensions though, so usually drivers just deal with it and get out the way.

Telling Them Not To Race

Another form of team orders works the opposite way. If a driver out front is keeping up a reasonable pace but the driver behind feels they can go faster, the team might tell them not to race. This means the driver behind must stay behind, even if they feel they’re at risk of being overtaken. 

This is usually to protect the leading driver from overtakes from behind, or to keep them on the right track for their specific tire strategy. This may be due to the team ensuring they have enough of a window behind them to make a pit stop, or simply because the driver out front is leading in the points standings. 

Why Would An F1 Team Use Team Orders?

Team orders have always been an incredibly controversial element in Formula 1. While it’s not always possible to use team orders in a race, there have been many scenarios where team orders were necessary as a team has two drivers following each other out on track with one being faster than the other. There are arguments both for and against the use of team orders.

On the one hand, Formula 1 is a competitive sport featuring 20 of the best drivers in the world. Every driver needs to fight for their place in the sport, and simply moving over to let another driver past without putting up a fight goes against the nature of a racing driver who dedicated their entire life to fighting for wins at the top.

On the other hand, Formula 1 is very much a team sport. The grid is made up of ten different teams, each with two drivers. Every driver has a team of mechanics that work together. At the end of the day, the drivers are employed by the team, and they need to work together with the team’s best interests in mind.

Every team is unique, and while some are against using team orders between their drivers, others are famous for using team orders whenever their drivers are close together on track. Nevertheless, there are several different reasons a team would use team orders.

Strategy

The first reason Formula 1 teams might use team orders to instruct their drivers to switch places is for strategic purposes. Strategy is a crucial part of a Grand Prix, and every team needs to find the perfect plan to get their cars to finish as high as possible.

Teams will often put their cars onto different strategies, which involves running two different tire compounds at the same time. For example, one driver might be on the slower, but longer lasting hard compound tires, while the other is on the faster compound tires that don’t last as long. If the two drivers are close together on track, team orders will often be used.

Usually, if the driver on the harder compound tire is in front, they will be asked to move over for the driver on the faster compound tire simply because they are on different strategies. The driver on the softer tires will naturally be faster, but they need to take advantage of that speed because they will need to stop earlier than the other drivers around them.

If the driver on the softer compound tires is held up by their teammate, there is a higher chance that they could lose positions to their rivals. Drivers can’t afford to lose any time or else they would lose out to other cars during the pit stops. The driver on the harder compound tire won’t lose any time by letting their teammate through as they ideally won’t be stuck behind them.

Championship Fights

Team orders will usually come into play as the championship fight begins to hot up towards the end of the season as well. Oftentimes there is one driver in a team that is fighting for the championship (or a higher position in the championship) in the closing rounds with the other driver trailing too far behind to fight for it.

The driver that needs to score the most points will be given preference in these scenarios. The driver that is further behind in the championship standings will need to make way for their teammate if they are ahead of them on track. 

Teamwork

For every team and driver on the Formula 1 grid, winning races and scoring as many points as possible are the main goals. No matter what team it is, winning the race is the ultimate prize. While it is a short term goal, it also helps the team score valuable points in the championship standings.

Team orders can be used to allow teammates to work together. Although it takes a lot of generosity for a driver to let their teammate pass them on track, it’s sometimes necessary for the good of the team to get the best possible result.

If one driver has better pace than the other, regardless of their strategy and status in the team, the team might ask the slower driver to let the faster driver through. The faster driver can then set off to catch the cars ahead of them and possibly overtake them for valuable points or podium positions.

The slower driver also then has the chance to improve their pace. As long as they stay within one second of their teammate, they will get the benefit of DRS down the straights, which will give them a significant top speed advantage and a boost in lap times. If the team works well together, both drivers could end up catching and overtaking the cars in front of them.

Favoring One Driver

Another reason teams might use team orders is because they favor one driver over the other. While this is rarely the case, some teams will have a clear favorite, often known as the number one driver.

Some drivers will be signed onto the team as a second driver playing a support role, but others might get equal status within their team. Other times a team will choose a number one driver depending on their performance against their teammate.

The number one driver will not only be given preference on the track, but they will also be given upgraded parts before their teammate gets them. Some teams will give the upgrades to the driver that has been chosen as their number one driver, whereas other teams might give the upgrades to the driver that has performed best over the course of that particular season.

Over the years there have been many examples where teams favor one driver over another. Michael Schumacher was favored over Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel was favored over Mark Webber at Red Bull, and Lewis Hamilton was favored over Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes.

KEY POINTS

• Team orders may be used in F1 for a variety of reasons

• The main ones are for strategy purposes and to benefit the driver leading in the points standings

• They are normally used for the benefit of the team, but they can sometimes be controversial

What Is A Number One Driver In F1?

The number one driver in an F1 team is the driver that will get priority in the race and in the championship battle. While some teams will enforce an equal status between their drivers, there are other teams that will have a designated number 1 and number 2 driver.

When it comes to it, the number two driver will have to move over for the number one driver, even if it means giving up a win. In the majority of cases though, this will only happen towards the end of the season if there is a drivers’ championship on the line and every point counts for the number one driver.

Number one drivers get a lot of privileges in Formula 1, some of which might be overlooked by casual Formula 1 fans. For example, the number two driver will be sent out on track first to give the number one driver a tow during qualifying on power circuits like Spa and Monza. The number two driver often has to make a lot of sacrifices.

The number one driver will also be the first driver to receive upgrades on their car. All Formula 1 teams are caught up in a development race, and the driver who gets the upgrades first often has a better chance at delivering better performance while the number two driver has to compete with older parts.

Not Bad For A Number Two Driver

One of the most famous incidents of a team favoring one driver over another occurred at the 2010 British Grand Prix. During practice, Sebastian Vettel damaged his version of the upgraded front wing the Red Bull team had brought to the race. This led to the team removing the sole remaining upgraded part from Mark Webber’s car moments before qualifying and bolting it onto the German’s car instead.

Naturally Webber was furious, and after a long and hard-fought British Grand Prix, the Australian won the race. During the cooldown lap, Webber made a comment over the radio saying, “not bad for a number two driver.” This comment showed the world that from Webber’s perspective he was fighting against 23 other drivers (the grid had 24 drivers at the time) as well as his Red Bull team.

The entire Silverstone weekend caused a lot of friction in a Red Bull team that was already in turmoil following an incident just six weeks prior where Vettel and Webber collided when fighting for the lead in Turkey. This was the start of a long and difficult relationship between the two Red Bull drivers, and tempers flared once again three years later, as we’ll discuss soon.

Are Team Orders Legal In F1?

Team orders are legal in F1. As frustrating as it might seem, a Formula 1 team can control their drivers and instruct them as needed (within reason). Teams can use their drivers strategically and they are allowed to swap positions if they feel there is a need to do so.

This brings an extra strategic element to the race, and it allows drivers to work together as a team. Many people in the Formula 1 community don’t like team orders and believe that they undermine the hard work that drivers need to do. This is especially true when team orders are used to allow one driver to win a race over their teammate.

Crashgate 2008

Team orders can be used within reason, but there have been scenarios when team orders got out of hand. One of those instances was the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. On the 14th lap of the race, Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr. crashed into the barriers, triggering the safety car to be brought out early in the race.

His teammate, Fernando Alonso, had made a pit stop just a few laps before the crash, which happened to be perfect timing as the safety car promoted him into the lead of the race. The race ended as Alonso won from 15th on the grid. Piquet Jr. initially insisted that the crash was a mistake on his part.

However, once Piquet Jr. was fired from Renault after the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, he released a statement saying that the team had instructed him to crash and trigger the safety car, which would benefit his teammate and influence the outcome of the race. After several investigations, Renault F1 had been found guilty of race fixing by the FIA.

This is an extreme example of team orders, and these aren’t the kind of instructions most people mean when they use the term. However, it is an example of where team orders can go beyond the rules of the sport.

When Did F1 Ban Team Orders?

F1 banned team orders from 2002 until 2010. Following several controversial incidents that caused uproar in the Formula 1 community, it was decided that teams would no longer be allowed to instruct their drivers to swap places or give up positions to their teammate.

The ban on team orders was removed from the sport at the end of the 2010 season following yet another controversial incident at the 2010 German Grand Prix. Team orders were used by Ferrari, which allowed Fernando Alonso to win the race over Felipe Massa. The breach of the rules resulted in a $65,000 fine for the Italian team.

Why It’s Difficult To Ban Team Orders In F1

Throughout the seasons that team orders have been banned from the sport, Formula 1 teams have found ways of getting around the rules. Many teams used coded messages to instruct their drivers to let their teammates pass. As long as the drivers understood the message, they could use team orders at any time.

The use of coded messages is legal in Formula 1 to an extent, and there is no way for the FIA to ban these coded messages. This workaround made the rule against team orders pointless, as teams could simply bypass it as long as they were discreet enough to fly under the radar and avoid being investigated by the FIA for breaching the rules.

KEY POINTS

• While team orders are now legal in F1, they weren’t always allowed

• There have been many controversial incidents involving the use of team orders

• While banned from 2002-2010, they have since been allowed by the FIA

6 Examples Of Team Orders In F1

1. Schumacher And Barrichello

Ferrari has some of the most famous examples of team orders in Formula 1, as well as the most controversial. The most controversial incident came at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix with Rubens Barrichello leading the race in the closing stages. However, shortly before the finish line, the team instructed him to let his German teammate past.

Michael Schumacher went on to win the Grand Prix, but neither driver was happy about the result. Schumacher encouraged Barrichello to stand on the top step of the podium, and he even refused to sit in the middle seat during the press conference, which was always reserved for the race winner.

Ferrari were fined for a breach of podium procedures, but there was a massive outrage by many people in the Formula 1 community. Both fans and media poured fuel over the fire following the Grand Prix, and this is the incident that ultimately led to team orders being banned from the sport by the FIA.

Several races later at the United States Grand Prix, Michal Schumacher seemed to return the favor to Barrichello by slowing down just before the finish line, allowing Barrichello to take the checkered flag by just 0.011 seconds – one of the smallest recorded winning margins in the history of the sport.

2. Multi-21

You may have heard the term “Multi 21” being thrown around the Formula 1 community before. The term refers to the famous team orders incident that took place between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, which to this day remains one of the biggest flash points of any Red Bull driver pairing.

In the closing laps of the Grand Prix, Red Bull had a commanding lead in the race with Webber leading his teammate. Both drivers were given the instruction “Multi-map 21” which is a coded message used by Red Bull at the time to instruct the drivers to hold position. This was done to allow both drivers to turn down their engines and limit wear as they closed out the race.

At the time, cars were numbered based on their finishing positions. As the champion, Vettel had car number one, and Webber car number two. Multi 21 referred to car number two ahead of car number one, and Multi 12 was the other way around. However, Vettel had other plans, and instead decided to attack his teammate.

The two fought for the lead of the race for the first half of the lap until Webber eventually backed down and Vettel sprinted off to win the Grand Prix. Once again the Red Bull pair had some awkward moments in the cooldown room and on the podium. Christian Horner and his team also suffered a lot of negative attention from the media.

3. Fernando Is Faster Than You

Ferrari was in the team orders spotlight again during the 2010 German Grand Prix. The ban against team orders came full circle as the team that brought the rule into play in 2002 was also the team that caused the rule to fall away in 2010. 

During the German Grand Prix, Felipe Massa found himself leading the race and seemed to be in an excellent position to take his first victory since the 2008 season and his terrifying crash at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix. His teammate Fernando Alonso was not too far behind and was closing in on him quickly.

However, Alonso soon got onto the radio to his team saying that he was faster than Massa. Rob Smedley, Massa’s race engineer, subsequently said to him “Fernando is faster than you.” Although this seemed like a message to inform Massa to pick up the pace, the team repeated the message multiple times, also asking him if he understood the message.

Eventually, Massa clearly and deliberately moved over on the back straight of the Hockenheimring, allowing Alonso to sail past him. Alonso took the victory with Massa finishing in second. Ferrari were fined for breaching the rules, and the ban against team orders was abolished at the end of the season.

4. Valtteri, It’s James

Mercedes dominated Formula 1’s hybrid era from 2014-2020. With seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton as the clear number one driver, there’s no doubt that team orders played a big role within the team over the years, especially when it came to Valtteri Bottas, who could never seem to get the better of the Englishman over the course of a season.

The famous term “Valtteri, it’s James” comes to many a mind when thinking of Bottas’ time at Mercedes. The James in question is James Vowles, the chief strategist at the Mercedes F1 team. There were many instances where Bottas was reminded of his backup role for Hamilton.

One of the most famous incidents took place during the 2018 Russian Grand Prix. 2018 saw the dominant German team being threatened by Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari. Separated by 37 points in the closing stages of the season, Hamilton needed every point he could get if he was going to seal the championship against his rival in red.

While Bottas was leading the race, Hamilton was suffering with blistering tires in second place and Vettel was close behind. The team decided to make the call and switch Bottas and Hamilton, allowing the Brit to win the race and extend his championship lead to 50 points. “Valtteri, it’s James” was used several times following this incident as Mercedes team orders became a common theme.

5. Australia 1998

McLaren is the second oldest team in the sport behind Ferrari, and they’re not free of team order controversy either. On lap 36 of the 1998 Australian Grand Prix, Mika Häkkinen unexpectedly dove into the pits, but did not make a pit stop. Instead, he drove straight through and rejoined the race in second place behind his teammate, David Coulthard.

Team boss Ron Dennis later claimed that someone had tapped into the Finn’s radio system and confused him during the race. Dennis stated that team orders would only be used under extraordinary circumstances, which this was.

A couple of laps before the race came to an end, Coulthard moved over to let Häkkinen through into the lead of the race. Häkkinen went on to take the victory in Australia. As it turns out, the two teammates had made an agreement with one another before the start of the Grand Prix.

The agreement was that whoever was leading after the first corner would be entitled to win the race if they had the opportunity to do so. It just so happens that Häkkinen was the driver leading the race after the first corner, which prompted Coulthard to give up the lead of the race and the victory, seemingly agreeing that these were exceptional circumstances. 

6. France 2021

Team orders don’t always have to be negative and controversial, as Red Bull proved during the 2021 French Grand Prix. The 2021 season was hotly contested between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, but thanks to some excellent teamwork in France, Red bull managed to steal victory from Mercedes.

Following the final round of pit stops, Max Verstappen was coming up behind his teammate Sergio Perez who was in third place at the time. The Mercedes duo were heading for a 1-2 finish, but with Verstappen on faster tires, Perez allowed him through to start closing the 18 second gap to the leaders.

Verstappen managed to chase down and overtake both Mercedes and win the race. Perez also managed to chase down Valtteri Bottas to take the third and final podium spot. Overall, team orders worked for Red Bull in this scenario as they allowed Verstappen to overtake both leading cars and win the race.

As Verstappen overtook Bottas, he disrupted the Finn and allowed his teammate to close the gap and steal third place. In this instance, team orders allowed the team to score more points, but it also prevented Hamilton from getting a crucial victory.

Should Team Orders Be Banned In F1?

Team orders have always been a topic of debate in Formula 1. But there are always two sides to any argument. Team orders always seem to cause controversy, even when they are logical and done with good intentions. There’s a lot of negative attention that teams need to face when they enforce team orders of any kind on their drivers.

On the one hand, banning team orders would be good for the sport, as every driver would need to fight for their position and work hard to overtake one another. Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, with 20 of the best drivers fighting for one drivers’ championship – a fight that only one driver can win at the end of a long and grueling season. It’s a reward that drivers need to earn.

However, Formula 1 is still a team sport, and drivers sometimes need to work together for the good of the team. Whether it’s one driver helping the other to score more points, or it’s one driver helping another driver to chase down and overtake their rivals, teamwork is an important part of Formula 1. The constructors’ championship is also important, and teams will score points from both drivers.

Ultimately, team orders cannot be completely banned from Formula 1. Teams will always find a way around a ban, even if they need to use coded messages or give their drivers instructions before the start of the race. While banning them might give the illusion of additional competition between teammates, it’s too difficult to control.

Are Team Orders Used In Other Motorsports?

Team orders are common in other forms of motorsport, but they do not garner as much controversy and attention as Formula 1 team orders do. NASCAR is a sport that not only uses team orders among drivers, but also between different teams that use the same engine manufacturer via spotters.

Teamwork is an important part of endurance racing as well, where drivers can sometimes be instructed not to hold one another up due to the complex strategies involved in the sport. MotoGP is a branch of motorsport that always seemed to be free of team orders, largely because of the fact that the riders don’t have team radios. 

Final Thoughts

Team orders in F1 usually involve the team asking one driver to move out of the way of another. They are an element of F1 that receives a lot of negative attention from the wider community. However, they are completely legal, and teams are allowed to instruct their drivers to swap places if needed.