The debate on Team Orders in F1 is as old as Team Orders themselves. Vettel did what any racing driver would want to do, what any person who wants to win would do, and he did it on purpose. His pretending that he didn’t understand the message, is the only real thing that I didn’t like, and that has changed my opinion of him, especially as today he said in an interview that he would do the same thing again, if in the same position…
I hate the fact that team orders exist, and I think they are one of the most negative aspects of the sport, especially in the modern era. I blame the existence of team orders far more than I blame Vettel for doing what he did… Team Orders are nothing new though, they pre-date the Formula One World Championship, and clear number one/two drivers have been in the sport for a long time. Stewart was number one at Tyrrell over Cevert, Scheckter over Villeneuve at Ferrari, though they became more public in the Michael Schumacher era (when illegal), and even saw a driver purposely crash to help a team mate (Piquet at Singapore, 2008).
Since the introduction of the constructors championship in 1958, they’ve become increasingly used, especially once payments and prizes became attached to team finishing positions in Concorde agreements in 1981. What this did, effectively, was make F1 a team sport.
With that in-mind, are team orders wrong? No, they’re not. A team needs to do it’s best to protect maximum points, because that is how they make money back, and how they survive. I hate it, but that is the most logical thing a team can do under the current system. Any team which does not employ team orders in a situation where drivers are wheel-to-wheel and at-risk of crashing, decreases their chances of a Constructors title and better funding.
Was what Vettel did, wrong? I want to say no, I really do. But F1 is a team sport, as I’ve said. RedBull are his employer, they pay him a lot of money (paid from the Constructors championship and sponsorship based on good media relations), and he should do as he is told to help the team and his employer in that pursuit. If he and Webber had tangled, which they came very close to doing during their tussle for position, it could have been devastating for the team. He was selfish, and not just towards Mark Webber, but towards the needs of the team. He caused a lot of negative publicity towards the team, it’s sponsors, and himself. Then he “apologized” and since has said things that make that apology a lie. That is what I don’t like.
What I do like, and this is a huge contradiction, is that he is a racer. He wants to win, and is damn good at doing that… But I am so conflicted by him not doing what the team needed, and his “apology”, that it has become harder to respect him outside of a race car. That’s a shame, I did quite like him!
With that said, the entire incident did not need to happen. If the constructors championship were adjusted, or the Concorde agreement changed to make F1 less of a team sport, and more about the drivers, it might completely remove the need for team orders, and remove the need for teams to protect itself.
Team orders exist only because F1 is a team sport, and however much I dislike them, I have to accept them. I also, like RedBull and Webber, have to accept that Vettel doesn’t follow them. But that doesn’t mean I have to accept his “apology” or think he did something right, because as long as F1 is a team sport, the team has to come first.
Damn, that’s annoying…