MARCH 16, 1998
The value of team orders
MUCH fuss has been made in newspapers around the world about team orders after the Australian Grand Prix, in which David Coulthard moved over to let Mika Hakkinen win the race. Hakkinen had led the race throughout but a team mistake saw him go into the pits when the team was not expecting him and he lost the lead to Coulthard. The Scotsman was then asked to allow the Finn ahead in the closing laps.
The move was condemned after the event by Ron Walker, chairman of Australian Grand Prix Corporation, who complained to the FIA and claimed that team orders should not be allowed in motor racing. "It is not the right of team owners to decide who's going to win," Walker said.
There is a suspicion that Walker's comments were made simply to stir up some controversy and attract more publicity for the race. He has done similar things in the past, notably when he accused Michael Schumacher of being "a prima donna" because Michael innocently remarked that the Melbourne circuit was "nothing special".
If not, Walker's ignorance of Grand Prix racing's heritage is startling. Team orders are a part of many different sports - the most obvious example being cycling, in which teams have a designated team leader and all the other team members work towards helping him win the race.
There have been team orders since the earliest days of the sport. Team leaders often took over the cars of their team-mates if their own broke down and there are many examples of drivers moving over to help a team leader win a race.
As long ago as 1927 the British GP at Brooklands was settled in such a fashion with Alberto Divo and Edmond Bourlier being ordered to move over to let Delage team leader Robert Benoist win the race.
Team orders not only prevent team-mates colliding with one another but also repay effort away from the race tracks. In the late 1940s the Alfa Romeo factory team was run to strict order which allowed Italians Achille Varzi and even Count Trossi to win races ahead of the much faster Frenchman Jean-Pierre Wimille.
In 1955 Stirling Moss regularly sat behind his Mercedes-Benz team leader Juan-Manuel Fangio and in 1956 Peter Collins sacrificed his own chance to win the World Championship when he handed over his Lancia-Ferrari to Fangio at Monza.
In the 1970s Ronnie Peterson sat behind his team leader Mario Andretti on several occasions but allowed the American to win races for Lotus and in 1979 Gilles Villeneuve did the same with his Ferrari team-mate Jody Scheckter.
Team orders have been a regular feature of racing in the 1980s and 1990s the most recent examples being at the end of last year at Suzuka (where Eddie Irvine let Michael Schumacher pass him to win) and Jerez, where Coulthard again moved over for Hakkinen. Coulthard has said that he expects McLaren to repay him for his loyalty just as the team is now repaying Hakkinen for his decision to stay with them through the lean years.
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