Team-orders question hangs over F1 showdown

Formula One historians were reaching for their record books and calculators on Monday, while Red Bull’s bosses started urgent talks on how best to manage their warring drivers in the final race of a thrilling season.

In the wake of the team’s supremely comfortable one-two triumph in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, when German tyro Sebastian Vettel (23) led his Australian teammate Mark Webber (34) home, they all face a dilemma.

Ferrari’s outstanding two-time champion, Spaniard Fernando Alonso, leads the title race with one race to go, in Abu Dhabi on Sunday (November 14), and will seize his third crown so long as he can maintain his eight-point advantage on Webber and 14 on Vettel.

In terms of results, that means that Alonso can take the title by finishing fourth — if Vettel wins — and second — if Webber wins the race. But, if the result of Sunday’s contest at Interlagos is repeated, Alonso will be champion.

Given the team’s supremacy in speed and performance, it is probable that they will have the advantage in pace again and it may require the use of team orders by the Red Bull hierarchy to ensure they can add the drivers’ title to the constructors’ championship their triumph on Sunday secured.

Alonso has the advantage not only of leading the pack, but also knowing that teammate Brazilian Felipe Massa will be doing all he can to support him.

Massa controversially gifted Alonso victory in Germany this year, a move that ended with Ferrari being fined $100 000 and sparked furore.

Webber, who needs to beat Alonso by more than eight points and prevent Vettel outscoring him by more than five, has little choice but to focus on a singular charge for victory unless the team issue instructions.

If the team had asked Vettel to slow and give Sunday’s race win to Webber, it would have made a big difference to the points, cutting the gap to one point, and Webber’s situation psychologically and strategically.

But, after the race, he said: “It would be a help, but it’s not the team’s philosophy. It was a good drive by Seb for the win and that is how it is. The team is going for the position it has always done on the sporting side and that is how it is.

Asked whether he expected Vettel to move aside for him in Abu Dhabi, Webber said: “Depends how it is on the last lap …”

Vettel, keen to maintain his own title challenge, tried to be evasive when asked about team orders in the final race. He said: “I am not sure if I got your question.

“It is pretty straightforward — in less than a week’s time we unpack the cars and prepare for Abu Dhabi. We have to see if we are competitive. Then we will see where we are in qualifying, we try to get everything out of the car and then see where we are.

“Obviously in my case it is pretty straightforward. I can try to optimise my result, get everything out myself and repeat this result and then it depends on where those guys are.

“For sure, you will have to judge according to the situation. One thing is clear, I think both of us know how to act. There have been some moments, which we probably don’t want to repeat.”

Asked to give a “yes or no” answer, he said: “I think you will see then. I went to school obviously so I know what I can answer and there was a lot of talk before this race. In the end the way the race unfolded it was all unnecessary. For me it is straightforward: I go to Abu Dhabi to try to do my best. We have a strong car.

Team boss Christian Horner said: “The drivers drive for the team, they’ve received tremendous support this year, it would have been wrong to switch [their positions] in that race. We’ve backed them equally all year and it would have been wrong to take one of them out of the championship.

Team orders remain banned in Formula One, technically, but it is widely deemed acceptable for them to be utilised in championship-deciding races. — AFP

Gordon Howard
Television writer and producer Gordon Howard has over 8753 followers on Twitter.

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