On team orders at McLaren and Red Bull and a pact at Ferrari
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On team orders at McLaren and Red Bull and a pact at Ferrari
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Sep 2010   |  1:58 pm GMT  |  247 comments

We are now getting into what is known as the ‘Business End” of the season and with five drivers still in with a shout of the title, separated by a scant 24 points – less that the points from a win – it’s shaping up to be the most exciting finale in recent F1 history.

Five drivers can win it, no-one knows for sure who will. But one thing is certain – four drivers will lose it.

No-one wants to be left in that position and thus the whole issue of team orders and teams prioritising one driver over the other has been a recurring theme throughout this season. This is because we have three teams all at a high technical level, with very strong drivers.

Red Bull allowed their drivers to feud from the early part of the season onwards and this culminated in the collision between them in Istanbul.

Ferrari kept seeing Alonso tucked up behind Massa and asking to be allowed through as he was faster. It happened in Australia and then in China Alonso took matters into his own hands and passed Massa as they came in to the pits. And so in Germany the team took matters back into their hands and moved Massa over to let Alonso through.

At McLaren we had a spirited battle between the drivers in Istanbul, but since then the team and both its drivers have made it abundantly clear that they are going to race to the bitter end, even if it means losing the title to another driver.

I asked Martin Whitmarsh point blank on Saturday in Monza whether the team and it shareholders had spoken after the 2007 season about how they let Raikkonen steal the title by allowing their drivers to race and whether they had resolved never to let that happen again. He replied that this was the McLaren credo and would stay that way as long as he’s in charge, even if it means losing the title this year.

So this throws the spotlight on the other two teams, especially Red Bull.

On Sunday many rival team engineers were puzzled by Sebastian Vettel’s phantom engine problem, which seemed to only afflict him for one lap, but in that lap he was passed by Webber. As it turned out he then went long on the tyres and managed to jump Webber and others to finish fourth. Was the engine thing some kind of team order, it was whispered? I think the outcome disproves that theory, but today Flavio Briatore, Webber’s manager, said “Red Bull haven’t realised yet that if they continue like this, with Webber and Vettel racing against each other, they could lose the championship.”

“At Ferrari there is a clear situation with Alonso the team leader and Massa lending his hand. It’s not the same with Red Bull, not even with their strategy in the race. They have thrown away a hundred points, Vettel’s made all sorts of mistakes. If they don’t want to win the championship, this is how to do it.”

He would say that, wouldn’t he?

Vettel would point to Sunday’s race to show how he started two places behind Webber on the grid and ended up two places in front of him to show that he is the one the team should back, despite his 24 point disadvantage. Vettel is quite capable of winning in Singapore and if Webber retires it will be more or less all square with four to play. So clearly it’s too early to call Vettel off.

Meanwhile at Ferrari the situation appears to be clear cut, but I saw a very interesting article by Fulvio Solms in Corriere dello Sport, which said that there is a pact at Ferrari, whereby Massa will help Alonso for the rest of the season, but on the basis that he is free to challenge for wins and the title in 2011.

The theory goes that Massa has been struggling with the 2010 Bridgestone tyres and has expectations that the Pirellis for next year will be more suited to his style of driving.
“He’s very happy at Ferrari, the only problem is getting the Bridgestones up to temperature and it’s true that he is hopeful about the arrival of Pirelli, even if no-one knows yet how the tyres will behave,” Massa’s manager Nicolas Todt is quoted as saying.

There is a cultural debate at the heart of this story – pragmatism versus sporting romanticism. It is not about Italian values versus British, it’s just different attitudes to going racing.

F1 is a cynical sport, but McLaren’s approach and Red Bull’s thus far, has given this championship a thrilling edge. Sooner or later the maths will start to intervene and some decisions will be taken – Red Bull will surely crack first, after all it is not easy to imagine the Red Bull owner accepting the same fate as befell McLaren in 2007, given the investment and the fact that the team has enjoyed such a car advantage all season.

If it comes to it, McLaren will let their drivers go into Abu Dhabi free to race each other. And if someone else wins the title so be it. Is that noble or foolish?

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To answer the question: “If it comes to it, McLaren will let their drivers go into Abu Dhabi free to race each other. And if someone else wins the title so be it. Is that noble or foolish?”

No, that’s hypocritical. [mod] They’ll favor a driver if it comes to that and play dirty if it comes to that. So please don’t be cynical…

Jeffrey Gutierrez


There is a lot of betting involved in all sorts of sports could this be considered as “fixing the result”. I wouldn’t be a happy chap if i had money on Masssa to win then see him move over for Alonso.


If Red Bull let Vettel and Webber race it’s a recipe for disaster in my opinion, they WILL lose everything, Vettel hasn’t enough composure yet and he’s prone to doing something stupid.

McLaren on the other hand have Hamilton who likes to take a risk sometimes and is an aggresive driver but ultimately more talented than Vettel, and Button who I think is one of the smartest drivers in F1, I’d be happy to let these two race each other unless it was mathematically impossible for one of them to win the drivers championship.

Ferrari, well we all know the situation there. Alonso is their priority and Massa is their second driver. No doubt about that.

So if I were team boss of the 3 teams I would:

Red Bull = Pray that in the next two races one of my drivers would open up a sizeable gap on the other to justify giving priority to the championship leader in the team and tell the second placed driver to pick up as much constructors points as possible.

McLaren = Let my drivers race and be fairly confident that neither would take an unnessessary risk up until it’s mathematically impossible for one of them to win the drivers championship.

Ferrari = Tell Massa to get out of Alonso’s way.


If what they ‘say’ they’re doing, is what they’re ‘actually’ doing, then I agree with MM and RBR for they’re perspective on the way the Championship should be handled. One driver CANNOT win a WCC! At least not as long as the other teams have 2 drivers. For me, with 2 talented drivers at hand, my only orders for them, up to 3/4 way in the Championship, is not to take out your teammate. And as long as there’s a clear ‘leader’ after that, my next instruction to the ‘not-so-fast-one’ is cover ‘US’. By demoting and likewise demotivating one driver over another, you can NEVER get 100% from that guy(unless he’s a tool and just cares about getting paid)


did anyone ask how Kovalainen feel about his time in McLaren?

may be Mr. Witmarsh can tell us more stories about equal treatment in mclaren team after that.

the cold truth is, team orders are very related with performance of two drivers of a team, if there is a driver clearly better than the other one, than team orders come in to play in every team fighting for title. the rest is just empty stories.


I think Red Bull will be wise to back Webber because Vettel is very erratic; he is not what I call “dependable” to deliver Red Bull their first championship. Recognizing that the priorities of the team supersede that of anyone driver Red Bull would have to make this hard, but wise decision.

For McLaren, I will back Whitmarsh’s decision here because you have 2 very good drivers who have respect for each other. At this stage I can absolutely guarantee that none of them will do anything foolish to jeopardize the team’s chances of winning the championship.

Red Bull on the other hand is a different case because Vettel is a time bomb, you never know what to expect and this uncertainty about this talented driver should be a great cause for concern for Red Bull at this time. I can guarantee that he does not win the championship this year.

As much as I hated the “Alonso is Faster Than You” scandal, Ferrari has only one potential contender for the championship and Massa without being told is very mature, though he may hate it to back Alonso.


McLaren did not lose the 2007 titles by allowing their drivers to race.

In fact, a certain Ron Dennis was quoted at the Chinese GP saying ‘we are not racing Kimi’ – meaning that he and his team were racing Alonso.

McLaren lost the titles when Alonso crashed in Japan, and then Hamilton had his famous moments in China and Brasil. Then they became more focused on beating Alonso than Ferrari and that was always a self destructive course. Not withstanding the fact that Kimi had some excellent races at the end of the season.

For McLaren to try and take the moral high ground on Team Orders is typical of them and their supporters who have such short memories. The FIRST race of 1998 springs to mind…


The team orders rule wasn’t part of the regulation in 1998? The rest is just supposition, Mclaren could very easily caused a gremlin if they wanted to stop Alonso from winning the 2007 WDC or Hamilton could of blocked Alonso in qualifying. After he blackmailed the team he may not of been the preferred driver, but considering the situation Alonso’s side of the garage acted impeccably.


You misunderstand me. I am not a McLaren fanboy and I don’t know what happened behind the scenes in 2007. I know that Alonso is no saint and he could have behaved better, but the real criminals were McLaren who eventually came forward with the evidence – but only because Alonso threatened to blow the whistle first.

The acticle claimed that McLaren only lost out in 2007 because they allowed their drivers to compete. This is the usual kind of thing you hear about the saints of fairplay at McLaren, but unfortunately actual events does not bear out the statement. Add into that the spying scandal, the blatant Hamilton favouritism clearly demonstrated at Hungary which enraged Alonso to the point of blocking Hamilton in the pits. It was Hamilton Snr who then went and complained to the stewards which resulted in a 5 place drop for Alonso and then a disqualification of WCC points for that weekend due to the stewards basically not believing anything that McLaren had to say in their defense.

My point about ’98 is where were the people then who are now complaining about being robbed of a spectacle, bets being lost etc etc. It may have been legal, but surely team orders in the FIRST race of the season is even lower than what Ferrari are usually accused of?


I agree that Mclaren are in no position to play the saint card on team orders, this is just the political media manoeuvring that all F1 teams do unfortunately.

Was pleasantly surprised Mclaren/Red Bull didn’t send their lawyers to the hearing as has been the case many times before with other teams.


If you are really a faster/better driver than your team mate, why are you behind them on the track in the first place?

“Fernando..is faster…than you”

“Oh yeah? Then let’s see him get past me!”


Yep, you’re right. So, Fernando was faster that Vettel in Hungary, I suppose…


James, how is the relationship between Felipe and Fernando going, surely it must be forever damaged.


If you are going to have team orders, which the FIA have virtually sanctioned, then the #2 driver should move over for any #1 driver as in any blue flag situation. Otherwise you can manipulate a race and make everything a sham as if it were a WWF tag team event. It was very clear from Ferrari’s failure to pit Massa earlier at Monza, never mind a Ferrari win. The possibility of pushing Alonso down the points had to be avoided at any cost. Any other of the top / middle teams would have split their strategy to maximise their chances of a win. This was just as obvious as Massa pulling over for Alonso previously.

Why I don’t like team orders, is that teams such as McLaren and RBR will be forced to take similar stands under various circumstances to compete for the WDC. So the possible 5 way split we have at the present comes down to a 3 way split, with the fans just following a team or a couple of drivers. So you will now get a succession of Irvines, Rubens, Massas etc and just be left with a shell of a sport that we have become accustom to over recent years.

I understand you cannot eliminate preferential treatment, but just look at the sham you are left with once you open up Pandora’s box. The FIA were rightfully fearful when the fans expressed the disillusion with Schumacher and why the rules were firmed up, equally with Alonso. For the good of the sport, keep the no team orders and introduce draconian rules to minimise the chances of team orders. Central FIA contracts for drivers, severe penalties for any team just even asking a potential driver to apply team orders.



After reading all, I have a sincere request.

Sooner or later could you kindly do an article on Lewis Hamilton & Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2007.

A lot of us will get a clearer picture.



You must be joking! That would bring a world of pain from polarised fans.
I saw that situation very close up. I may do it one day


I don’t think an article would quite cut it… more like a 1,000 page book.

The most interesting part for me would be the actions and allegances behind the scenes – Lewis and Fernando’s roles and behaviour are relatively well known, but there is a fascinating hidden story there that is not yet public knowledge.


Oh, James, PLEASE!! I bet if you write this article it will be for sure the most-commented-ever of your posts!!

Speaking seriously, I would like to know your unbiased and deeply informed point of view on the things that happend during 2007.

Probably, on the one hand, the Alonso supporters would find it clearly pro-Hamilton; and on the other hand, Hamilton fans would say that it was undoubtedly pro-Fernando 😉

I do insist, James, you should consider writing it some day…


Beating the 1,100 comments we had for the team orders post after Germany, you mean?


Could you ever see them driving for the same team again? Hamilton appeared, in public, to be a young pup for most of that season and didn’t really see him show animosity to Alonso.


Fernando has said more than once – at least in Spanish media – that he does not feel like being team mates with Lewis again.


“there is a pact at Ferrari, whereby Massa will help Alonso for the rest of the season, but on the basis that he is free to challenge for wins and the title in 2011”

Yeah we all saw the “help” Massa provided challenging Alonso in the first lap at Monza.



Surely there is no way Santander be happy with Alonso playing 2nd fiddle to Massa next year if the Situation arose?

Santander are on Ferrari because Alonso represents very good marketing (as would Rafael Nadal) in Spain. They will not want him letting Massa through even if Massa is ahead in the championship.

My question is do you believe the 2nd Ferrari seat to be a poisoned chalice(Sp?)?

I think Felipe could do worse than to cut free and head for Renault/Mercedes.

Another thing, such is the relationship between Rob Smedley and Felipe, do you think Rob would follow Felipe if he left?!




No-one’s saying Alonso would be number 2 next year, merely that his chances are better at this stage


I don’t disagree with you, what I meant was that if the situation arose, for example like 2008, then surely Santander would not be happy with Alonso letting Massa through even if Alonso was mathematically out of the running.

All of this is very hypothetical of course!


Noble or Foolish? I would say that Mclaren has the advantage of more than enough money in the bank to be Noble. Winning or losing the WC will not make or break them. With Mclarens WC pedigree, as long as they stay contenders, sponsors will pay, especially those that like the race to bitter end attitude (as I do). For a smaller younger team, like Red Bull, still looking to gain the credibility that comes with a WC, this approach could be considered foolish. Its all depends on perspective.


The internal politics at McLaren are going to be fascinating to watch.

As well as a superb driver, I believe Jenson to be a true sportsman, a gentleman even, a very honourable racer. A man who treats others as he would wish to be treated himself.

Should Lewis begin to pull away from him in the standings, and if his own chances begin to look realistically very slim, I think Button would accept helping Hamilton out for the last few races before returning to equal status for 2011.

Because if the roles happen to be reversed, and Jenson is the one in the driving seat, that’s the kind of attitude he would like to see from his team-mate in the circumstances.

Whether Hamilton would so gladly reciprocate in such an instance though, I don’t know. Lewis says all of the right things, presents himself in interviews as the consumate team-player. But there is no doubting that he has a ruthless streak and that he races to win – full stop.

Two brilliant drivers with very different personalities. Of course my hope is that they will finish 1st and 2nd in the championship, but I’m not sure in which order…


If a team has a clear number 1 and number 2, could that lead to the number 2 driver blocking for the number 1 driver? That is, if number 1 driver is out in front and number 2 driver is coming second, the number 2 driver could slow the others down. I am not sure that is good for the sport.


Wait- are you saying you never saw such a thing happening? How long have you been watching F1? Its a quite common practise lol….and do you really think F1 is a ‘sport’?

Its a big business. Circus Maximus. A show. Entertainment for the audience.

If F1 had no ‘scandals’ of their own Bernie would have to invent them.


Fully agree. I always tell my children not to think of “sport” when we watch races, but to think of “competition” and “entertainment”.

I think it was Bernie the one who said “if there is not a fire, I will light it!”


I recall that Ferrari had a similar pact in 2007/2008. Backing Kimi in the 1st year and then Massa in 2008, when he only lost out by a single point.


Are you sure that such a pact existed? Massa’s 2007 championship campaign ended at Monza when his engine blew.


Massa did indeed retire at Monza 2007, but it was suspension failure but the onus was with Kimi previous to this. 2009 it was clear and I recall them stating that the weight was behind Massa to secure the title, from an early point in the season.


Well if you have checked up the details and it was suspension failure the I will not argue with you. I am pretty sure that Massa had led more laps than any other driver at that stage but had suffered more from reliability. He won the race in Turkey shortly before Monza, and won twice before that. It looked to me as though Massa had been given the same opportunities as Raikkonen up until that point, but poor reliability eventually ended Massa’s campaign.

In 2008 Raikkonen was given the same opportunities as Massa until late in the season. The former simply did not perform


Typo, I meant 2008


Going slightly off topic but I feel relevant,
Is which drivers have good engines and gear boxes left, as this could also start having a large impact on qualifying and race performance if some drivers have to start preserving engines as well as tyres.
James would you be able to expand on this


I will find out more about this, it’s clear many readers are interested


If it’s so much of a team sport, why have a WDC at all? If it’s truly a team sport then why not make it like football, where the winning team gets the trophy and all of the team members get medals? 

The fact is, F1 isn’t really a true team sport, because of the WDC and separate WCC. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other team sport where individual team members are actually in competition with each other. 

The conflict lies in the fact that fans usually support individual drivers not teams, although there are obvious exceptions. But there is the issue of money and need for sponsorship. F1 is possibly the most capitalist (rather than egalitarian) sport there is. Teams need sponsorship money, and to get the most cash they need to win races and titles. The WDC is the most important title in this sense because the fans tend to follow their favourite drivers and it much better to have a personality to market your brand than it is an engineering organisation. (The exception perhaps being Ferrari.) 

Unless you make radical changes to the sport then there are no easy answers to team orders. You could have teams based on country like with football, although then you’ve got A1 GP. If you remove money from the equation then maybe teams will race for the sport of it, but then it wouldn’t be the F1 we love, in fact it probably wouldn’t even exist. Banning team orders hasn’t worked in practice, so you’re left with the situation of allowing team orders but alienating many fans. The emphasis is on the teams, not so much the rules, to produce great racing and fair results. If this doesn’t happen then maybe fans need to hassle the sponsors. After all if fans are seen as merely consumers then this is perhaps the best weapon against team orders.


It’s brilliant that F1 has such fine sportsmen as Martin Whitmarsh, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Once you have accepted the idea of actually racing rather than wheeler-dealing, you’re in the clear for a great season’s work and no crap going on behind the scenes, and it seems like McLaren have done that. That’s exactly what makes me a McLaren fan – it’s not because they’re champions or even winners, it’s because I know I can trust them to play the game and not rip me off. Teams like Red Bull and Ferrari are just too dodgy, and totally fail to get me excited.


Whatever a driver thinks outwardly, the majority of fans and probably the drivers’ peers do not rate a championship – won by blatantly having their team mate moved over for them and subsequently act as a clear No2 driver – over a Championship won in a clean equal fight to the bitter end.

I think what’s different in the McLaren camp is that you have the current World Champion defending his World Champion status – it is up to all the other drivers to take that away from him INCLUDING Lewis – the No1 plate should be earn’t not relinquished to you by your team mate or any other driver for that matter…. as in boxing – the judges expect the challengers to TAKE the title away from the Champion, if it is too close to call & there is doubt the Champion generally retains his title.

Let’s remember Jenson won his Championship with hard graft over many years AND WITH NO TEAM ORDERS why should he have to cave in and support Lewis until it is mathematically impossible for him to retain his title ?

We tend to forget that these guys put there necks on the block every time they step into these ,lets not forget proto-type and now largely un-track tested, machines capable of doing 200 mph+ and cornering at 5g’s and shouldn’t be demotivated or distracted in anyway by team orders.


“Jenson won his Championship with hard graft over many years AND WITH NO TEAM ORDERS”

Do I remember some strange (and hardly understandale) strategies re refuelling for Rubinho, that put him after Jenson, having been in front of him at the start of the race? Maybe it was Barcelona 2009?


Obviously unfounded as Rubens hasn’t hung his helmet up and is still going strong – and by the way one of my personal favourite drivers 🙂


Or maybe he simple did not get any whiff…

But probably you’re right, and Brawn GP behaviour was fair and square. I do believe that Jenson is not the kind of guy who would accept such an unfair situation.


You conspiracy theorists do may me smile 🙂


I do not consider myself a “conspiracy theorist”, but if I have made you smile, than I am happy. 🙂

This is what I read of Rubens’ words after the race:

“If I get a whiff that Ross favoured Jenson today I will hang up my helmet immediately. But I don’t think he would do that..”

I am not suggesting any “conspiracy”. I am just saying that after the race, many people thought that Brawn GP had made decission wich favoured Jenson. Btw, Rubens seemed to be one of those…


As a fan, I want to see them race to the very end, but if I was responsible for a team, I’d have a #1 driver sorted before the season started.

Noble or foolish? Both.


I’d call it Boring 🙁


McLaren has two english drivers. This is the key and no comparison has been possible with other circumstances. Anything could be excusable (even with “special manners”) for the English media against foreign competitors, but NOT in the 2010 case. This is just the moment for these kind of polls.


You are certainly unlikely to get an impartial account in any of the the Italian newspapers “for sure”!


Problem here it’s not impartiality. Everyone has its own preferences. Real problem is the huge influence of English media and English establishment in F1. I accept they deserve all bells and whistles as a F1 founders, but it’s unnaceptable to see how some English driver has 50 points more by a very biased aplication of rules and a unique privilege to infringe the rules. They are able to put the finger in some affairs and avoid others with their media machinery. Even the FOM retransmission and replayings are the main keys of stewards investigations. A completely shame that this English court has the power to claim justice in the sport.


Mclaren had to deal with Max Mosely whose personal vendetta against Ron Dennis cost Mclaren $100 million and allowed one of the main culprits ammunity. The new head of the FIA is Jean Todt.

The stewards have access to alot more information than just the FOM feed, would be surprised if they spent a great deal of time looking at that.


The biased of the English media, (only major country whose TV coverage tries to maintain some impartiality btw ) is overstated. The red top tabloids, equivalent to propaganda papers like Marca I suppose aren’t read by the majority of F1 fans. Hamilton has been absolutely ripped apart for his misdemeanour’s and tax dodging in our press, and Button was written-off as an also ran.


The BBC’s coverage is probably as impartial as you could expect a coverage to be (although it does owe something to RTL).

The editor of a certain weekly English publication, with a history of bias towards English teams, this week felt the need to comment on the inconsistency of its readers’ attitudes with regards to Hockenheim 2008 and 2010. That should tell you something about the twaddle that many so-called fans of the sport have been regurgitating in recent weeks. It is a shame that knowledgeable people continue to behave in such a bigoted manner.


TV is a far more powerful way of reaching and educating the public through its F1 coverage than any weekly publication. In Britain, we can congratulate the BBC and (ITV when they provided the broadcast) for providing a quality and unbiased coverage of F1. But can the same be said in other countries such as Italy of Spain? I somehow doubt that British racing teams receive the same amount of fair and impartial TV coverage in these countries as non British racing teams do on British TV!


Respect to McLaren for standing their ground.

I see the sponsors and investors, pouring millions of dollars into the sport, obviously wanting their man to win the Championship. This puts external pressure on the team to back the strongest driver.

You can see from the car livery the difference and the degree to which businessmen are pulling the strings.

To a certain extent, McLaren and Ferrari can manage the championship situation with a free hand, although Martin and Stefano approach the dilemma from opposite sides.

Red Bull, and for example Force India, cannot break away from the financial strings that will eventually favour one driver over another. Dietrich Mateschitz as well as Vijay Mallya are hugely successful business men, the pressure to win will undoubtedly push sporting romanticism to one side.

Having said that, this year’s championship is shaping up nicely and for the fans. These different approaches to team tactics are providing enough on track excitement and intrigue to keep fans, sponsors and the team owners happy. At least for now.


We all want to see good clean & fair racing.

Manipulation erodes confidence in the sport.

But towards the end of the season fans understand what is at stake and would be prepared to allow team strategy as long as it was transparently clear to all what was happening.

This year we seem to have had two cases where one driver was allowed more power to pressure his leading team mate with the ‘leading driver’ unaware of what was going on.

But following the Barrichello and now Massa experiences don’t be surprised if pride does get in the way.

A fascinating end to the season coming up.

By the way the American say ‘stable mate’. The term seems more neutral and appropriate then ‘team mate’ given the icy relationships in teams these days.

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