Formula 1 News

History of team orders in Formula One

What can current drivers learn from the past effects of defiance or compliance?
Sunday, April 7, 2013

April 7th, 2013 (F1plus/B. Dixon).- Respect:  The fundamental factor in determining whether a driver will obey or defy a command from their team.  Team orders have been prevalent ever since the first roar of a Formula One engine vibrated through the air, imprinting itself on a multitude of eardrums.  Since the dawn of the driver’s championship in 1956, calls to follow instructions from the team have been met with obedience, or defiance demonstrating the level of respect a driver possesses both for the man in equal machinery and the team they drive for.

In the opening years of Formula One, team orders were more extreme, with leading drivers in a team often commandeering the car of a teammate if a mechanical failure or incident on track were to befall them. Going into the 1956 season as a triple world champion, Juan Manual Fangio enjoyed team leader status at Ferrari. In the closing race of the season at Monza, the Argentinean’s retirement left his teammate, Peter Collins, with the opportunity to grab the championship for himself. However, in a display of gallant respect for his colleague, he willingly sacrificed his own car, and chances, so that Fangio could cross the finishing line to claim his fourth championship victory.  To surrender one’s own ambitions for another shows an immense amount of respect, and in this case even admiration. Collins’ respect for Fangio may have been bolstered by the Argentinian’s own compliance with a request that he allowed Stirling Moss to pass in order to win the 1955 British Grand Prix. Being a value that is fluidic between two parties, respect shown for another can invite it to be returned. 

 A driver on the receiving end of both a call to obey an order and being disadvantaged by defiance of one was Gilles Villeneuve. Team mate Jody Schekter was helped to win the 1979 driver’s title after Gilles dutifully abided by Ferrari’s wish that the South African take the victory in Monza, leaving himself second in the race and championship. Exhibiting respect for Ferrari and his teammate in this way did not, however, help him three years later at Imola in 1982. Gilles’ peer at Ferrari Didier Peroni won the race, or as Gilles believed, pillaged what should have been his victory, after Peroni rebelled against the Ferrari rule that drivers stay in the positions held when initially reaching first and second in the race. This disregard for team orders had devastating consequences, as unable to free himself from the fog of fury, and determined to secure pole position over Peroni, Villenueve attacked qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix with a fervour that resulted in the tragic loss of his life. 

Destructive in definition, defiance of team orders is damaging to relationships within a team.  Relations at Williams became strained after the 1981 Brazilian Grand Prix. Instructions were that reigning Champion Alan Jones should be handed the lead should a one-two situation arise. At only round two of the season, Carlos Reutemann paraded his umbrage at this by preventing Jones from passing. Bad blood broiled between the two resulting in the retirement of Jones at the end of the season (or so they say). A subsequent row with team boss, Frank Williams signalled the Argentinian departure from Formula One following the 1982 Brazilian Grand Prix, a year after his rebellion. The lack of respect for the team made evident by his insubordination was clearly an issue that didn’t go away (still, Reutemann was a veteran in his final F1 years). 

Another relationship damaged by refusal to comply was the one between fellow French drivers Rene Arnoux and Alain Prost. Having previously shown the fervour and desire Arnoux had for victory in France through his exhilarating battle with Villenueve at Dijon in 1979, perhaps patriotism and longing to win a home race clouded his judgement at Paul Ricard 1982, when he refused to concede the victory to Renault team leader Prost. In a season that saw the highest number of race winners in the history of the sport, the points lost were vital. 

Not being their usual policy to elect a clear number one driver, prior agreements to safeguard maximum points for the team was a familiar approach at McLaren. It was one of these agreements that caused Prost to suffer another injustice.  Following a restart at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1989, Ayrton Senna reneged on a pre race agreement stating that the driver in the lead at the first turn will be left to lead the race. The incident added fuel to an already simmering fire between the teammates. A similar agreement was in place prior to the 1998 Australian Grand Prix. Having reached turn one in first place, Mika Hakkinen was the driver to benefit from the team orders in order to take victory. Mid way through the race, he lost his position to team mate David Coulthard following a mysterious call to come into the pits, leaving Coulthard to honour his part of the deal by handing back the place at the end of the race. Though condemned for this move, the respect the Scot held for his team and was clearly apparent.   

With team orders being such a prickly subject, drivers should take lessons from the past to help them handle it correctly.  While obsequiously obeying team orders ensures a harmonious working environment, defiance can have devastating effects. 

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