Team Orders? What Team Orders? Malaysian GP Analysis

That was an interesting race. And then some. You don’t often see Fernando Alonso run into the back of his rivals at the first corner and you don’t often see the leader among those first to pit in changing conditions. The decision of Sebastian Vettel to dive into the pits could, and perhaps should, depending on your viewpoint, have cost him the race.

What isn’t unusual is team orders. They have been around since the start of motor racing, were still in action when the FIA (ludicrously) tried to outlaw them, and they will continue to be around. While we, the fans, want to be entertained, the teams’ primary objective is to leave each Grand Prix weekend with as many points as they possibly can, which is why team orders are employed. It’s about risk management, not favouring one driver over another. The general rule is that whoever is in front once both drivers have finished their pit stops will retain that position. If one guy is consistently faster and leading at that point, it’s up to his team-mate to beat him and make sure he is in prime position to benefit. Pure and simple.

Let’s not forget that without the teams, there would be no Formula One. Drivers come and go but teams like Ferrari, McLaren and Williams have been around for longer than most drivers have been alive. Their first instinct is survival. Get enough points on the board to earn the prize money to keep developing and stay in the game. If that means that everybody effectively knows who will win the race once the last pit stop is done, then so be it. In such a scenario where one team is massively dominant, such as McLaren in 1988, Williams in 1992 and McLaren in 1998, it’s as much the fault of the other teams and drivers for being so far behind to allow team orders to come into play.

Anyway, back to the race. Felipe Massa’s late pace suggested that had Alonso kept his nose clean, things might have been very different at the front; so too, had Mercedes not misjudged the pace of the race and put more fuel in their cars or McLaren not made a mistake that ruined Jenson Button’s race. I had tipped Paul di Resta for a points finish but it seems that Force India picked today to have the worst set of pit stops possibly ever seen in F1. Both he and Adrian Sutil suffered, but they will be encouraged by the start to the season – good pace compromised by team mistakes. The good times will come.

Massa has now outqualified Alonso four times in a row and the decision by Ferrari to extend his contract last season is now looking like a very good one. At the time, it raised a few eyebrows, but it is good for the sport, and Ferrari, for Massa to be on the pace again. I had him down as a podium finisher, but his poor start cost him a shot at that but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s back on the top step before too long.

My pre-race tips didn't really come close in the end but I probably ended the day in a better mood than the top four finishers.
My pre-race tips didn’t really come close in the end but I probably ended the day in a better mood than the top four finishers.

Button, meanwhile, had again proved what a canny racer he is with a clever run to the front before his race unravelled. He has clearly assumed number one status at McLaren and Sergio Perez, although he managed to finish ninth, does not yet look entirely comfortable in his new surroundings. Time is on his side, but it was interesting to see him spend some of the race battling with, and then finishing behind, Nico Hulkenberg, driving the car that he vacated last year.

Some observers, including yours truly, felt that Sauber produced an exceptionally quick car last year and that neither Perez nor Kamui Kobayashi did it justice. Given how racy Hulkenberg was, and where he finished, it looks as if they have produced another good one and that the theory about how quick Perez really is could well be on the money. It’s one to watch, in any case. Hulkenberg to Red Bull in 2014?

Then of course, Vettel disobeyed the team order to pass Mark Webber, proving once again, that he can scrap his way to a victory if required. Not much more needs to be said about his disobedience as he has apologised and the team has called it unacceptable. I guess he just couldn’t help himself. Like taking one more biscuit than you should when you’re on a diet, or staying in bed for an extra five minutes when you know you’ve got to make an early start, you know you shouldn’t, but temptation, adrenaline and frustration is a heady mix and it got the better of him.

He isn’t the first, and he won’t be the last, but boy is Webber going to be pissed if he misses the title by seven points or less.

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