When Lewis Hamilton decided not to let Nico Rosberg past after being told to by his team, he became the latest in a series of drivers to have refused such an order in recent races.
Drivers haven’t always been so ready to spurn a team instruction. Fifteen years ago today Mika Salo gave up his best chance to win a grand prix to help Ferrari team mate Eddie Irvine’s championship bid. Irvine ultimately lost the title, and Salo never won an F1 race.
In Hamilton’s case he was weighing his own championship chances against his team mate’s. But there doesn’t have to be a championship or a race win hanging in the balance for team orders to come into play – or for a driver to decide they don’t wish to follow them.
Here are examples of team orders being issued during the past year-and-a-half – and whether the drivers involved did as they were told.
Team orders obeyed and disobeyed, 2013-2014
Paul di Resta, 2013 Australian Grand Prix
Adrian Sutil waited until the final stint of the 2013 Australian Grand Prix to get his mandatory run on the unfavourable super-soft tyre out of the way.
In the final laps he was being caught by team mate Paul di Resta, on the medium tyres, at over one-and-a-half seconds per lap. But Force India decided they didn’t want a last-lap battle between their drivers, and told Di Resta to back off, which he did:
|Post-race||Giampiero Lambiase||Paul di Resta||OK Paul P8.|
|Post-race||Paul di Resta||Giampiero Lambiase||Bit unfair in the last lap to stop me pushing.|
|Post-race||Giampiero Lambiase||Paul di Resta||OK, well done, P8.|
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Valtteri Bottas, 2013 Australian Grand Prix
Valtteri Bottas made his debut for Williams in the same race, and on lap 12 his team mate Pastor Maldonado appeared in his mirrors on a fresher set of tyres.
Williams told Bottas to make way but he chose not to, and Maldonado spent five laps within a second of his team mate before beginning to drop back, seemingly vindicating his team mate’s decision not to let him through.
|17||Jonathan Eddolls||Valtteri Bottas||Pastor’s faster than you, don’t hold him up.|
|18||Andrew Murdoch||Pastor Maldonado||Valtteri is slower than you, try to overtake, try to overtake|
Sebastian Vettel, 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix
One of the most notorious team orders episodes of recent seasons. Sebastian Vettel was told to hold position behind Mark Webber earlier in the race but in the final stint, with neither car under immediate threat from behind, believed he should have the chance to race his team mate for the win.
Vettel was given the infamous instruction “multi 21”, meaning the cars should run in the order Webber (two) followed by Vettel (one). He was familiar with the instruction, having requested “multi 12” during the Belgian Grand Prix the year before while running behind Webber.
Vettel may also have had in mind the events of the British Grand Prix two years earlier, when Webber had been told to hold position behind him in the final laps, but attacked his team mate for position. Vettel did the same, but unlike Webber he found a way past and went on to win the race – despite the chiding of team principal Christian Horner.
|48||Christian Horner||Sebastian Vettel||This is silly Seb, come on.|
|49||Simon Rennie||Mark Webber||OK Mark he was told, he was told.|
|49||Guillaume Rocquelin||Sebastian Vettel||Sebastian…|
|49||Sebastian Vettel||Guillaume Rocquelin||I was really scared main straight, all the time he was moving and I had to leave the line.|
|49||Guillaume Rocquelin||Sebastian Vettel||Sebastian you need to get out of the KERS pattern, get out of the KERS overtake pattern, the system won’t take it. No KERS overtake pattern. Use KERS normally. Sebastian be careful of front tyre wear, front tyre wear is high, both front and rear high wear.|
Nico Rosberg, 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix
Meanwhile in the same race Rosberg was not happy to be told to stay in fourth place behind team mate Hamilton, who lapping slowly to save fuel. After complaining to his race engineer several times, team principal Ross Brawn got involved.
Hamilton later emailled Brawn to explain he wasn’t happy with the use of team orders during the race.
|51||Nico Rosberg||Ross Brawn||I can go so much faster. Just let me go past.|
|51||Ross Brawn||Nico Rosberg||Negative. Negative, Nico. Nico, Lewis’s pace is what we’re asking him to do. He can go a lot faster as well. He’s being controlled as well.|
|51||Nico Rosberg||Ross Brawn||Then let’s go try and get the Red Bulls. We don’t know if they’re going to drop off the pace of not. They might have tyre problems.|
|51||Ross Brawn||Nico Rosberg||Understood but hold position please Nico.|
Romain Grosjean, 2013 British Grand Prix
The Lotus drivers crossed paths several times on the track last year. At Silverstone it was Romain Grosjean who was told to let Kimi Raikkonen by, which he did.
|14||Ayao Komatsu||Romain Grosjean||Kimi is faster than you.|
Romain Grosjean, 2013 German Grand Prix
The same happened again at the Nurburgring, though Grosjean appeared to have difficulty understanding the request. Earlier in the race he had complained he was being held up by Raikkonen.
|52||Ayao Komatsu||Romain Grosjean||Grosjean and Raikkonen are also lapping the Caterhams and Chilton while pursuing Vettel. Grosjean lets Raikkonen by on lap 55.|
Kimi on the [soft] tyre behind you is coming up very quickly, do not hold him up. You’ve got ten laps to go including this one.
|52||Romain Grosjean||Ayao Komatsu||I don’t understand?|
|52||Ayao Komatsu||Romain Grosjean||Kimi behind is on [soft] tyre and he’s very fast so do not hold him up.|
|55||Ayao Komatsu||Romain Grosjean||Grosjean is unclear whether he’s been giving a team order.|
Kimi behind is on [soft] tyre, do not hold him up.
|55||Romain Grosjean||Ayao Komatsu||Does that mean he’s faster than me?|
|55||Ayao Komatsu||Romain Grosjean||Yes, confirm, yes.|
Nico Rosberg, 2013 German Grand Prix
In the same race Rosberg was told to let Hamilton through, and not for the last time that year.
|12||Lewis Hamilton||Peter Bonnington||Nico is not in the same race.|
|12||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||Nico you are on a different strategy to Lewis, don’t hold him up.|
|13||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||Raikkonen is immediately behind Lewis, Lewis is on a different strategy.|
|14||Nico Rosberg||Tony Ross||Do I let him by?|
|14||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||Affirm Nico, he’s on a different strategy, but remember Raikkonen is immediately behind him.|
Felipe Massa, 2013 Japanese Grand Prix
A ban on team orders had been in place until 2010, when Ferrari ordered Felipe Massa to let Fernando Alonso win the German Grand Prix with the instantly immortal words “Fernando is faster than you”. Like Salo before him, Massa did as he was bidden.
But by late 2013, after it had been confirmed that Raikkonen would replace him at Ferrari, Massa was no longer inclined to do as he was told.
“Multifunction strategy A” was Ferrari’s equivalent of “Multi 21” – an instruction for Massa to let Alonso past. But this time Massa refused.
|8||Rob Smedley||Felipe Massa||Multifunction strategy A. Multifunction strategy A. Now, please.|
Kimi Raikkonen, 2013 Indian Grand Prix
In India it was finally Grosjean’s turn to get the benefit of a team order, though Raikkonen put up a struggle to begin with, forcing him off the track at turn four. The team were clearly exasperated with the situation, but later apologised for the nature of the order.
|57||Romain Grosjean||Ayao Komatsu||Come on, guys!|
|57||Ayao Komatsu||Romain Grosjean||OK we are telling Kimi.|
|58||Alan Permane||Kimi Raikkonen||Censored by FOM.|
Kimi get out of the ******* way.
|58||Kimi Raikkonen||Alan Permane||Censored by FOM.|
Don’t shout, **** when I have a chance but not in the middle of the fast corners.
Giedo van der Garde, 2013 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
It’s not just the teams at the front who feel the need to impose a running order on their drivers. This exchange of positions between the Caterham drivers was over 18th place.
|22||Giedo van der Garde||Juan Pablo Ramirez||He’s holding me up a lot.|
|22||Tim Wright||Charles Pic||Charles, let Giedo past.|
|22||Charles Pic||Tim Wright||Why? We are in different strategy?|
|22||Tim Wright||Charles Pic||Giedo is faster than you. If Giedo does not pull away we will swap back.|
Nico Rosberg, 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix
The ever-obedient Rosberg made way for Hamilton again at last year’s season finale.
|12||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||So Nico, we’d like you to let Lewis through. We think you may be holding him up. Just to build a gap to Massa. We are in your Safety Car window now.|
Felipe Massa, 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix
Perhaps keen to lay down a marker at his new team, Massa was unwilling to let his new Williams team mate Bottas through earlier this year in Malaysia.
A few races later in Canada Bottas was given a similar instruction, but shortly afterwards was delayed in a battle with another driver which allowed Massa to slip by.
|53||Andrew Murdoch||Felipe Massa||OK Felipe. Valtteri is faster than you, do not hold him up. Valtteri is faster than you, do not hold him up.|
|53||Jonathan Eddolls||Valtteri Bottas||You’re faster than Massa, overtake him. You’re faster than Massa, overtake him. You’re faster than Felipe, overtake him now.|
|53||Andrew Murdoch||Felipe Massa||OK Felipe, Valtteri’s faster than you, he’s got fresher tyres, do not hold him up.|
|53||Andrew Murdoch||Felipe Massa||OK Felipe, Valtteri has got better tyres, we need to let him go.|
|54||Rod Nelson||Felipe Massa||Felipe you’re slower than Valtteri, let him past. You’re slower than Valtteri, don’t hold him up.|
|54||Felipe Massa||Andrew Murdoch||Getting quicker.|
|55||Jonathan Eddolls||Valtteri Bottas||Pull to the right to cool the engine on the straight, pull to the right.|
|55||Valtteri Bottas||Jonathan Eddolls||I have more pace but if he’s releasing full every straight there’s no chance I can get through.|
|55||Jonathan Eddolls||Valtteri Bottas||Copy that, we’re racing him.|
|55||Andrew Murdoch||Felipe Massa||Felipe we need you to cool the car for temperatures.|
|55||Andrew Murdoch||Felipe Massa||OK we need to lift and coast to cool the car, we need you to lift and coast to cool the car.|
|56||Andrew Murdoch||Felipe Massa||OK Felipe we’ll hold position, Valtteri will not attack you, Valtteri will not attack you. Just cool the car, keep cooling the car. Valtteri will not attack you, just cool the car.|
|56||Valtteri Bottas||Jonathan Eddolls||I can get him in the next lap. Can I get?|
|56||Jonathan Eddolls||Valtteri Bottas||We really need to cool the engine. Negative on the overtake.|
Sebastian Vettel, 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix
In Bahrain this year Sebastian Vettel had to make way for his new team mate Daniel Ricciardo after suffering a DRS glitch:
|16||Daniel Ricciardo||Simon Rennie||We’re losing time like this.|
|16||Simon Rennie||Daniel Ricciardo||Understood mate.|
|16||Daniel Ricciardo||Simon Rennie||We’ve got to decide what to do.|
|16||Guillaume Rocquelin||Sebastian Vettel||Sebastian, let Daniel go through please. Daniel is quicker than you, let him by please.|
|16||Sebastian Vettel||Guillaume Rocquelin||Copy. I’ll do it 11 – turn 11.|
Sebastian Vettel, 2014 Chinese Grand Prix
At the very next race Vettel was asked to let Ricciardo through again, but wasn’t as accommodating to begin with. Ricciardo eventually did get by, but whether Vettel let his team mate past or simply ran too deep at turn one is a matter of debate.
|24||Guillaume Rocquelin||Sebastian Vettel||Sebastian let Ricciardo through, let Daniel through please.|
|25||Sebastian Vettel||Guillaume Rocquelin||Which tyre is he on?|
|25||Guillaume Rocquelin||Sebastian Vettel||[Mediums], but he stopped later than you.|
|25||Sebastian Vettel||Guillaume Rocquelin||Tough luck.|
|25||Simon Rennie||Daniel Ricciardo||OK close up to him and overtake him.|
|26||Guillaume Rocquelin||Sebastian Vettel||Sebastian, Daniel is on a two-stop, Daniel on a two stop.|
|26||Sebastian Vettel||Guillaume Rocquelin||Think about boxing.|
|26||Guillaume Rocquelin||Sebastian Vettel||Understood. We’re looking at gaps.|
Lewis Hamilton, 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix
Hamilton had fought his way through the field having started in the pits to get in front of his team mate and championship rival. Asking him to let Rosberg past might have been the fair thing to do from the point of view of Rosberg’s strategy, but Hamilton could hardly be expected to immediately throw away his hard-won advantage.
|47||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||OK Lewis. Gap to Nico one second. He’s on the [soft] tyre. He has one more stop, so don’t hold him up.|
|48||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||So there’s free track behind Nico. You don’t need to use the tyres up defending against Nico.|
|51||Nico Rosberg||Tony Ross||Why is he not letting me through?|
|51||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||OK Lewis, if you let Nico past this lap, please. Let Nico past on the main start/finish straight.|
|51||Lewis Hamilton||Peter Bonnington||I’m not slowing down for Nico. If he can get close and overtake, then he can overtake.|
|51||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||So stay in torque mode-zero, Lewis. And if you can let Nico past into this braking area.|
|52||Nico Rosberg||Tony Ross||Why is he not letting me through?|
|52||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||He’s had the message, Nico. He’s had the message.|
Drivers ignoring orders to stay behind their team mates or let them past is nothing new – there are famous examples of it happening before.
When the ban on team orders was lifted at the end of 2010 the view was put forward by some that this would encourage teams not to try to cover up their messages for fear of being punished.
That has not entirely been the case. Some teams have resorted to code phrases – “Multi 21”, “Multifunction A” and so on. Others use language much the same as that heard during the years of the team orders band: ‘Your team mate is faster than you,” and similar phrases.
However there have been other influential changes since then which have increased the opportunity for teams to use team orders, made it more likely we might hear them – and perhaps also raised the likelihood drivers will disobey them.
The use of Pirelli’s ‘designed to degrade’ tyres since 2011 means pit stop strategy now plays a more significant role. Teams are more alert to the importance of not having one of their cars stuck behind the other, so the opportunity for team orders to be used has increased.
The other important change has been the increase in the amount of team radio traffic which is broadcast, particularly since 2012. It was easier to hush up team orders before, but now drivers and teams know anything they discuss might be broadcast to the entire world.
No driver wants to be beaten by the one rival who has the same equipment as them – much less be ordered to give way to them. With pride at stake, it would not be a surprise if this has made them less inclined to do as they are told.
2014 F1 season
- Fear of rules change led Mercedes to run dominant 2014 engine in “idle mode”
- Bianchi’s fight for life ends nine months after Japanese Grand Prix crash
- Mercedes’ Bahrain battle “too dangerous” – Warwick
- Streiff’s comments on Bianchi crash investigation prompts legal action from FIA
- Is stewarding improving? Analysing 2014’s penalties
Images © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Red Bull/Getty, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo