Team orders. It’s an issue that has reared its head – often in ugly fashion – since the inception of Formula 1.
As F1 packs up for the month-long summer break, we take a look at team orders and team play. More specifically, the events at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
When Lewis Hamilton was allowed past Valtteri Bottas – quicker at that point in the Mercedes – to chase the Ferraris and make a real race of it in the final laps, it seemed the German manufacturer was, for the first time this season, making a clear, public call on who was the team’s No1.
Hamilton adhered to the orders and then let Bottas pass him at the death for the final podium spot to his teammate. At that stage, Hamilton was seven seconds ahead and, with three world titles to his name and so much more experience at Mercedes, remains the clear best bet for the title.
But graciously, he slowed to allow Bottas to pass – almost at the risk of losing another spot to Max Verstappen.
It equated to three lost points and team boss Toto Wolff admitted that “yes, it might cost him the world championship” but the team pushed the concept that it was the right thing, and it was just that.
Hamilton has always pushed the premise that, while he wants to win, he wants to win fairly, or in this case simply get the upper hand fairly.
Sure, he was faster than Bottas but he was making the point with his late gesture that he did not deserve that third spot behind the two Ferraris. There is the sense that Ferrari will go into the break buoyed by finally halting the Mercedes juggernaut, which had been building in Hungary.
But the decision by Hamilton and Mercedes to allow Bottas through for that deserving third spot is a subtle warning to Ferrari.
Essentially, the defending world champions have said they’re confident enough to lose three points in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championship for the rest of the season’s fight. And there is good reason for such a stance.
In recent weeks, it has become clear that Mercedes have been winning the development race. They might not have gained the upper hand in Hungary but they will have the power advantage at subsequent circuits, plus they know they have solved their greatest problem of the season.
There have been moments in the past when the team have not been able to get their rubber working properly. In places such as Russia and Monaco, Hamilton had all sorts of trouble with the Pirelli tyres underneath him.
Mercedes have widened that window in which the tyres best work, and the team go off on their respective summer breaks confident of the races and race weekends that lie ahead.
Of the other team orders on the weekend, Ferrari once again made it clear that Vettel is No1, Kimi Raikkonen’s body language in the immediate aftermath of the race merely accentuating that point.
And what of Red Bull? The team have refreshingly allowed their drivers to race with the one caveat in the team briefing beforehand being they give each other space in turns one and two.
Max Verstappen clearly was not listening and had a coming together with Daniel Ricciardo, which led to the other’s race demise from the outset.
So who says team orders have to be boring and negative? For once, it added all manner of frisson to the on-track action.
Jenson Button has weighed into Lewis Hamilton’s row with Sebastian Vettel by insisting that the Ferrari driver should not face further punishment for causing a deliberate collision in Azerbaijan.
Vettel is under investigation by the FIA after he banged wheels with title rival Hamilton during Sunday’s chaotic race.
The sport’s governing body will convene on Monday, six days before the next round in Austria, to determine whether the 10-second stop-and-go penalty that the championship leader served for dangerous driving was enough.
Button, who returned for a one-off appearance at the Monaco Grand Prix last month but has effectively retired from the sport, agreed that Vettel had not helped himself by refusing to accept blame for the incident.
But the 37-year-old feels the German, who leads Hamilton in the title race by 14 points, should not face further sanctions. The FIA could choose to fine Vettel, strip him of the 12 points he scored for finishing fourth in Baku, or indeed ban him.
“(The) Azerbaijan GP was a pleasure to watch,” Button, who partnered Hamilton for three years at McLaren, said on his official Twitter account. “Why? Because adrenaline and emotions were high.
“What Vettel did was silly but he’s been punished. Move on. A driver now knows that he will get a 10-sec drive (sic) which equates to 30 seconds with pit entry and exit, race game over.”
Vettel’s actions on lap 19, in which he hit Hamilton from behind before he pulled alongside the Briton and swerved into his car, could be deemed to have brought the sport into disrepute.
“I don’t think you can class it as road rage when it’s not on the road,” Button, the 2009 world champion, added. “You can’t compare racing with driving on the road as racing wouldn’t exist.”
The outcome of the FIA summit will be announced before the Austrian Grand Prix which takes place a week on Sunday.
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel believed a podium finish was possible in Canada after losing a significant haul of points to rival Lewis Hamilton in the title race.
Vettel dropped to the back of the field in the formative moments of Sunday’s race when he was forced to pit for a new front wing following damage sustained in a first-corner incident with Max Verstappen.
The Ferrari driver, who has seen his 25-point advantage reduced to just 12 following Hamilton’s victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, recovered to fourth, which included two passing moves on the Force India duo of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez in the closing laps.
But Vettel, the four-time champion, felt he had enough pace to pass Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, too, to steal the final spot on the podium here in Montreal.
“When you are last after six laps anything is a gain, but we could ideally have got on to the podium,” Vettel said. “We lost too much time fighting through the Force India cars.
“I knew we could recover position because the car is quick, but you have to fight your way through the field which is a lot of work, and it’s not easy.
“The imagination going into the race was of course a different one. The pace was there and the car deserved to finish higher up.”
Vettel was not particularly slow out of the starting blocks, but as Valtteri Bottas dived underneath the German, and then Verstappen raced around the outside, the driver who had finished either first or second at every round of the season so far was suddenly on the back foot.
TV replays showed that the fast-starting Verstappen, who later retired with technical gremlins, had nicked the nose of the Ferrari at Turn One, but the stewards took no action.
Vettel’s Ferrari team were also slow on the uptake after they failed to spot the German had sustained damage until the safety car – deployed after Carlos Sainz and Felipe Massa crashed out on the opening lap – pitted and the race resumed.
“I haven’t seen it from Max’s point of view, but obviously I was not expecting it,” added Vettel. “I was focusing on Valtteri and I did not have anywhere to go because Lewis was in front. If I brake later I run into Lewis.
“Max took his chance on the outside and ran over our front wing. He did not do it on purpose because normally you would get a puncture so in that regard he was lucky he did not get one.
“We had damage on the front wing which we did not notice initially, so we missed a free pit stop under the Safety Car.”