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.