Will Gray

Gray Matter: Can F1 work the team orders game?

Will Gray

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Ferrari's embarrassingly blatant driver switch in Germany flaunted the F1 rules - but is there any way that the sport can bring back team orders in a way that keeps fans happy?

Team orders have always been a part of grand prix racing but since a ban on them was introduced in 2002, teams have been forced into making thinly veiled moves to switch positions, be it through a fumbled stop in the pits, a temporary mechanical glitch or an 'independent' decision by the lead driver to slow and pull over on the track.

The wording of the ban, in Sporting Regulation 39.1, is pretty open for interpretation, stating only: "Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited."

So any move that sees a team 'interfere' with the race by switching driver positions is breaking the rules - but so too, in the word of the law, is 'interfering' with the race by telling drivers to hold station in the latter stages of a grand prix to save fuel or to protect the engine - and that is now standard practice.

It's a team game, whether positions are switching or staying the same.

McLaren and Red Bull, however, have claimed proudly this season that they are not playing the team game and are allowing their drivers to race each other. That's admirable, but it won't last forever.

When the Red Bull pair crashed in Turkey there were cries of 'how could they let their drivers collide' and then, when they continued to let them race and another first-lap fight cost Sebastian Vettel vital championship points at Silverstone, they were criticised for throwing away their advantage.

Well, if your two drivers are racing, that's the risk.

Formula One's fundamental problem is that it is a team game where the prize for an individual is greater than the one for the group.

Given the importance of teamwork in F1 - not only on track but also behind the scenes - the constructors' championship should really be the ultimate prize. Yet it is the drivers' crown that is put as priority.

It would be like Manchester United not caring whether they won the Champions League or not, as long as Wayne Rooney won player of the tournament.

So how about admitting the sport is a team game, bringing back team orders and scrapping the drivers' championship altogether. And throw in Bernie's medal idea to decide F1's 'golden boot'?

A bit extreme? Probably.

Alternatively, what if the ban on team orders (position switching OR position holding) was retained, but only for the first third of a season? Teams would, in the regulations, have to allow their drivers to have an open fight to claim as many points for themselves as possible.

At the chosen marker, the points table could then decide who gets number one status and who is the number two within the team - and from then on if team orders are allowed and it becomes a team game, with the number two driver conceding to the number one in any case where they are closely competitive.

Still too extreme? Probably.

But it gets you thinking...

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