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Toyota and Team Orders

Autosport magazine reports that the Toyota team did ask Jarno Trulli to move over and let Ralf Schumacher through in the Japanese Grand Prix. Apparently, this has caused some frustration to Toyota management since it may have resulted in the loss of points – there is some speculation that Ralf could have beaten both Button and Raikkonen (yeah, right) had Trulli done as he was told. Jarno is unrepentant, however:

Trulli said after the race that his pace was slow because of tyre issues, but that the team should have been happy for both cars to finish in the points.

“I had several problems and struggled with my last set of tyres – particularly for the first 10 laps,” he explained. “The most important thing is that we both scored points.”

Jarno

Jarno and Ralf

This is all very interesting as regards the team’s harmony or lack of it, but isn’t something being missed? Have we all forgotten about the ban on team orders?

Autosport avoid implicating the Toyota team by stating that their information came from a “source” but, being a reputable magazine, I can’t see it publishing anything that did not come from someone who should know. And that means someone within the team, surely.

It should also be remembered that the TV commentators to the race fully expected that Trulli would have to let Ralf through – the German was obviously faster and it made perfect sense for the sake of the team that he be let loose. I think we must all have shared in the surprise that this did not happen and that the Toyotas circulated for the rest of the race at Trulli’s pace.

So, what of the ban on team orders? Would not Toyota’s request, repeated three times, have amounted to just that? If it had been Massa being asked to let Schumacher through into the lead, would not every other team be lodging protests? It seems to me that there are double standards at work here – one rule for when it really matters and another when no-one could care less.

In fact, the whole thing merely shows up the stupidity of the ban on team orders anyway. F1 is a team sport (there would be nothing for the stars to drive were it not for their teams) and sometimes things have to be arranged for the good of the team – or for the sake of a championship. Team orders have been a part of F1 from the very beginning and it is only recently that any comment, let alone protest, has been raised over them. And that is because the audience base has increased so rapidly that it includes many who have yet to learn all the nuances of the sport. Those who understand how it all works raise no eyebrows over such things.

The rule is impossible to police anyway. It is easy enough for the number two driver to pretend to fight for his position while letting the number one through. And these days number twos go into every race knowing what they must do if the situation arises (just ask Massa about that). There is no need for the team to get on the blower and issue instructions – that’s all taken care of beforehand.

In the end, it comes down to personal opinion on whether a driver is obeying team orders or not when his team leader passes him. And, as we saw at Monza, rules that depend upon personal interpretation are an open invitation to abuse.

The rules and regulations governing F1 are complicated enough without including such meddling in team affairs. I say the FIA should get rid of the ban and let things take their normal course. Yes, occasionally a crowd favorite might have to give way to a team leader for the sake of the championship; but that’s F1 – sometimes the team’s interests must come before an individual’s.

And another thing: who would bet on Jarno Trulli receiving 100% of the team’s efforts next year?

One Response to “Toyota and Team Orders”

  1. [...] Also amongst Mario’s statements was the news that Heidfeld was asked to let Kubica through when the Pole came up behind him in the Japanese GP but the German driver refused to do so, in exactly similar manner to the Trulli/Schumacher situation in the same race. As I pointed out in my article on the Toyota incident, this cannot be good for the functioning of the team. Once a driver has denied a request intended to help the team, there is always a suspicion that he will do the same again. [...]

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