On the subject of team orders

Jamie BarkerIt wasn’t the comfortable Sunday afternoon drive that Sebastian Vettel was hoping for but after plenty of worries, he eventually claimed the race win in Hungary and 25 points for the championship fight. As the German eloquently sums his race up in his own words “I don’t know: to be honest it doesn’t matter now – we won the race!”

After the race, a lot of opinions on social media pointed towards the race being dominated by team orders which dampened the spectacle of the race. Whilst I agree that team orders played a big role at the Hungaroring, it was not the team orders of old that we saw in Austria 2002 or in Germany 2010; in this instance it was gaining the best result for the team.

Kimi Raikkonen can sometimes be heavily labelled as the number two driver at Ferrari and although that may be true on occasion, on Sunday he was playing the team game rather than being a number two to Sebastian.

Ferrari took the decision for Kimi to stay behind Seb despite the German’s handling issues. This worked out well for the team as it meant they finished with an important one-two result heading into the summer break. Should Kimi have been allowed to challenge Vettel for the lead, the one-two would’ve been in jeopardy.

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“Three, four laps after the safety car I don’t know why the steering started to go sideways and it seemed to get worse. I stayed off the kerbs and tried to save the car – it wasn’t easy.” – Sebastian Vettel [Image: Ferrari]
If the Fin had been allowed to streak clear, Sebastian and his handling issues would have left him vulnerable to the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and possibly his team-mate Bottas and Max Verstappen who had a brilliant first stint of 42 laps on the super-soft tyres. Raikkonen acted as a protective shelter for his team-mate and whether opinions state it was team-orders or not, it was the best way to guarantee a one-two for the team.

Mercedes used team orders in a different way to organise a switch between their drivers to allow Lewis Hamilton to attack the Ferrari’s and claim victory. Again, while this may be labelled a team orders, it was used to obtain the best result for the team and while Lewis wasn’t able to pass either Ferrari largely down to the turbulent air proving too advantageous for the car ahead.

This manoeuvre of team-mates included the tactic that Red Bull employed at Monaco in 2015 whereby the driver who lets his team-mate through (in this instance Valtteri Bottas) will be handed his position back if no track positions are gained from the move. Unfortunately for Lewis, this was the case and he had to fall back 8 seconds on the last lap to let his Finnish team-mate through. Some argued that this would be too risky with Verstappen’s Red Bull lurking less than 2 seconds behind Bottas but Hamilton ‘kept his word’ and completed the switch as he ‘wants to win the title in the right way’.

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True to his word, Hamilton moved aside and let Bottas capture third. [Image: Mercedes]
An act of nobility and sportsmanship from the triple world champion. However, should Sebastian Vettel win the championship by less than three points then that may be an action he’ll regret come the end of the season. Similarly, if Valtteri wins the championship by six points or less then arguably that will be even more difficult to take.

Pressure in the pits

In the midfield pack it was a tight battle between McLaren, Force India, Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas. On a track notoriously difficult to overtake and with 2017’s on-track domino effect due to the huge amount of turbulent air coming from the car in front, the pit stops proved pivotal for track position.

The first casualty was Romain Grosjean who was already annoyed after contact with Nico Hulkenberg at turn one. A cross threaded wheel nut forced the Frenchman’s retirement on lap 20. Casualty number two was Stoffel Vandoorne who stopped two metres too far in his pit box according to Eric Boullier. Whilst this cost him an additional four or five seconds, the Belgian still managed 10th position to claim his first points of the season and McLaren’s first double points finish in 2017.

Nico Hulkenberg also had a troubled pit stop with problems on the front right tyre. This left him out of contention of any points on Sunday afternoon.

War of words

The last race before the summer break raised tension between drivers. Not least the Red Bulls who came together at turn two when Max Verstappen locked up and hit the side of Ricciardo forcing him to retire from the race. Daniel was described his qualifying with some fruity language on Saturday evening believing he could make big gains in the race. Thus many can understand his frustrations when he retired, branding his team-mate ‘immature’ and described his move as amateurish.

Scorching temperatures surrounded the Hungaroring on Sunday and this showed further with the exchange of words between Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen. The German congratulated Kevin on having the worst sportsmanship quality on the grid and labelled him as a ‘nasty’ driver. Magnussen’s response was one that was born out of a little petulance added to the fact that he hinted that his squeeze on Hulkenberg was a retaliation of the squeeze that Nico pulled on Romain Grosjean at turn one.

Hopefully the summer break will allow all teams and drivers to refresh and prepare themselves for a gruelling second half of the season.

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