Ferrari: Memories of team orders in Austria should act as a stark warning

Amid the myriad of talking points after Sunday’s exhilarating British Grand Prix at Silverstone, one incident which has not gone unnoticed involved race-winner Carlos Sainz’s very direct and forthright rebuttal to Ferrari’s instruction to impose team orders; a call which effectively earned him his maiden Formula 1 victory.

With race leader Charles Leclerc the only member of the top-four not to pit for fresh rubber, Ferrari told the Spaniard to keep 10 car lengths away from the Monegasque ahead of him during the safety car period to protect their Championship hopeful. Sainz, quite rightly, protested in disagreement and his subsequent overtaking of his teammate was an inevitability.

The dilemma presented to Sainz is undoubtedly uncomfortable in a sport often split between team and individual priorities. On this occasion, Sainz’s decision proved fruitful. And yet, with the two Scuderia drivers neck-and-neck, we’ve been here before.

In 2002, at the formerly named A-Ring in Spielberg which will host this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix, the sport saw one of the most contentious conclusions to a Grand Prix in World Championship history. A moment, and reaction, which forced the FIA ​​to revisit their regulations surrounding team orders.

Carlos Sainz at Silverstone


Leading the race heading into the final lap one second ahead of teammate and Championship leader Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barichello was given the instruction no driver wants to hear. Quite unfathomably, Ferrari team principal Jean Todt ordered the Brazilian to move aside, for the “best interests” of the team, as they targeted a third-straight Drivers Championship for the unflappable Schumacher.

“The reason it came on the last lap was because I said no the whole time,” Barichello tells The Independent20 years on.

“That shouldn’t have been the case. I wished I had a telephone at the time so I could call my dad and ask for his opinion of him! ”

Of course, there was no chance for a second opinion on speed-dial. Stuck in the archives of F1’s most notable controversies, Barichello allowed Schumacher to glide past him a matter of meters from the checkered flag. British broadcaster James Allen, commentating for ITV, summed up the thoughts of millions: “I do not believe it. I do not Adam and Eve it. What is going on?!”

Michael Schumacher crosses the line first after Rubens Barichello obeyed team orders in 2002

(AFP via Getty Images)

Barichello, who at that time had only achieved one race victory, was impressively magnanimous in the immediate aftermath and remains to this day: “I had no time and I had to take an action. I think 99 per cent of the whole world, if they had listened to what I had listened to, would have done the same.

“Now the team radios are open to everyone because of that day. In the end, it had a positive impact on the Formula 1 world.”

Todt has since admitted he was in the wrong to invoke team orders in that scenario, particularly given Schumacher steamrolled to the Championship by 77 points to Barichello – who took top spot on the podium at Schumacher’s request that day in May 2002. Ferrari’s technical director at the time, Ross Brawn, now notably Formula 1’s managing director of motorsports, has also since branded the episode as “on reflection… a mistake”.

The response on the day in the stands and in the months after across the motorsport world was fury. The FIA ​​moved to bar “team orders that interfere with the race result” from the 2003 season, a rule which has since been dropped. Yet team orders – and the predicaments they bring on the pit wall and in the cockpit – remain rife to this day, seen earlier in the season in Barcelona when an irritated Sergio Perez was overtaken by Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen and on Sunday at Silverstone.

Quite what Ferrari’s outlook now – with just 11 points separating Leclerc and Sainz in the leaderboard – heading into the half-way mark of the season is anyone’s guess. Leclerc dismissed claims of disunity in the camp on Thursday ahead of the second sprint weekend.

But as Formula 1 rolls back into the spectacular Styrian mountains with Ferrari challenging at the top once again, memories of yesteryear should act as a reminder that, sometimes, the easiest methodology is to just let the drivers drive.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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