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Team Orders: I’m Really Tired of Thinking about Them

A few weeks ago, after the FIA press conference in Spa, I lamented the reluctance of the various team representatives to say anything substantive about the Ferrari team-orders controversy.  I especially picked on Martin Whitmarsh for giving a rather Clintonian non-answer to Joe Saward’s question.  Well, once the hearing was over (there was a hearing, in case you didn’t know!), Whitmarsh was no longer mincing his words.

. . . if you want to win a World Championship you have to look at yourself in the mirror and believe that you won it, that it has not been gifted.

Of course, this has led to the usual howls about hypocrisy, but that doesn’t particularly interest me.  What interests me more is whether he and McLaren will honestly adhere to this philosophy now, regardless of what might have happened in the past and whether the rule banning team orders is repealed in the future.

It also interests me that he’s hit upon the part of all this I simply fail to get on a visceral level — a particular aspect I haven’t seen discussed quite as much as I’d expected to, probably because it has less to do with concrete rules and regulations and more to do with driver psychology.  I try and try to imagine what sort of satisfaction anyone could derive from having someone let them win, and I just fail every single time.  Even if somehow the only people who knew for sure were you and your team, wouldn’t that be enough to taint everything? Especially considering how competitive teammates tend to be — have to be — with one another.  You, as presumably the “better,” more favored driver, would have to look your “lesser” teammate in the eye and know that he knows.  I let you win, because you couldn’t beat me any other way. Who would ever want that?

So it’s probable that “satisfaction,” the way I define it, is often entirely beside the point.  Formula 1 is both a multigazillion-dollar business and, as has been hammered home over and over again lately, a “team sport.”  A win is a win, and points are points, and if you win the drivers’ world championship by a few of those points because your teammate was ordered to move aside and let you past, you’ll still always be called “world champion.”  Period.  That’s what matters to the team, and that’s what matters to sponsors, I presume.  I suppose it’s what matters to at least some drivers, as well.

I am so, so tired of reading about how team orders are used, have always been used, and will always be used by every single Formula 1 team on a daily basis and are a time-honored, hallowed, and beloved tradition within the sport, and anyone who has a problem with it is an ignoramus living in a sparkly fantasy world and ought to either grow the hell up and buy a clue or find some other sport to be a fan of.  Yes, yes, we’re all duly chastened by your seasoned, clear-eyed realism and your superior understanding of what the whole sport is really all about.  And I think many of us are probably getting used to the idea that team orders will soon be legal once again.  But it seems to me that the degree to which so many fans — ignoramuses though we might be — did get upset about what happened in Germany ought to at least matter.  A little?  Maybe?  Even if it’s only for straight-up, cold-blooded monetary reasons.  Sometimes, even hallowed traditions ought to be reconsidered — much as they were back in 2002.  Even if the solution that was decided on then was as utterly unworkable as so many people say, hopefully everyone can come up with something better this time.

In the mean time, whatever the FIA eventually decides, Martin Whitmarsh has told James Allen that the McLaren drivers will be allowed to race as long as he’s in charge, even if it means losing the title.  As long as there are people like him involved in Formula 1, I’ll be holding off trying to find some other sport to be a fan of, thanks.  We deluded ignoramuses aren’t all going anywhere just yet.


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