Current world champion Jenson Button has weighed in on the Ferrari team orders issue that arose from the ashes of the German Grand Prix this weekend. The team has been accused of “bringing the sport into disrepute” by asking driver Felipe Massa to let teammate Fernando Alonso pass him with 18 laps remaining in the race.
While Button faces his own intra-team rivalry with teammate Lewis Hamilton, the team have maintained that they have no team orders and will let their drivers race each other even if it means forfeiting the championships. Red Bull experienced the working end of that notion when teammate Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber collided in the Turkish Grand Prix throwing away 43 points toward their championship account tally.
Button feels team orders are bad for the sport and as a driver, why wouldn’t he? He also had the comfort of being in a Ross Brawn ran team last year that saw his teammate Rubens Barrichello throw the toys from the pram on several occasions alleging team orders and favoritism and one wonders, given Brawn’s history with Ferrari, if there was fire where there was smoke? Button said:
“Personally I think team orders in Formula One are wrong, in any motor sport category, although sometimes they are inevitable.
“We all want to win, and I know that every team wants to win, both the constructors’ and drivers’ championships. But they have to give both their drivers the same opportunity to do so. This was very early in the season. How early is it going to start in the future?”
For any driver given the message “your team-mate is faster” â€“ as was Massa by his race engineer, Rob Smedley â€“ the natural reaction would be to speed up, not slow down. “If I was told my team-mate is faster, I would think my team-mate is faster, so I would keep driving and hope he doesn’t overtake me,” said Button, who now hopes he can take advantage of the sour aftertaste that has no doubt been left within the Ferrari ranks.
“We are in front [in the drivers’ and constructors’ championship] of all of those people who are having issues. Whatever happened, Felipe didn’t look very happy so it is not going to help the environment within the team is it? We are all big boys and we have all experienced things in the past that maybe we are not 100% happy with. But you move on.”
To their credit, McLaren, with drivers Button and Lewis Hamilton, were most often voted the most likely to have intra-team battles but so far no fireworks have ignited. Perhaps they will break the mold but the onslaught of “best buddies” videos, press releases and photo op’s have been a real reversal from the tumultuous days of Hamilton/Alonso during the 2007 season.
I would expect the team orders issue to not be a favorite to half the drivers on the grid. The half that are lagging behind their teammates. I would also expect that most of the teams, if allowed to be candid, admit that there are times when team orders have to be considered for the best result for the team. Whether they choose to act on those moments is up for interpretation and radio code and signals are most likely used in the process.
Time will tell if Button and Hamilton will continue to play nicely but so far, it seems probable. time will also tell whether McLaren’s public disdain for team orders will hold true as well. They have a checkered past with team orders and favoritism which are not the same thing but often live in the same apartment. We’ll see.