McLaren’s Turkish ‘team orders’?

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One thing Turkey taught us is there are such things as team structure and perhaps politics. Nothing new to any F1 fan of over a month or so. What intrigued me about the reaction of Red Bull when drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel collided was the instant implication of Webber in the incident. That hasn’t gone unnoticed the world over and Red Bull have initiated a swift campaign to neutralize comments made by team boss Christian Horner and team consultant Helmut Marko.

This issue has bee exacerbated by the disparity in pace between the two drivers with some suggesting it was the tires while others say it was all-out favoritism toward Vettel and even hampering Webber’s pace to allow the pass which ended in tears for Vettel and Webber. Whatever the conspiracy or story you believe, I do think there are politics and personal agendas in most teams. How the team reacts tot he balance of the year with Webber leading the points and Vettel now behind McLaren’s drivers is yet to be seen.

As we speak of McLaren, it has been a decades long profession from the team that there are no “team orders” at the Woking-based outfit. While all but accusing Ferrari of team orders in teh Schumacher era (and you’d have to be dull to not see it), McLaren have maintained their innocence on such matters. Never mind clear indicators during the Mika Hakkinen/David Coulthard era in the late 90’s.

If you are familiar with F1’s website, they release race re-cap video’s after each grand prix. A recent race re-cap video posted at F1’s official site has raised some eyebrows as to whether McLaren were also applying team orders during the Turkish race. IT seems Red Bull are not the only ones potentially orchestrating the results of their teams.

In teh video, you can clearly hear this exchange between driver Lewis Hamilton and the team:

Lewis Hamilton: Jenson’s closing in me you guys.
McLaren: Understood, Lewis.
Lewis Hamilton: If I back off is Jenson going to pass me or not?
McLaren: No Lewis, no

If you watched the race, you know that Button did indeed pass Hamilton and then as Hamilton was attempting a re-pass of Button, the team can be heard telling the current world champion that he needed to conserve fuel immediately thus allowing Hamilton to re-take the lead.

To be honest? This is a team sport and as a Ferrari fan I am aware of team orders and tactical decisions to maximize a teams mission. I have no issue with McLaren attempting to tactically orchestrate a win and team maximum. What I get tired of hearing is the piety in which McLaren would accuse other teams and admonish themselves as a team who never engages in such things. Ferrari never really engaged the question head on. They avoided it but nor did they tell every journalist who asked that another team is exercising team orders.

I think McLaren have every right to protect their running order and maximize their potential result as a team. It is, after all, a team sport. What I wonder is if Button is very keen about being told to hold station and let Hamilton win. That is the first public hint of what could be considered favoritism toward Hamilton I have heard. We all wondered how Button would fare at a team built around Hamilton and so far, due to some bad luck on Hamilton’s part, Button have outpaced the younger teammate. Now it seems that the team were not prepared to allow Button to pass Hamilton in the waning laps of the Turkish Grand Prix.

It could certainly be argued, and I would most likely understand, that the team was being very cautious after what happened to Red Bull and didn’t want them to take each other out so they told both to hold station. Fair enough but Button didn’t listen and Hamilton didn’t look the happy winner after re-passing Button and crossing the finish line. In the end, the consternation at Red Bull could, as we argued on Podcast #161, very easily see its moment at McLaren. It is a fine line there as long as Hamilton is winning but Button’s move (how I loved it) was a warning that should Hamilton lift, Button will attack. I see McLaren heading for their own drama later in the season but I hope I am wrong.

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