Report: No McLaren team orders in Turkey. Really, though?

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The 2010 Turkish Grand Prix officially is the race that wouldn’t go away.

We still have Red Bull news today, and I’m sure that team will be the talk of the Canadian Grand Prix weekend. And now we have more McLaren news from Turkey, this time a nice Autosport report that argues the apparent “team orders” between Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were just a misunderstanding.

Todd laid out the McLaren incident here if you haven’t taken a look.

According to Autosport, those radio announcements that raised questions were just a misunderstanding, with a race engineer just telling Lewis that Jenson wouldn’t pass given that Jenson was on a near race-long fuel conservation program (as was Lewis).

Here are some relevant parts:

Sources have revealed that as early as lap 10, McLaren became aware that fuel consumption was much higher than predicted – and both Hamilton and Button were ordered to start shifting engine settings to save fuel.

Immediately after Red Bull Racing duo Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel collided on lap 40, McLaren instructed Hamilton and Button to adopt full on fuel-saving mode – which also required the drivers to take action themselves in the way they applied the throttle and changed gear.

Furthermore, the team asked the drivers to start taking care through Turn 8, where high G-forces were a worry for potential problems with the front right tyre.

This was when Hamilton’s broadcast conversation with the pits took place – and it appears that principal race engineer Phil Prew’s comment that Button would not overtake was an opinion based on the fact both men were in full conservation mode, rather than because a specific hold position order was in place.

AUTOSPORT understands that there was no communication with Button that he should not race or challenge Hamilton – especially with team orders being banned in F1 – and the only instructions being given were for him to save fuel and tyres.

[snip]

The miscommunication between the drivers and the pit wall would explain why Hamilton appeared slightly put out after the race – before he became aware of the real situation.

Suggestions that orders to save fuel and tyres were being used as codewords for the drivers to hold position have also been dismissed by team sources.

And proof of the need to slow Hamilton down came after the race, when McLaren discovered that he had less than one lap’s worth left in his car – while Button had just a little more.

I’m curious how everyone reacts to this. I guess it sounds plausible enough. Lewis’ race engineer took into account that Jenson was on a fuel-saving strategy and so assumed — and you know what they say about assuming things — that Jenson wouldn’t come screaming around Hamilton.

Where I feel like there is a gray area — one that may stink a bit of team orders beyond the kind that everyone employs and almost have to exist for two drivers to get on with racing — is in how much Hamilton then slowed down. As Autosport notes, Hamilton lost three-quarters of a second in Turn 8 alone. There’s dialing things down and then there’s dialing things down, if you get my drift.

I just have to wonder if Hamilton didn’t take a statement that wasn’t a team order as being a team order — if you follow me. Put another way: Lewis assumed (again with the assuming!) that when he was told Button wouldn’t pass, that meant that Button had been told not to race. And it is a reasonable thing to think following the Red Bull smash-up.

So no actual team orders in this case, just the reaction of someone who knows team orders exist. And all that means is that, yes, there is a degree of team orders in Formula 1. Are you really shocked?

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