The virus that just won't go away - team orders

Taking a stand on an issue that has always been a controversial part of racing and isn't going away anytime soon...

The virus that just won't go away - team orders
Jose Maria Lopez, Citroën C-Elysee WTCC, Citroën Total WTCC, Sébastien Loeb, Citroën C-Elysee WTCC, Citroën Total WTCC and Yvan Muller, Citroën C-Elysee WTCC, Citroën Total WTCC
(L to R): Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W05 and team mate Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W05 battle for position shortly before making contact
Sébastien Loeb, Citroën C-Elysee WTCC, Citroën Total WTCC and Jose Maria Lopez, Citroën C-Elysee WTC
Damaged Mercedes AMG F1 W05 front wing debris of Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1
Pole sitter Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1, and team mate Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 in the qualifying FIA Press Conference
Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota in trouble
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W05 and Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W05
Podium: race winner Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing, second placed Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing
Nelson A. Piquet, Renault F1 Team, crashes

There's a virus that has long plagued motorsports and has sickened race fans. There is no panacea to rid us of it; no cure to eradicate it from existence. It taints events everywhere and tarnishes the integrity of motor racing. It walks all over the fundamentals of an auto race and robs fans of the show they paid good money to see. It takes what could be a spectacular finish and turns it into a parade lap, leaving an indelible mark on the event. Instead of a ferocious battle between teammates that forces the other to really earn the checkered flag, one gets it handed to them due to a simple order.

A team order. That term appalls and exasperates people like myself so much, and what really infuriates me is that in some racing disciplines, it's tolerated and acceptable. I'll try to be a bit benign when talking about team orders, but I do have a fervent distaste for them (in case you haven't already noticed).

So world class racers can't battle without wrecking each other?

Remember five seconds ago when I said teams utilize team orders because it's a smart business decision? Well, I don't really understand what the advantage was in this particular situation. Does Citroën really believe that world class racers the caliber of Loeb, Lopez, and Muller are going to wreck each other? The likeliness of that happening is slim to none. I mean, it's such a gratuitous thing to do in the very first race of the season.

What's the benefit in what they did? It gets you publicity, but certainly not good publicity.These teams are of course businesses and employ team orders because it's the sensible business decision; I don't fault them for doing what's right from a business perspective. That doesn't make it morally right though. In case you were wondering, I'm bringing up this topic because of the World Touring Car race last weekend, which saw Citroën turn the finishes of both races into their own personal photo shoot. If they had let their drivers race, it would most likely have been as riveting and memorable as the duel between the Mercedes drivers in the Bahrain GP.

It's sometimes (rarely) acceptable

Now to clarify, some team orders are actually necessary, reasonable, and don't bother me like outright manipulation of races or championships do. Like when a teammate lets the other lead a lap in a NASCAR event or when someone gives up 9th place in race two of the Formula One season. Right there though, I made myself look like a hypocrite. Here's where the line between what's right and what's wrong gets indefinably blurry...

Those little gestures that few care to give a second glance to could very well change the outcome of an event or even the championship. The couple points gained may end up being all a driver needs to win the title when it's all said and done.

It gets more complex when you think about it...

On a more complex note, let's say teammate B is given 9th place by teammate A. Then let's say teammate B causes a full-course yellow when he runs into a lap car a couple laps later; something that wouldn't have happened if teammate A had still been in 9th. Then it just snowballs from there and before you know it, the race outcome is completely changed. What you've done is opened Pandora's Box.

There's no fighting against intangible 'what if' scenarios like that though. We simply can't police such things. It's humanely impossible unless you can read the minds of every single driver and team member there. I'm not moving towards an ending where I will offer a solution to ending team orders once and for all, because there is no universal remedy. The only thing I suggest is that racing series across the world take action when they know a race or championship is directly altered by team orders.

Taking action

It was an unfortunate chain of events that tore down what was otherwise, an upstanding organization. I'll tell you this though, It sure did scare everyone else and made other teams think twice about messing around with races after the stunt pulled by MWR. When Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing manipulated the finish of the NASCAR race at Richmond last year in order to help teammate Martin Truex Jr. secure a Chase berth, the powers that be didn't just throw the book at them. They slammed that team so hard into the ground that they are still delirious and trying to get back up. As a result of their transgressions, Truex lost his spot in the Chase, the team was penalized heavily, big-time sponsor NAPA left, Truex consequently lost his ride, and so did many employees.

Now let's go back to World Touring Cars real quick. There was incontrovertible evidence, leaving no doubt that team orders had been the deciding factor in the outcome of both races at Marrakech. However, not a single thing was done by the WTCC officials.

That is what irks me. As I stated before, the indomitable problem that is team orders can't be controlled, but there is absolutely no reason why we can't punish those who blatantly employ such tactics. Not to pick on WTCC, they are just the most recent example and the inspiration, if you will, to this piece. For the sake of motorsports, don't just do nothing when situations such as this arise. Tighten the leash, start reprimanding these offenders, and it's less likely to happen.

Nothing will be done though

I love racing more than most other things in life, and it pains me so much to watch a race get twisted into nothing more than an act. It infuriates me in ways that words will not allow me to express.

Nothing will be done though, and so this virus will continue to defile motorsports and make a mockery of everything the word 'motorsport' stands for. It will continue poisoning races everywhere and tainting championships until someone with the power to do something actually steps up and refuses to put up with it any longer.

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The Big Picture: 2014-04-16
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