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Team orders: F1's unnecessary evil.

India, July 31 -- The Wikipedia descriptor for Formula 1 world championship reads "highest class of single-seat auto racing". One would imagine the keyword being racing. Last weekend's Hungarian grand prix, though, threw up a new reason why the racing bit has become a little sketchy: team orders.

If determinants such as conditional speed advantage (drag-reduction system), mid-season clampdown on creative engineering (FIA plugging the linked-suspension 'loophole') have become the new ways F1 sacrifices the virginity of competition for the sake of spectacle, team orders have been a rather persistent thorn in the sport's side for decades now.

So when the Lewis Hamilton refused to heed a rather unexpected order to give way to Nico Rosberg, who - despite being more composed than his the Mercedes teammate this season - is yet to earn the definite article by the stickler yardsticks of the F1-aratti, outrage was in order.

The first to speak out, obviously, was Hamilton. The Briton not only has an insuppressible desire to win but has also grown up in the only school of motorsport that has consistently opposed the practice of telling drivers how to race: McLaren.

Hamilton, who has had far too many Number 1-or-bust days in his career, is rightly justified in defying his team even though many can argue that he is less solid a contender for the world title than Rosberg.

He, like Sebastien Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna, has been a ruthless racer. And teams such as Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren - more recently, Red Bull as well - show the same fortitude in their engineering. Team orders, then, can only be belittling to them.

But, they are a reality. And there existence likely stems from F1's secretive rewards system. Mercedes reckoned if Nico was let through, he could have taken the lead. The two together would have fetched the team 40 points, instead of the 27 they earned last Sunday. Those 13 points would have likely meant millions of dollars at the end of the season.

But money is tertiary to these drivers and Hamilton, closest yet to winning a second world title in the last half-decade, was well aware of the risks of letting his teammate through.

Hamilton's defiance has precedence. Last year in March, Vettel ignored a veiled 'Multi-21' message, telling him not to challenge his then teammate Mark Webber. He did anyway, pulled off a spectacularly dangerous move that would have probably given many a Red Bull engineer mini heart attacks, and won the Malaysian GP.

But in recent memory, the instances of the meek relenting outnumber moments such as Hamilton's and Rosberg's. In 2002, Ferrari made Rubens Barrichello to move over for Michael Schumacher mere meters from the finishing line. That incident, which earned the sport a lot of flak, prompted the governing body FIA to ban such directives 'that altered the outcome of a race'.

Until 2010, that is, when teams started getting craftier and sending out coded messages. Coincidentally, it was Ferrari again and Barrichello's compatriot Felipe Massa at the receiving end of the Italian marquee team's questionable ethics.

Massa was given a rather curt "Fernando is faster than you", a veiled message telling him to let the other Ferrari through.

If one were to put Vettel, Alonso or Schumacher in the second of the two Mercedes last Sunday, there would have possibly been a pyrrhic battle at Hungaroring. Not an agonizing 'why's he not letting me through' moment.

It's certainly not a matter of crucifying Massas, Rosbergs or Webbers for not being Schumachers, Hamiltons or Vettels. It's a matter of preserving the spirit of sporting, which can only happen if FIA bans team orders and other such manipulative practices.

Unless it does, there will only be turmoil within teams, frustration among the drivers and brickbats from the fans.

But, then again, that makes for good drama.

Binayak Dasgupta

binayak.dasgupta@hindustantimes.com

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Date:Jul 31, 2014
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