WORDS BY ROB HANSFORD | IMAGES BY FERRARI / GETTY IMAGES
Team orders are bread and butter of Formula 1 in this day and age. How many times have we heard an engineer on the radio telling a driver to make way for his team-mate?
But there was a period of time in which team orders were banned in F1, and it was largely as a result of the fiasco generated by Ferrari at the Austrian Grand Prix 20 years ago.
Rubens Barrichello was the in-form driver on the grid throughout the entire weekend of the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix.
He was fastest in free practice two, and in the other two practice sessions he was second fastest, right on the pace with his team-mate Michael Schumacher, and when it came to qualifying, Barrichello starred.
Barrichello set a best effort of 1m08.082 seconds to claim pole position, nearly three tenths faster than Ralf Schumacher’s effort, while Michael Schumacher was over six tenths adrift in third.
When the race got underway, the Brazilian held onto his lead, with his Ferrari team-mate passing his younger sibling for second, and the pair ran clear of the rest of the field.
The gap was neutralised midway through the race when Nick Heidfeld and Takumato Sato came together in a big accident, but when the safety car returned to the pits, the Ferraris once again exerted their dominance, to create a buffer to the rest of the field.
Barrichello was in total control of the race, and looked certain to claim victory, but any chances of that came crashing down around him on lap 63 of 71.
Ferrari team principal Jean Todt came on to the radio and ordered Barrichello to let Schumacher through. Schumacher was the driver leading the championship and Todt knew victory would only help his chances even more.
Barrichello was Goose, not Maverick in Ferrari’s eyes. The 1-2 was important, but it was even more important that Schumacher claimed maximum points given the chance.
Eventually, Barrichello gave way to Schumacher right on the finish line on the final lap of the race, making it abundantly clear what had happened.
It was a farce and it blew up in Ferrari’s face spectacularly. It wasn’t racing, and by many, it was seen as fixing a result.
The embarrassment on the podium was clear to see, with Schumacher insisting that Barrichello stand on the top step, but that didn’t really matter. It wasn’t Barrichello claiming the points at the end of the day.
The events unsurprisingly sparked a huge controversy, with some parties defending Ferrari’s corner, while others condemned it. The FIA intervened and the following month a meeting took place at the FIA World Motorsport Council to assess the actions.
Politics were at play. Formula 1 and the FIA needed to save face and its reputation for not appearing to be a sport that essentially allows race fixing.
In the end, it was deemed that Ferrari had breached the regulations when Schumacher did not stand on the top step and when Barrichello took the winner’s trophy, but the FIA didn’t penalise the team for the swap, admitting it was within the rules.
Ferrari were slapped with a $1million fine for their podium transgression, but knowing that that FIA couldn’t leave the team orders issue at that, FIA president Max Mosley instigated a working group to establish if team orders should remain part of the championship.
Of course, it didn’t take long for a decision to be made, and unsurprisingly it was deemed that from 2003 team orders should be banned entirely.
In theory, that was the end of it, but F1 being F1, it was never going to be the case, and teams used various loopholes in order to ensure there were team orders of sorts.
That was no more obvious than at the 2010 German Grand Prix, when Ferrari (again!) explained on the radio to Felipe Massa in very obvious terms that Fernando Alonso was faster than him.
Any F1 fan can clearly remember the line: “Fernando is faster than you.”
Ironically, it was that radio call that ultimately led to team orders being reinstated into the regulations, meaning Ferrari was responsible for both the regulation’s demise and return.
But while there were many politics at play, you can’t help feel sorry for the man often forgotten in the whole situation - Barrichello.
Regardless of whether it was allowed or not, it was he who had driven a superb race and rightly deserved to win, but although Schumacher tried to give him glory on the podium, the hard reality is that the record books will never reflect it.
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