- Photo credit: Ben Sutherland, Flickr

Has the Qatar GP exposed Red Bull's unfair advantage over Mercedes?

The Qatar GP has proved Christian Horner controls 4 cars on the grid, which allows Red Bull Racing an unethical influence in the championship battle.

1w ago

"You can let him by."

Gasly's Race Engineer, Pierre Hamelin

"Max is not our race."

Gasly's Race Engineer, Pierre Hamelin

On lap 4 of the Qatar Grand Prix, there was a controversial moment on track between championship challenger Max Verstappen and Alpha Tauri driver Pierre Gasly. Gasly is warned by his engineer that “we are not racing Max”, and that “Max will have DRS enabled…You can let him by”; team orders which are followed silently by Gasly as he allows Max to pass with no issue.

Despite the DRS zone opening at the start of the home straight, Gasly does not open his rear wing until Verstappen heads into the first turn.

It’s clear these team orders came from Christian Horner and the Red Bull team, Alpha Tauri’s sister team, emphasising that Horner effectively has the ability to control 4 cars, and 20% of the entire grid.

This close, benefactor relationship between teams is obvious and expected for F1 spectators, as we can see from Sky Sports pundits Martin Brundle and David Croft’s commentary prior to the start of the Qatar Grand Prix, where they speculated openly that the camera shots of Alpha Tauri team boss Franz Tost, speaking with Helmut Marko on the starting grid, showed them discussing the expectations of Gasly to yield to Max. But is this ethical racing?

Or does this heightened ability to manipulate the race for personal gain make the championship battle unequal?

The FIA handles entry acceptance for racing teams, and Red Bull’s situation is certainly far from illegal, but having 4 cars at your disposal when your championship rival only has 2 is certainly an unfair advantage. It’s arguable that in a Grand Prix where Mercedes had a sister team on the grid, it would take second driver Valtteri Bottas less time to pass through the field and offer Hamilton more security in his title fight -- allowing for better results.

Mercedes themselves have only explored this tactic once before -- in 2018, when Toto Wolff ordered Mercedes Junior Esteban Ocon to allow Hamilton by after he pitted in the Monaco Grand Prix. However, this was an instance that happened between a Force India and a Mercedes 3 years ago, and is not relevant to the current championship battle. As a power unit supplier, Mercedes do not entertain the same relationships with the teams it provides for, such as McLaren, and therefore do not have the same undue influence on overtakes that RedBull is seemingly permitted.

Red Bull has the closest relationship to their affiliate team, with the same owners and a shared driver pool, and no other team is afforded this edge. Ferrari’s commercial and technical links with Alfa Romeo, and their technical partnership with Haas, are both completely irrelevant in terms of on track action, and this is ultimately for the good of the sport.

If all competing teams had ulterior connections that played out on track, then there would be no “real” racing and the integral competitive element of Formula One would be completely stifled.

Other racing teams also do not have the resources to fund a sister team for leverage, as Red Bull is in a unique position which can be attributed to their heavily moneyed backing. Red Bull Racing have the power to influence the results by being able to fund twice the competition, which echoes Lewis Hamilton’s previous comments about the nature of F1 -- where “Cash is King”.

In future, perhaps the FIA should consider implementing stricter and more definitive rules around inter-team support to ensure fair racing and enable talented drivers such as Gasly to race competitively.

This pattern of unethical racing has been emphasised in a single overtake in the Qatar GP, and it’s arguable that if Max Verstappen wins the championship trophy in Abu Dhabi, he may have to lift it with 3 other drivers in Red Bull overalls.

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Comments (5)

  • A similar message was on the McLaren radio a few weeks ago, IIRC. And don’t forget Tsunoda didn’t exactly pull over with the hazard lights on for Max a few weeks ago…

      3 days ago
  • This is an 'interesting' situation but realistically for most of this season there have only been two cars in any of the races - so Gasly's engineer was right, Max is not their race opponent. It would be better if, when racing for position, various drivers (not just those in Red Bull teams) put up more of a fight though..

      5 days ago
  • Yeah, it is an unfair advantage but AlphaTauri might argue that other teams may give way when they have much faster cars behind them.

      6 days ago
  • Have you watched this season's final race of DTM,it was terrible,team orders need to be made illegal.

      6 days ago
    • remember fernando is faster than you?

      banning team orders is physically impossible.

        6 days ago