Is F1 a Sport or a Business?
Mercedes' use of team orders in Russia sparked plenty of controversy about F1's purpose which is quickly becoming a polarizing topic
The main talking point following the Russian GP was Bottas, giving up what seemed an almost certain victory, to Hamilton. During the race the team's reason was that Hamilton's tyres were beginning to blister and clear air would help him get them under control. Another motive that Mercedes didn't mention on the radio, but definitely contributed, was the ability to further extend Hamilton's championship lead.
Fans and pundits immediately took to social media to voice their opinion and, unsurprisingly, everyone was split. Some argued that Mercedes made the right decision to optimize their points and title chances, while others claimed that this exemplified the lack of competition in F1.
Formula One has always been a place for manufacturers to display their automotive premise on the world stage. It can also be a lucrative business venture if you're successful. This means teams are keen to optimize their on-track results in order to make as much profit as possible. From the team's perspective if they control as much as they can there's less that can go wrong. Normally, teams do allow their drivers to sort everything out on track unless there are special scenarios like a history of collisions or one driver in the title fight.
Throughout the history of Formula One teams have tried to control as much as they can so that they can achieve the best result possible, and in turn, make the most money. The 2002 Austrian GP is the most well known example of team orders in the history of F1. Rubens Barrichello allowed his team mate, Michael Schumacher, to pass him for the victory at the line in order to give Schumacher a better chance at winning the drivers championship. The FIA responded with a rule that temporarily banned team orders to ensure that there were as little artificial interference affecting the race as possible.
Fans critical of team orders say that they take away the competitive side of F1. Bottas was clearly the faster driver and never put a foot wrong but the team robbed him of a win by no fault of his own. It creates a situation where some of the most competitive people on the planet are forced to sacrifice their pride for the benefit of the team or their team mate.
It's a frustrating situation because fans want to see everything decided between the drivers on the track through overtakes and strategy, but teams want to take the most effective steps to ensure they secure the best result possible. It's a problem that has existed since F1 began and there aren't any simple solutions.
What makes Formula One so great is that it is a sport that is run like a business. This creates one of the most unique sports in the world, however, that inherently creates unique problems within the sport. It creates opportunities for the sporting elements to be controlled like a business which isn't true for many other sports in the world.
What's your opinion of team orders? Discuss in the comments and don't forget to bump!