Feature: No Team Orders, and That's an Order

One false move in the last two races could cost Ferrari, Williams or McLaren the Formula One Championship: motor racing's governing body is ready to flex its muscles over 'team orders' as Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen face off in the tightest end-of-season fight in years.

Feature: No Team Orders, and That's an Order

One false move in the last two races could cost Ferrari, Williams or McLaren the Formula One Championship: motor racing's governing body is ready to flex its muscles over 'team orders' as Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen face off in the tightest end-of-season fight in years.

Such orders, involving one driver helping a teammate to improve his race position, have been banned this season after the global condemnation provoked by Ferrari when they manipulated the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix.

After teams made clear that they would still use tactics to keep their drivers in contention, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) has warned them to think carefully at Sunday's US Grand Prix.

"Any evidence of team orders will be put in front of stewards, and I mean any evidence," said FIA president Max Mosley. "The wording of the regulation made in October last year was done with the agreement of the teams. This has not changed and will be strictly applied.

"They have already approved a hard line on team orders and the FIA is determined to see it through for the good of the sport," added Mosley. "It's not just a case of reacting to the blatant use of team orders, we will be looking at everything."

Sixth Title

Ferrari's Schumacher, who could seize a record sixth world title at Indianapolis on Sunday, leads Williams's Colombian Montoya by three points and McLaren's Raikkonen by seven. Williams lead Ferrari by four points in the Constructors' standings, with McLaren 21 off the pace.

In the past, Formula One being a team sport, any title-chasing driver could have expected his teammate to lend a hand and hold up rivals. Brazilian Rubens Barrichello would slow to allow Schumacher past, while David Coulthard rode shotgun for Raikkonen's compatriot and predecessor Mika Hakkinen.

Moving aside is the most obvious way of helping but an extra or long pitstop, disguised as fuel strategy, and driving 'errors' can be just as effective. McLaren boss Ron Dennis said at the last Italian Grand Prix that he saw nothing wrong with team orders at this stage in the season and he was not alone in thinking that.

"We are a team and the drivers will drive as a team," he said. "If those circumstances exist where it is appropriate for them to help each other, I'm sure they will.

"We are a racing team and you would expect team mates to help each other in these circumstances...I think it's just a question of what time in the year and how it is done. I really don't see it becoming a huge issue for the last two Grands Prix."

There was no question that Champions Ferrari got their timing wrong last year, both in Austria and Indianapolis. In the race at Spielberg, Barrichello led from the start only to slow at the finish and let Schumacher past for victory as the crowd jeered and booed in disgust.

At Indianapolis, Schumacher led and then slowed at the line in what looked like an attempt to engineer a dead heat but ended with Barrichello declared the winner. That did not go down too well with spectators either and the two cases prompted the FIA to outlaw team orders.

Grey Area

But team bosses have complained about a grey area between what constitutes legitimate tactics and what would be considered illegal team orders.

Williams technical director Patrick Head said that his team would not impose any orders but would leave it up to the individuals. "If the drivers chose to make that decision, that's up to the drivers. It won't be imposed by the team as clearly we're not allowed to," he said.

Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn suggested that was disingenuous. "A driver is still a member of a team so he chooses to apply an order himself," he argued. "I don't think the team can step back and say 'it was nothing to do with us because he made that decision'."

But Brawn also saw nothing wrong with one driver helping another to win the Championship. "If you've got two drivers in the last race and one can win the World Championship, you don't want the other guy getting in the way. I think that's legitimate.

"If the other guy then tries to take an action which improves his teammate's position beyond staying out of the way then I think that's possibly going over the mark."

Mosley said race stewards would decide. "The FIA stewards can draw inferences from circumstances and take whatever action they think necessary," he said. "We do not want the teams to have any illusions about where we stand on this.

"There have been comments from teams that this is not a black and white issue but everyone knows when they have crossed the line as far as team orders are concerned."

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