Colin McRae, the WRC, and Team Orders

I’ve been sitting in bed watching “Colin McRae Pedal to the Metal” tonight.  You know, instead of doing my massive piles of other news/feature story assignments for school…

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For those of you who don’t know, Scotsman Colin McRae was one of the world’s best rally drivers (WRC World Champion for Subaru in 1995) before his tragic death in a helicopter accident in 2007.  His name may be familiar to some of you gamers as the namesake of the original DiRT rallying video games.

The documentary got me thinking about the dreaded topic in Formula One: team orders.

In 1995, McRae was embroiled in a bitter title fight with his own Subaru teammate Carlos Sainz.  At the penultimate round of the World Rally Championship, Sainz held a few second lead over McRae the entire rally.  McRae was trying like hell to beat Sainz’s stage times throughout the final day of the rally when Prodrive team boss David Richards pulled him aside at a service park.  He told Colin to back off and stay in second-position so Sainz would win the rally.

Colin didn’t like that, so he disobeyed team orders and went flat out over the second-to-last stage, which put him ahead of Sainz in the running order, and one step closer to another rally victory that year, which meant one step closer to the coveted WRC crown.

Dave Richards then gave Colin the ultimatum: ‘You disobeyed team orders.  You check in to your final control point late (to receive a time penalty and fall back behind Sainz) or this will be your last rally with Subaru, ever.’ (paraphrase)

Facing the termination of his contract, Colin wisely obeyed Richards’ wishes and incurred a time penalty that enabled Sainz to win the rally…  At the final round of the year, Colin’s home round – the RAC Rally of Great Britain – he pushed as hard as possible and won the rally, and hence, the World Rally Championship for 1995.  Colin McRae was now immortalized.

This circumstance begs the question though: Why team orders at all?

In Formula One, where team orders (in various guises) have been around since the inception of Grand Prix racing, I’ve always found that team orders were acceptable.  1.) It’s tradition  2.)If I was a team principle, I wouldn’t want my two drivers to battle so hard that they take each other out of a race and have the entire team score no points at all…

It’s different in the sport of rallying, though.  Cars do not compete wheel-to-wheel.  They are only out on closed public roads, one stage at a time, one CAR at a time (usually cars launch into a stage at two-minute intervals), only battling the clock.  Whoever has the lowest stage time when all cars have run is the winner of the stage.  Combine all the times and whoever has the lowest total time wins the rally.

If there is no risk of teammates taking each other out completely, why on Earth invoke those team orders at all?  I don’t understand it.  McRae and Sainz could have both gone flat-chat and potentially have been perfectly fine in the end.  OK, I’ll admit that Colin always did have a penchant for throwing his car off the road – sometimes multiple times in the same day – but he did that all the time.  Colin never drove harder to try and beat the time of his opponents – he ALWAYS was flat out.

So I’d like to know, what are your thoughts on team orders?  They’re legal again in F1; the WRC has seen them often as well.  As covert as they may be sometimes, they’re even carried out in NASCAR, IndyCar, and every other series that has multi-car teams.

@reply me on Twitter (@TheSAABwriter), comment below, Facebook me (Cody Globig).   Help me understand WHY!

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