Time for team work
There are seven races left in the season which means that, with 25 points for a win, any driver within 175 points of Fernando Alonso is mathematically still in with a chance. Realistically, though, there are only five drivers in contention for this year’s World Championship. They are Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) and Mark Webber (Red Bull).
Only Red Bull has both drivers in that list, which could put the team at a disadvantage as it is not yet appropriate to ask one of its drivers to support the other. But for the other three teams, that is fast becoming a necessity.
At Ferrari, Fernando Alonso is leading the championship, while Felipe Massa is 132 points behind and therefore well out of the running. Ferrari have a long history of using team orders to win championships, and this season appears no different. At the last race in Italy, Massa yielded to his team-mate, ensuring that Alonso’s championship lead stayed as large as possible. It is clear that Massa is Alonso’s ally in the title fight.
Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen is third in the championship, 38 points behind Alonso and 65 points ahead of team-mate Romain Grosjean. While Grosjean looked early in the season like he might end up close to the championship fight, crashing out in Spa and serving a one-race ban as a result at Monza meant that he was unable to score some crucial points. He is therefore no longer a contender for the title. In recent days, Grosjean has stated that he is aiming to maximise his own results for the rest of the season but he will not be selfishly ignoring the needs of the team, which indicates his willingness to assist Raikkonen where necessary.
While Ferrari and Lotus clearly understand the need for team-work to win the championship, McLaren have a more complicated situation. Lewis Hamilton is second in the standings, 37 points behind Alonso, and Button is a further 41 points back. While that means Button is realistically unlikely to be in the title race, he is also close enough to Hamilton to think that he could perhaps finish the season as the leading McLaren driver. In the wake of the Italian Grand Prix, Button has made his intentions clear – he wants to win all of the remaining races and take the title. Hamilton has also hinted that he still sees Button as a title contender, which confirms that team orders at McLaren are not likely to appear for a while yet.
At this point, the title is still open enough that team orders at McLaren may not be necessary, although if Alonso manages to increase his championship lead any further, some difficult decisions may have to be made at Woking. With Hamilton looking increasingly likely to leave the team, however, there may be some hesitation from management to ask Button to sacrifice his own performance. Nonetheless, Ferrari have already shown the benefits of team orders this season, and the rest of the teams may soon have to follow suit or risk being left behind.