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Hill: Drivers have a right to race, fans want to see them race

14 July 2011

Two former world champions have disagreed over the latest 'team orders' row to engulf F1, with Jody Scheckter insisting that 'it's always been a team sport' and 'that's the way it is', and Damon Hill countering that drivers 'have a licence to be able to race whenever they want to' and that it is precisely such wheel-to-wheel action that draws the fans in.

The whole episode erupted after Red Bull Racing told Mark Webber to cool his challenge on team-mate Sebastian Vettel's second place in the closing stages of last weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone, an instruction with which the pole position-sitter was palpably 'not fine' and that he ignored 'four or five' times [see separate story – click here].

Webber and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner have since sat down to discuss the matter behind closed doors, but in the media, some of F1's leading figures have debated the wisdom of the energy drinks-backed outfit's call – and whether the Englishman was right to have made the decision that he did, or the Australian justified in feeling hard-done-by. Opinions differ.

“It's nicer to see [racing], but I think there are always going to be team orders,” mused Scheckter, a man who benefitted from the dutiful support of his own team-mate, Gilles Villeneuve, as he clinched the world championship crown with Ferrari in the 1979 Italian Grand Prix at Monza – even though the French-Canadian could still have laid claim to it himself.

“You really can't stop it,” he added, speaking to the BBC, “and it's silly to have a rule that you can't really stop. It's always been a team sport. You've got the two drivers, and they really are trying to work for the team – that's the way a team runs. It's like any team sport – you've got to do what's right for the team.

“I think the decision [Horner] made was the correct decision. It was a bit sad to see it because you want to see a nice dice, and Webber is a nice guy and everybody wants him to win I think, but anyway, that's the way it is. If he had won a lot of races or been pretty equal [with Vettel in the championship standings], then I would have thought something different, but he's so far behind that they made the right decision.”

Whilst Scheckter concedes that he can understand Webber being 'upset' but that the 34-year-old must accept his team's choice, Hill conversely argues that denying a driver the option of actually racing is to deny them their very raison d'être. Team bosses, asserts the 1996 title-winner and current British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) President, should trust their drivers to race cleanly and not run into one another – but equally, he contends, no blame should fall upon the management's shoulders if the likes of Istanbul, 2010 do reoccur.

“It would have been very sad if it had ended up in a collision between Sebastian and Mark, but I have to speak up for drivers,” Hill told the BBC. “I think they also have a licence or a right to be able to race whenever they want to, and it's their call as to whether they are able to manage that overtaking manoeuvre on their team-mate or not without taking him off.

“The fans want to see racing, so I think there's some discussion that needs to happen in the sport about how you manage that. I understand the investment, I understand the commitment and the work and the time and everything, but ultimately, you can't stop racing drivers from racing each other.

“As the rules stand, [team principals] have to make those calls, but I think it could be adapted so that there could be no recrimination to the team or the team principal for not instructing his drivers one way or another, because it's understood that the drivers are entitled to race each other – and really at the end of the day, that's what people buy their tickets for.”


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