Arriving in the Formula 1 paddock at Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, it was clear that the dust is yet to have truly settled from the team orders’ controversy that sparked last Sunday in Russia.

Mercedes’ decision to tell race leader Valtteri Bottas to move aside and gift victory to championship leader Lewis Hamilton left a sour taste in the mouths of many, with large numbers of fans making their opposition to the decision known in the hours and days that followed the race.

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Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff said he preferred to be the baddie than the idiot, fearing a possible title defeat in Abu Dhabi without making the call, while the wider team was also left feeling uncomfortable after a crushing 1-2 finish on what should have been a Ferrari track. Hamilton was clearly uneasy about his fashion of victory, while Bottas had every right to be aggrieved - but being the excellent team player he is, he put a lid on the emotions others may have let seep out.

Team orders have always been controversial in F1, but since their removal from the sporting regulations at the end of 2010 in the wake of Fernando-is-faster-than-you-gate at Hockenheim, there has been nothing official policing them. It’s been more a case of morals - a word rarely used in F1.

The ruthless nature of Mercedes’ decision may have perturbed fans, yet the more tactical thinkers out there saw it as an expected, logical move. Sebastian Vettel - the man who, besides Bottas, lost more than anything from the decision - called it a “no-brainer” after the race, completely understanding why his rivals had acted the way they did.

Bottas and Hamilton both faced questions about team orders during their Thursday press briefings at Suzuka, with the latter admitting that while he too was torn over the decision, he felt there was little point dwelling on the matter.

“Since the moment it happened and until today, it’s been something I’ve thought about,” Hamilton conceded. “I don’t think you get your mind around it. You just have to accept it and move forwards.

“I am definitely split just like 50 percent of the people, or all of the people have split opinions about it. I have on one side, I feel one way about it and on the other side I feel another way about it. It’s happened and that’s it.

“I think collectively as a team we’ve stayed quite united through the whole experience. I was at the factory on Monday and I am sure 50 percent of the guys at the factory have the same vibe.

“But generally the support was quite amazing and also the respect for Valtteri. We all did a toast to Valtteri at the factory the other day. 900 people or whatever it is where standing there, it was pretty awesome.”

Bottas remained his classy self despite the inevitable questions, echoing Hamilton’s call to move on from the chapter.

“For me that’s now completely in the past,” Bottas said. “It’s what happened. We’ve discussed it in a lot of detail with the team and for all of us it’s very clear what happened and why.

“I’m fine with it, I just look ahead now. I’m here in Suzuka with a similar goal to what I had in Russia, I try to do a good performance and be on a good level and then we’ll see what’s possible.”

While Bottas did confirm his support for Hamilton in his title bid, he dismissed the suggestion he would not be able to finally win a race this year until his teammate had clinched the championship.

And as for the win bonus from Russia Bottas was also denied? Would he be getting that? “That’s something we’re keeping in our household,” the Finn said (referring to Mercedes’ household, not his own...).

Both Mercedes drivers spoke about how the unique nature of F1, whereby a team is competing for multiple titles at the same time, meant issues like team orders do occur.

“This sport has been always like this and there are two championships, one for the teams and one for the driver. It’s very clear that the team wants to achieve both titles and it has always been like this in the sport,” Bottas said.

“That’s normal, and sometimes it’s maybe from outside might look a bit more harsh, sometimes it’s more obvious and sometimes it’s hidden with the way the race goes, that’s how it’s always been.

“At least when we start a new year there is a chance for me as well again to fight for the championship, but it’s all about how this season has been going. It’s still the same sport, still racing hard for the wins and even though a driver is willing to race for the team it doesn’t mean he isn’t a racer and wants to win races. This is just how the sport is.”

Added Hamilton: “This is the most unusual sport in that sense that you have two championships. So unlike people watching football or any other sport, where everyone works towards that one goal, there are two goals here.

“You’re conflicted in trying to achieve those two goals because there’s only one driver that can win, yet there are two drivers and you have a team championship that you want to win.

“It’s a difficult dynamic because the team works together to win the championship but then they also want to win the drivers’ championship but only one of you can win, so they’re conflicted as they don’t want to favour either driver and they would want both of their drivers to win, but it’s impossible.

“So you’re always at a loss.”

Wolff may have played the baddie in Sochi, yet he was not alone in believing the use of team orders was the right thing to do. From a team principal position, Haas chief Gunther Steiner could see precisely where his silver-clad peer was coming from.

“I think you have to go the way with team orders, if the championship is on the line, because that is the ultimate goal why you do this: to win a championship,” Steiner said.

“I don’t have a real opinion on who is doing what. Everyone is free to do what they want and how they manage their drivers, I don’t really care.”

So would Steiner have done the same as Wolff in Russia? His answer is instant: “Yes.”

One driver in the F1 paddock who knows what it is like to win a championship in part thanks to team orders is Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley. Through his final season in WEC with Porsche, the #2 crew he was part of regularly benefitted from team orders as the sister #1 car gave up positions as part of the German marque’s bid to win both titles.

And it worked. Despite the rival Toyota #8 crew winning five races through the season, Hartley and co-drivers Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard took the drivers’ title, in part thanks to the help from the other Porsche car. 

Hartley himself has also been subject to the reverse impact of team orders this year, pointing out he has on multiple occasions been asked to let Toro Rosso teammate Pierre Gasly through for position. But he accepts these are part of racing.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve let Pierre by this year and haven’t spoken about it because no-one sees it on TV, including Singapore when I was ahead and could have gone to the end of the race…” Hartley said.

“It’s part of racing. I get it. For the fans, it’s not always what they want to see, and I fully understand that they would prefer a race. It’s a team sport in the end still.

“I think as a driver, either side, you don’t feel good if you’ve taken a position or lost a position. I think probably none of the drivers in the paddock are fond of it.

“But in the same breath, we all know it’s a team and we’re part of a team and a bigger picture than just ourselves.”

And it is this bigger picture that those making the big calls up and down the F1 paddock would not lose sight of. Sure, for a few weeks, there will be some salt and shade thrown Mercedes’ way off the back of Wolff’s call.

But when they’re celebrating a double title success in Abu Dhabi as a team, it’s unlikely Mercedes will care much. Much like team order polemics from years gone by, this too shall pass.

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